You’ve been saving your money for a major purchase when a magazine advertisement for an expensive watch catches your eye.
On the glossy page the words “luxury,” “taste” and “high quality” surround a picture of a delicate watch.
Next thing you know, you’re online entering your credit card details and buying it.
This is an example of the power of suggestion, a tool that advertisers use to sell goods and services to unassuming consumers.
This method of applying psychological tools to advertising was refined by psychologist Walter Dill Scott. A Chicagoan, Scott is among the first scholars to apply psychology to advertising. He’s also one of the many Chicagoans who left lasting contributions to the American cultural landscape through studies that transformed the world of advertising and business.
Scott was born in Cooksville in 1889. He graduated from Northwestern University, where he later became the world’s first professor of psychology in advertising.
His studies of human behavior led to theories on suggestibility. Scott was a proponent of the theory that the consumer was irrational and easily influenced by the hypnotic power of advertising copy.
He believed that advertisements that appealed to the five senses were the most effective. In an article for the Atlantic in 1903, he referred to the advertising world as the nervous system of the business world.
“As our nervous system is constructed to give us all the possible sensations from objects, so the advertisement which is comparable to the nervous system must awaken in the reader as many different kinds of images as the object itself can excite,” Scott wrote.
He also founded the Scott Company in 1912. The consultancy firm helped businesses apply psychological theories to advertising and organizational practices to boost their effectiveness.
He served as president of Northwestern University from 1920 to 1939.
But Scott wasn’t the only Chicagoan to push the advertising industry forward. WBEZ contributor Shermann “Dilla” Thomas joined producer Cianna Greaves to celebrate the local madmen and women who loomed large during America’s golden age of advertising, creating icons like the Pillsbury Doughboy and Rudolph.
Cianna Greaves is the morning news producer for WBEZ. Follow @CiciGreaves.