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Commercials Provide a Guide to Persuasion

In Maximum Influence, persuasion expert Kurt Mortensen outlines twelve laws of persuasion. These laws are triggers. They are not good or bad. Whether people like it or not, they work. They work consciously and subconsciously. The twelve laws are:


Law of Involvement: The more you involve, the more persuasive you are.


-Esteem: People need to be praised, recognized, and accepted.

-Expectations: People tend to make decisions on how others expect them to perform.


-Connectivity: Create a bond so people feel comfortable with you.

-Social Validation: People have an innate desire to be part of a main group.


-Verbal Packaging: Words affect our perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, & emotions.

-Association with our five senses anchors us to our past.

-Contrast: Seeing two different alternatives in quick succession.


-Dissonance: When people behave inconsistently with their beliefs, they are in a state of discomfort and they need to alleviate it.

-Scarcity: Restricted availability. We want it more.

-Obligation: Reciprocity. Return the favor.


-Law of Balance: People are persuaded by both emotions and logic.

So, are commercials using these laws? Are commercials effectively persuasive?

Commercials are ubiquitous. On regular a TV show (Your Honor, for example), during a regular commercial break there are 5 in-between story segments. These commercials say a lot about U.S. society. Corporations devote a lot of money doing research and testing on commercial ideas to discern what works. First, they use a variety of strategies and tactics which are outlined below. Secondly, how are these tactics and strategies connected to the 12 Laws of Persuasion?

Usually, their goal is to persuade. So, what is their strategy? Are these commercials effective? Do they fit into the Magic Persuasion Formula or the Persuasion Laws?

Part One will focus on techniques, strategies, and tactics that businesses use in their commercials to persuade listeners and watchers to pay attention, watch, buy, and use the products.

Part Two will focus on how these techniques link with the 12 Laws of Persuasion.

Part One.

Dancing: There are scores of commercials where people are dancing. Recent examples include Chocolata, Geico Insurance, TicTac, Honda, Slimfast, Koons Car, Honey Nut Cheerios, Big Lots, Old Navy, etc.

Why dancing? Maybe it fits within the Law of Association. People associate dancing with happiness.

Symbol Association: Liberty Mutual uses the Statue of Liberty. Allstate Insurance uses “cupped hands.”

Color Association: T-Mobile uses purple or lavender strings of color symbolizing expansion of service.

Emotion: One Tax Act commercial features running from a bear (35mph) in the woods, focusing on fear.

Got Junk: User simply points to junk and it disappears.

Logic: Prudential Insurance emphasizes their 90 years of experience.

Using Dogs, Cats, and Animals: At the end of one Safelight replacement of glass commercial, a man in a the truck with his dog says, “right girl,” associating dogs with companionship.

Commercials featuring Celebrities and Sports Stars:

Research on the effectiveness of commercials reveals that using celebrities and sport stars are useful in 3 ways:

  1. Some people pay more attention when the commercial features a celebrity.

  2. Some people are actually influenced. For example, actress Jennifer Aniston, with her beautiful skin, may influence some in purchasing Aveeno products. Football running back Saquon Barkley, who is viewed as strong, may influence some in buying Oikos Triple Zero Greek yogurt with protein.

  3. Some people remember the commercial more because of celebrities.

Thus, companies conclude the expense is worth it.

Sports Stars: Many advertisers feature sports stars in their commercials.

Subway has hired 34 year-old NFL running back Marshawn Lynch. Adding humor, Marshawn is rolling inside of a tire securing his sub.

Domino’s has secured a national contract with NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin. James Dennis Alan "Denny" Hamlin is an American professional stock car racing driver. He competes full-time in the NASCAR Cup Series. Domino’s also uses humor in the commercial when a young girl refers to his racing outfit as pajamas.

Capital One has 6’5” former football player Matthew Joseph Willig of Southern California. Usually dressed in a tailored suit and open neck dress shirt, he walks about describing Capital One features.

-FanDuel has a commercial using former NFL tackle James Harrison. FanDuel Group is a New York City-headquartered gaming company that offers sportsbook, daily fantasy sports, online casino ,and online horse race betting products.,

-Oikos Triple Zero Greek Yogurt has secured football running back Saquon Barkley (23 years old, 6’, 234 pounds) to be their spokesperson stressing the protein strength.

Celebrities: Actor Kevin Hart promotes Chase Freedom Credit Card. Oprah promotes WW+ meaning Weight Watchers Re-imagined.

Music: AAA Insurance has an ad featuring the Air Supply song, All Out of Love. It does contain the lyrics: Lost without you.”

Clever, Memorable Slogans:

Ledo’s Pizza produces only square pizzas. Their slogan is "Ledo’s does not cut corners. It is square."

Other slogan examples:

-Avis: “We try harder.”

-Nike: “Just Do It.”

-Wheaties: “Breakfast of Champions.”

-Coca Cola: “The pause that refreshes.”

-Maxwell House: “Good to the last drop.

-KFC: “Finger lickin’ good.”

-Subway: “Eat fresh.”

-Allstate Insurance: "You're in good hands." This could be connected to the formula of appealing to emotions. The emotion is comfort and safety.

Nostalgia: Business research demonstrates that nostalgia sells. JUST Eggs uses nostalgia in their commercials by featuring old recipes that are handwritten and taped to book pages. JUST Eggs is made from plants, so maybe a dash of Law of Esteem regarding “feel good?”


-Actor Kevin Hart is featured on Chase Freedom Credit Card commercials.

-State Farm has one commercial featuring a beehive.

-Squeeze Jiff Peanut Butter uses a medieval sword fight.

-Liberty Mutual commercial pretends to re-show a nostalgic commercial where, on Christmas, a delighted child receives an insurance package in contrast to another child who unhappily receives a bike. Amusing.

-Many viewers smile each time they hear or watch the Sheba cat food commercial where a daughter has cut herself and calls out to her mother. The mother is spending quality time with her cat. The mother, still lounging, tells the daughter to get a band-aid. The daughter further shouts, “There is blood.” The Mother responds, “Take two band-aids.”

-Audiences also smile each time when they see or hear the Sleep Number mattress commercial featuring seemingly a husband and wife sitting on a bed. The husband asks whether this bed will take care of the snoring. The wife retorts, "I never hear snoring." The Husband: "Exactly."

Re-Occurring Characters: Jake from State Farm or Flo from Progressive Insurance would be examples.

ASPCA commercial captures all five senses successfully and effectively. This 2006 Sara McLaughlin Animal Cruelty commercial was their best financial success. Her voice is strong, steady, and haunting. The pictures are heart wrenching. The voice over gives statistics appealing to logic.

*Pre-testing is a separate field of Marketing Research which they say increases the popularity rate by 20%. Also, there is A/B testing which follows the Persuasion Law of Contrast.

A/B testing, also know as split testing, is a way to test two ideas head-to-head to see what yields the best result. You can use a split test to determine which version of the ad could driver better results. Test your concepts with surveys. Don't guess. Know exactly which concept will win with a SurveyMonkey Audience.

Part Two: Do Commercials Use the Laws of Persuasion?

Generally, the answer would be yes, especially the Laws of Involvement, Esteem, Association, Contrast, and Scarcity.


Law of Involvement: The more you involve, the more persuasive you are.

St. Jude Commercial: This set of commercials over the years may be considered wildly successful especially when examining the financial facts. These commercials use many of the laws, but the Law of Involvement through storytelling maybe the most successful. They put children’s names and stories in the forefront. They also use beautiful music and appeal to the Law of Esteem.

Another angle of these commercial successes is the spokesperson, 83 year old Marlo Thomas, who enjoys a very high popularity rate harking back to the TV sitcom “That Girl.” Her long time marriage to highly popular Phil Donahue helps. For those who remember her father Danny, he is still quite popular. Marlo is charged with raising the annual budget of $2.6M.

St Jude Facts: Most people are not aware that Marlo’s net worth is $150M and Phil’s is $25M.

St. Jude is an unusual charity in the aspect that they separate their fundraising arm from the actual delivery of work. The fund raising arm is actually the American Lebanese Syrian

Associated Charities (ALSAC), which is never mentioned in the commercials. With over 1600 employees, they raise $1.5B, annually. So for every $100 give, $48 is devoted to the hospital work. The CEO’s salary is over $1M with 9 employees earning more than $450,000.

So, yes, St. Jude using a variety of Persuasion Laws successfully.

Commercials Involve the Listener

A persuasive trend in commercials is to involve the viewer in the decision or the choice.


-“My doctor and I chose Verenzio.”

-“My doctor and I chose Axiron.”

-Cancer CareCenter: We give all of the information and she makes the decision.

-Ameriprise: Retire on your own terms, where you want, and when you want.

-Meineke: What do you think? My options. My money. My choice. My car. I tell them what I can spend and I do my best to make it work.

-Habitat for Humanity: This program goes beyond words and the folks receiving the house contribute sweat equity.

-Kaiser Permanente Insurance: I am an active partner in my health care.


Esteem: People need to be praised, recognized, and accepted.

In sometimes an indirect way, commercials appeal to the Law of Esteem. Silver Diner talks of “plant-based food.” Whole Foods in so many ways appeals to esteem: Their ads feature organic food. One feels great in their stores. Everything looks beautiful. People feel good shopping there.

Most charities also appeal to esteem, thinking that one feels better after giving even if they do not know how much of each dollar goes directly to the cause.

Bombas commercial and website: Bombas was founded on the philosophy of donating to those in need, but has evolved to go deeper into the community. The more clothing items we sell, the more we donate. As we grow, our giving and community efforts will continue to grow right alongside us. One purchased = one donated.”

The Bombas approach may incorporate a variety of Persuasion Laws:

Law of Social Validation: “Everybody’s doing it” captures this law. Bombas, via their commercials and website, is saying such especially with their website counter which was at 45M when last checked.

Law of Esteem: Bombas seems to capture this “feel better” approach as well. When the commercial lists the reasons to buy the socks, they note that giving makes one feel better.

Law of Balance: Bombas may not have captureed this one. They have captured the emotional aspects. The logic may be askew. The cost of a typical pair of Bombas socks averages $15. So, if one wants to provide quantity to a homeless shelter, purchasing 15 pairs of socks at one dollar each at Target or a Dollar store might seem more logical.


Connectivity: Create a bond so people feel comfortable with you.

-Zipcar wants members to connect to their cars, so they name them with names like “Celina.” They also had a car adoption program.

-Facebook, LinkedIn, and NextDoor are all great examples of connecting folks.

-Aetna Insurance in their commercials, says "We connect with You."

Social Validation: People have an innate desire to be part of a main group.

-Save the Food campaign emphasizes how this program will help with the environment and speaks of how many people are wasting food. They urge all to become part of the program and be part the solution rather than the problem.

-Vonage had a set of commercials encouraging neighbors to bundle their cable, phone, and internet. Neighbors would welcome neighbors by saying "We all bundle."


Verbal Packaging: Words affect our perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, & emotions.

-Washington Sports Club aka Town International advertised their swimming lessons for kids with "Waterproof your kids."

-Used car dealers now call their cars "pre-owned."

-Residence Inn claims they are not a hotel, but a residence.

-Used clothing stores advertise "vintage clothing."

-Luxury rentals in DC advertise their "Concierge Experience."

-Apple does not call their stores, stores, but instead "Apple Entertainment Experiences."

-Nissan does not make cars. "They create technology that moves people."

Association to our five senses anchor us to our past.


The Persuasion Law of Association may be the law that commercials use the most. One sees, hears, or smells something that instantly reminds one of something else.

-Doctors with white coats are associated with expertise. Honda Dream Garage Commercial announcer is wearing a white doctor’s coat. Often, pharma commercials like Varillus will have their spokesperson to wear white doctors coats. Even FIOS and xFinity commercial spokespeople are wearing white coats, associated with expertise.

Dancing in Commercials: There are scores of commercials where people are dancing. Dancing seems to be associated with happiness. Examples include Honda dream garage; Slimfast commercial; Koons Car commercial; Honey Nut Cheerios, Big Lotsdancing after purchasing furniture; Old Navy-everyone dancing; and TicTac breath mints dancing. Singer Usher is dancing with a bee in the Cheerios Honey Nut commercial.

Fast driving in car commercials: Is there any car commercial that does not feature fast driving associated with excitement?

-Sounds: Potato Chips: The louder they crunch, the more we want them. Lays Potato Chips TV ad focuses on chip sounds. Also, Kit Kat bars TV commercials as well as Special K crackers.

Symbol Association:

-Kangaroo: Mid Atlantic Heating uses a kangaroo in their commercials. The kangaroo may symbolize balance and strength. Some believe it symbolizes “moving forward’ with the belief that a kangaroo cannot move backwards.

-Blue Apron: The name Blue Apron is an homage to chefs around the world who wear blue aprons while learning to cook. Today, the blue apron is a symbol of lifelong learning within the culinary field, so the company hopes that the name inspires others to discover new elements of preparing and cooking food.

-Statue of Liberty: Liberty Mutual Insurance has the statue of liberty in the background for many of their commercials.

-Elephant Insurance has chosen the elephant as their symbol to symbolize commitment, royalty, strength, and ancient wisdom. Buddhists associate elephants with mental strength.

-Owls symbolizing wisdom. America Best eye glasses.

-Children: Countless commercials including political ones use children to portray innocence. Former President Barak Obama used children in his messages about gun control, immigration, and gay marriage. The Chevy Equinox commercial focusing on safety features also features children.

-Hershey’s chocolate commercial: Two little girls sitting side by side. In front of both is a plate of chocolate rectangles. They are asked questions and with their answers they can take a chocolate. Are you taller? Do you eat your carrots? Do you share? Answering the last question, one girl takes a chocolate and gives it to the other girl.

-Cheese dust is associated with fun of Doritos and Cheetos.

Contrast: Seeing two different alternatives in quick succession.

-Noom commercials show weights before and after.

-Most cosmetic surgery or sculpting commercials use contrast. They also feature before and after pictures such as Bitar Cosmetic Surgery Institute showing Ab Etching, Nose Surgery and Non-Surgical Facelift. commercials often have a split screen comparing their No Soy, No Additives to other “regular” vitamins. Their slogan: "From nature with love."

“Located in the Pacific Northwest, NATURELO is nestled in one of the most beautiful corners of the world. NATURELO was founded by a couple of folks who dreamed that nutritional supplements should come from nature, just like our food. Being passionate about health, the folks who founded NATURELO exercised regularly and ate well.”


Law of Scarcity: Restricted availability. We want it more.

-University of Maryland commercial emphasizes no application fee if one applies by January 31.

-NuLook Home Design offers a 50% off roof if one orders in the next 30 days.

Oddly, even the COVID vaccine appointments offered by government health agencies fit into this scarcity approach. There are only 1,675 to be filled by noon today.


Law of Balance: People are persuaded by both emotions and logic.

-ASPCA commercial evidences the Persuasion Law of Balance among values, emotion, and logic. Without a doubt, the ASPCA commercial featuring sad animals along with Sarah McLaughlin singing “Angel” was their most financially successful ever. This commercial appeals to all human senses and captured the balance among emotions, logic, and values.


So, if one wants to be persuasive, pay attention to well researched and tested commercials. What strategies and tactics are they using that many people can use? Which Laws of Persuasion are they using?

Surely, the Persuasion Law of Association is widely used in the commercials, whether that be dogs or cats, symbols, sports stars, celebrities, colors, etc.

The Persuasion Law of Contrast is prevalent in losing weight, facial and body creams, and exercise commercials.

The Persuasion Law of Balance between emotion and logic is quite noticeable in commercials by charities. They use children and the ravages of diseases balanced by how little bits of contributions can help substantially.

The Persuasion Law of Esteem is frequently indirectly used by commercials whether it be losing weight, body sculpturing, taking vitamins, exercising or giving to charity. Usually after those acts, one feels better about one’s self.

Yes, many commercials persuade listeners and watchers to act!


At the top of this blog, click on the drop down menu under “blog.” Click on recommended books.

Maximum Influence, The 12 Universal Laws of Power Persuasion, Kurt W. Mortensen.

Say What You Mean. Get What You Want, A Businessperson’s Guide to Direct Communication, Judith C. Tingley, Ph.D.

How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie. “The first-and still the best book of its kind-to lead you to success.”

How to Negotiate Like a Child-Unleash the Little Monster Within to Get

Everything You Want, Bill Adler, Jr., ISBN 0-8144-7294-X

Making Your Case-The Art of Persuading Judges, Antonin Scalia and Bryan A. Garner,, ISBN 978-0-314-18471-9


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