The association principle is a type of advertising technique that “associates a product with a positive cultural value or image” (Campbell, 2017). This persuasive technique is used even if the association has little to no connection to the actual product. The association principle attempts to convince consumers that there is an innate relationship between a brand or product and an attitude (Savan, 1995). This principle aims to make consumers connect the product being advertised to a desirable set of values or traits. Positive ideals such as wealth, love, security, uniqueness, and/or beauty may be associated with a product through commercials, advertisements, or other forms of visual aids.
Marketing a product in a way that connects it to something that the consumer can relate to, transforms the product image. Transforming the product’s image is the advertiser’s intention. When almost every product can be associated with a positive self-image, consumers are subtly persuaded into the advertiser’s concept of a “good citizen” (Savan, 1995). Advertisers are not necessarily selling their products, but instead selling the illusion that purchasing their products will make the consumer feel greater because of the association attached to the advertisement. The real “masterwork” of advertising is the way it uses the association principle technique to “seduce the human soul” (Savan, 1995).
Throughout history, American car advertisements have displayed automobiles in natural settings instead of urban or city-like settings (Campbell, 2017). This demonstrates the association principle where the car being advertised is shown in the natural world of rugged mountains or glistening fields with intention to advertise the car as an example of modern technology. Other examples of the association principle may include the display of American patriotism through visual symbols to associate products or businesses with national pride (Campbell, 2017). Advertising may also associate products with happy families, success, natural scenery, or freedom (Savan, 1995).
The Marlboro brand has notably used the association principle to enhance the image of its brand. Transforming to a man’s cigarette in the 1960s, Marlboro often associated its product with strong, masculine images (Campbell, 2017). The product was usually dominated with images of nature, displaying a “lone cowboy roping calf, building a fence, or riding over a snow-covered landscape” (Campbell, 2017). Advertisements do more than just demand attention. Ads curate and push the social and cultural trends that infiltrate the consumer’s mind (Savan, 1995).
There have been many controversial uses of the association principle. One of the more popular ones has been the connection of products to stereotyped representations of women (Campbell, 2018). In many instances, women have been portrayed as sex objects where the women in the ad are usually dressed in revealing clothing. Another controversial use of the association principle is to state that products are “real” and “natural”, especially when advertising cosmetic products (Campbell, 2017). Beauty products that are being advertised usually assures the target audience (women) that the product will make them look and feel more natural. Using these adjectives and associating them with the product, makes the product more appealing.
Campbell, R., Martin, C.R., & Fabos, B (2017). Media & Culture: Mass Communication in a Digital Age 11th Edition. Boston and New York: Bedford/ St. Martin’s.
Savan, L. (1995). The Sponsored Life ads, TV, and American culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Image Attribution: Images used in this post is in the Public Domain
Written by Chalisa Singh, 2018.