Psychological Development and Digital Ads

There are more humans consuming media and observing digital content on a daily basis than ever before. With this content comes more and more digital ads that become more challenging to create an impactful call to action due to the overwhelming and continued saturation of the market. So how do we as marketers best serve effective digital ads? A significant key to answer this is understanding, not just the audience you’re serving but the psychological stage in which your audience has developed.

To start with, the development of psychological stages across a human lifespan is quite important in deciphering what a human is. The importance clearly lies in the ability to comprehend and articulate the changes that occur as humans age from infancy to senility. Infancy gives rise to childhood which gives rise to adolescence which gives rise to adulthood. All stages bring about new changes which dramatically alter not only the physical appearance but the psychological workings of the inner mind. But how do these alterations of the mind affect a person’s reaction to digital ads and what can we learn from these stages to create effective ads?

In accordance with Jean Piaget schemas, or the human’s view of the world in infancy, are changed with adaptation through accommodation and assimilation*. For example, with assimilation, the infant finds objects that it will try to fit into its world by performing an act that it’s familiar with such as chewing on it. When the infant begins to know which objects can or can’t be chewed is when the accommodation of the objects begins to occur. These theories have been further structured into four categories which help label and define their precise effect. These four categories are placed in stages with sensorimotor as the infant grows until about 2 years old, pre-operational which starts around age 2, concrete operational from around 7 to 12 years old and formal operational which begins around 11 years old. Now you may not think that such young minds should be subject to digital content but studies find that parents are giving their kids digital devices at younger and younger ages. For example, in the UK, studies have found that by 8 yrs old 86% of children in the UK already own a tablet or smartphone†.

Next adolescence begins which sees the development of biological changes as well as the further structuring of thoughts and beliefs. There’s a restructuring or pruning of neural connections and forming of new connections in the frontal lobe that signal the change from a child into an adult. It’s also during this time that strong roots of identity development are created and the individual begins to become a specific someone. Knowing who you are and who you identify with being are important questions that will begin to be answered and forever shape the outcome of the individual’s life. By this time in life, the digital ads will need to be very clever to get attention since the individual would have seen millions of ads served and unconsciously learned to avoid marketing “techniques” used for their attention. It is here that beginning to use data in order to stay ahead of the curve is imperative for any successful marketing campaign. Without data to help you maneuver you’ll be shooting in the dark or pissing in the wind hoping for better results.

Lastly, the human will reach adulthood and see an efficient working of their brains functions as well as a continued maturity that should go on for quite a number of years.

Ads served to the average adult will best be served and get results by tapping into the individual’s niche needs and desires. It’s also during the end of this stage that the individual will eventually become physically weaker and the body’s perceptual functions will slow. Senses such as hearing and seeing will no longer be as acute as they once were and it could be increasingly difficult to remember even simple tasks. This fluid intelligence will worsen but the crystallized intelligence such as facts and verbal knowledge will continue to increase. The digital ads served to seniors should be more effective at this stage but will need to closely match the individual’s sensibilities for the audience to take action.

As humans develop psychologically there are variable threats or misunderstandings that could change the growth pattern and therefore the outcome of any digital strategy. But Overall, a data-first approach to serve digital ads will be one of the most, if not the most effective way to get results from your media spend.


* Myers, David. Exploring Psychology .9th ed. New York: Worth Publishers, 2012.

† Ofcom. (2018). Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report, page 33.




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