The Psychological Reasons Our Brains Make Us Hate Ads

In 2011, Dutch psychologist Ad Vingerhoets and his team of researchers at Tilburg University published a paper called “The Negative Impact of Advertising on the Brain.” 

The paper describes how, in order to survive in an increasingly competitive world, humans have developed an innate ability to quickly filter out information that isn’t relevant to them. 

This ability comes with certain costs namely, a form of tunnel vision that makes us less likely to notice details around us or new ideas that might help solve our problems. 

In other words: Ads suck because they’re designed by people who know how your brain works so they can take advantage of it!

In this post we’ll look at some more examples of psychological insights into why ads are annoying and what they tell us about human nature generally.

Why Advertising is So Annoying
1. Understanding the cognitive and emotional factors that contribute to ad aversion can help marketers create more effective campaigns.
2. Cognitive biases play a role in shaping negative reactions to ads, making it essential to consider these biases when designing ad content.
3. Building trust with the audience and delivering value can counteract negative perceptions and enhance the overall ad experience.
4. The interplay between psychology and marketing provides insights into consumer behavior and preferences, informing ad strategies.
5. Crafting emotionally resonant ads that connect with the audience can lead to more positive responses and better brand associations.

1. It’s A Break In Our Routine

When you see an advertisement, it’s a break in your routine. You’re doing something you enjoy and then suddenly an ad pops up. 

That’s annoying, because it interrupts what you were doing and forces you to pay attention to something else. We don’t like being interrupted or forced to think about anything we’re not interested in thinking about.

But why do ads irritate us? Well…

Cognitive biases play a significant role in shaping consumer decisions. To explore this further, you can learn from our article on 19 Ways We Can Learn From Cognitive Biases, delving into the intriguing world of biases and their impact on marketing strategies.

2. We’re Attractive To Them

You are an attractive target for advertisers because you have money to spend, you’re a captive audience, you have lots of time to spare, and best of all: You’re vulnerable.

You see, humans like to think that they make rational choices based on their emotions and intellect. This is not true at all. We are deeply irrational creatures who are constantly being influenced by forces around us that we don’t even know exist or understand. 

This has been proven time and time again through behavioral economics experiments that show how our actions can be influenced by things as simple as the amount of light in a room (people are more likely to eat ice cream when the lights get turned off).

Or the presence of a mirror (people buy more stuff when they think their reflection is watching them).

Because most ads rely on these sorts of influences whether it’s choosing one product over another based on its appearance or just making us aware of some new product.

They work best when directed at people who are most susceptible to them: namely those who don’t really pay attention or think critically about what’s happening around them!

3. We Don’t Have To Put Up With Them

If you don’t like ads, there are many ways to avoid them. This is one of the reasons that ad blocking has become so popular in recent years. 

The apps, browser extensions and software programs that block ads can be found on almost every device (including smart TVs) and have been downloaded by more than 300 million people worldwide. 

Many people use ad blockers because they find them convenient and feel like they’re saving money while browsing the web.

Ad-blocking software works by detecting advertisements as they appear on websites and then blocks them from being displayed to users. Some services will allow users to customize their experience based on what types of companies they prefer not to see online; 

Others let them choose specific sites where they don’t want ads served at all like news sites that rely heavily on advertising revenue but also publish quality content free of charge for consumers who value it enough not to want any interruptions during their reading or viewing sessions

Building trust with your audience is essential in today’s competitive market. Discover effective techniques in our post about using Neuromarketing Posts to Build Trust with Your Prospects and Customers, where neuroscience meets marketing to create lasting connections.

4. We Want What We Can’t Have

We’re all familiar with the concept of wanting what you can’t have. You may be wondering why this is a psychological reason, but think about it: your brain has been programmed to want what you don’t have, simply because you don’t have it.

Why? Well, the main reason is simple: we tend to value something more when it’s not ours than when we already have it. 

If something were free, everyone would take it which means that no one would attach any value to that item at all because they’d never appreciate how much they had paid for it in the first place (or even care). 

This leads us back into wanting what we can’t get because if something seems unattainable and therefore valuable, then our brains will automatically feel compelled to work harder for that goal than if there wasn’t anything special about getting them at all!

The other reason why this might happen is that our brains like things that are challenging; 

Making an activity hard enough for us only makes us want to try harder – which in turn increases our motivation levels overall due to how challenging tasks usually require more skill-set knowledge than those which are easy and simple.”

5. We Think We’re Above Ads

Again, you might not think of ads as art or entertainment, but they are. They’re a form of communication that uses language and images to persuade us to buy a product. And we get it: Ads can be annoying sometimes. 

But if you think about it, you realize that advertising is everywhere on billboards, in magazines and newspapers (and now even on news websites), on TV shows and movies (the product placement epidemic!), online video platforms like YouTube…the list goes on. 

So whether you’re an ad agency executive or an ad-hater who insists on keeping ads at bay from your life via blocking software like Adblock Plus (which has over 500 million users worldwide), there’s no escaping them!

Ultimately what makes ads so frustrating is that they don’t come in one form alone; rather they manifest themselves in many different forms with varying degrees of effectiveness depending on how well they’re constructed/delivered/targeted etcetera…

To quote Shakespeare: “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in thy philosophy.”

Unlock the potential of neuroimaging research in enhancing your marketing strategies. Our article, How Neuroimaging Research Can Help You Become a Better Marketer, delves into the power of neuroscientific insights to shape your advertising efforts.

6. We Want What Our Friends Have

We are social beings, and we tend to want what our friends have. This makes sense because if we see our favorite celebrities using something, it makes us feel better about using the product as well. 

If you look at a study by researchers at Northwestern University and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in 2014 which was published in Psychological Science you’ll find that this is true for everyone from kids with ADHD to adults without any disorder whatsoever (this means you). 

Just think about how many times someone has posted an Instagram photo of their avocado toast or green juice on your feed and then suddenly made it seem like all your friends were enjoying these foods too!

7. They Make Us Feel Vulnerable

Ads that make us feel vulnerable can be some of the most effective. They have a way of getting under our skin and staying there, as we constantly question why an advertiser would ever want to remind people about their weaknesses in such an obvious way. 

Unfortunately for advertisers, this also means that they will likely see lower engagement rates than their competitors who are working with less-vulnerable topics. 

For example, consider how many people would rather watch ads about how much money they could save on car insurance than ads about how easy it is to get distracted while driving?

8. People Like To Be Cool And Different

We also like to be different from our peers, parents, friends, and teachers. We want to be unique! But we don’t want people thinking that we’re too different or we need to fit in somewhere.

The human brain isn’t always great at balancing these competing desires for individuality and conformity. In fact, there’s actually a little part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens (NA) that makes us crave new experiences.

But only up until a certain point where we feel like things are starting to get too weird or uncomfortable. 

After this point, our brains start encouraging us not to take risks anymore because they’re worried about being ostracized by others around us or missing out on opportunities that might allow us fit better into society as a whole (or both).

Familiarize yourself with foundational principles of neuromarketing to gain a competitive edge. Explore our piece on 12 Neuromarketing Principles Every Marketer Should Be Familiar With for concise insights into harnessing psychology for effective marketing.

9. Related, But A Little Different: They’re Too Corporate

You might think that the most important thing for a brand to do is create ads that people want to watch. That’s a good start, but it’s not enough for your company to be successful.

You also have to make sure those ads are compelling and memorable. 

And if you can do both of those things, then you’ll have satisfied customers who keep coming back to buy what they need from you over and over again and who tell all of their friends about how much they enjoy doing business with your company too!

10. They’re Not Welcome In Our Home

Ads are not welcome.

A lot of people don’t like ads, but there’s more to it than that. Ads can be intrusive and in your face, but even if they’re not, we still don’t want them around. 

We don’t want ads at our workplace or in our public spaces and if an ad is really effective, we don’t even want it at home either!

You see this effect across a range of contexts: you won’t find many ads on the walls or doors at hospitals or schools; airports and train stations have strict rules about where ads are allowed (and often try to limit the number); 

And there are ongoing campaigns by city councils against roadside billboards (although these may be less successful than hoped).

11. They Take Advantage Of Our Vulnerability When Dealing With Trauma Or Grief

When you are in a vulnerable state, your brain is more likely to be influenced by an ad. For example, if you’re feeling depressed or anxious about something, the last thing you want to do is deal with anything else and that includes ads.

In this way, advertising can take advantage of our innate desire to feel safe and secure. 

By getting us in a vulnerable state through tragedy or distress (and not even necessarily on purpose), advertisers are able to influence our feelings about their products and services much more easily than if we were feeling comfortable and calm.

12. They Make Us Feel Old Or Incompetent

Old: Advertisers are always trying to come up with new ways to get your attention, but if you don’t understand the most straightforward ad campaigns, you may feel like you’re missing out on something cool. 

For example: “This is a new kind of cat food bowl that automatically gives your cat fresh water when it’s thirsty.” If you have no idea what this means, then maybe these ads don’t speak to your generation’s needs. 

You’ll think about how old-fashioned they are compared to what your friends are doing with their lives (they’re probably not buying this type of cat food bowl) which makes them seem like something from another generation altogether and that can be intimidating! 

Or maybe it just makes you feel like everyone else knows more than you do which might lead someone who’s feeling insecure about themselves into spending money they don’t have on products they don’t need just so they can “keep up.”

Incompetent: There’s a reason why marketers use jargon in their ads they want consumers’ attention without really telling them anything specific about their product or service. 

This leaves room for interpretation by potential customers while making those same potential customers feel insecure because there was nothing concrete presented within each ad leading up until now; 

All we know is that there’s some sort of problem here and then suddenly I’m supposed to go buy something? 

That seems weirdly abstract.. And since consumers aren’t exactly sure what these companies are selling yet (but seeing as how we’ve seen multiple advertisements already),

Discover how neuromarketing is reshaping the way consumers make purchasing decisions. Dive into our article, How Neuromarketing Is Changing the Way We Buy, to understand the evolving landscape where psychology meets shopping habits.

13. They Just Don’t Speak To Us As People

How many ads have you seen in the past week? Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands?

It’s not hard to understand why people dislike advertising, especially if they see a lot of it. Ads are interruptive and often seem to be talking down to us rather than addressing us as people. 

For example, let’s say an ad for a new video game comes on your TV while you’re eating dinner with your family or watching a movie with friends. 

The ad starts by saying something like “Congratulations! You’ve been selected to receive special offers from our sponsors.” 

It then gives three examples of what those offers might be: free soda at Taco Bell, discounted tickets to see Avengers: Infinity War at AMC Theaters, and 15% off any purchase at GameStop (with no expiration date).

You’re hungry after having just eaten dinner; why would this ad encourage you to go get some more food now? Your friends just saw Black Panther and loved it; why would this ad recommend going out again so soon after seeing another Marvel movie together just last month? 

And since when did movies cost $7 each at the theater anyway!? Who knows how long these “special offers” will last; who wants all that hassle?!

14. They Use Sexist Or Misogynistic Language And Imagery

You’re probably not surprised that ads that use sexist language are a problem. But it might come as a surprise to know just how offensive their presence is.

Especially when you consider the fact that women make up 50% of society and therefore have purchasing power (or at least influence) over half of all products sold in North America. 

An ad campaign with sexist messaging is like an ice cold bucket of water thrown directly onto your face every time you see it and besides being irritating and unpleasant, it will also make you feel gross about yourself for being part of this industry at all. 

Luckily, there are so many better ways to get your point across without resorting to stereotypes about women!

15. They Aren’t Funny (Yeah, That’s Offensive)

Funny ads are rare. They are such a small percentage of all advertisements that even if you see one this week, it’s likely that you will have to wait another year before another one crosses your path. 

And when they do cross your path, there’s a good chance that the ad was not trying to be funny making them doubly disappointing as a result of their failure rate. 

But even ads that try and fail at being funny can be frustrating because they don’t give us what we want: entertainment! When an ad tries and fails at being funny.

It just leaves us feeling empty inside and wishing we had something else to watch on TV besides an ad for teeth whitening gel that isn’t even remotely amusing (and also has nothing whatsoever to do with what came before).

16. They Remind Us Of Something Unpleasant Like Work Or Political Extremists At The Airport

Did you know that the average person takes a flight every two weeks? That means we’re exposed to ads at the airport more than anywhere else, except maybe in front of our computers. 

This is because airports are filled with so many people, who will see whatever ad you put up there. Meanwhile, if you put an ad on a billboard in some remote town where no one lives and nothing happens, no one will ever see it.

In other words: Ads at airports remind us of something unpleasant like work or political extremists at the airport (I’m sorry if your eyes just glazed over).

17. There Are Too Many Of Them, Literally (Drowning In Ads)

There are just too many of them. Literally.

As we’ve mentioned, our brains are constantly scanning for anything out of the ordinary or different from what we’re currently doing, and advertising is a big part of that environment. Because of this, we have an enormous number of ads to sift through. As a result, it’s no wonder that we don’t like them; they’re all competing for our attention!

And here’s the thing: Ads that aren’t interesting or informative aren’t going to get clicked on so advertisers have to make sure they stand out in some way or another. This means they need something weird or unusual… 

So they can catch people’s attention faster than their competitors’ ads do even if that means making themselves look less polished than usual (read: “ugly”).


As you can see, our brains are not built to handle advertising. There’s nothing wrong with them, and there’s nothing we can do about it either. This is just the way they work and we have to deal with it. 

But if you know what makes your brain respond negatively to ads and what doesn’t, you’ll be able to write better ads for your business or even use this knowledge in other areas of life!

Further Reading

Explore more about the psychology behind advertising and why people may dislike ads with these additional resources:

The Psychology Behind Why People Dislike Ads: Gain insights into the factors that contribute to negative perceptions of ads and how to address them effectively.

7 Reasons People Hate Your Ads and What to Do About It: Discover common reasons why ads can evoke negative reactions and find actionable solutions to improve ad quality.

Thinking vs. Feeling: The Psychology of Advertising: Delve into the interplay between rational thinking and emotional response in advertising and learn how to craft messages that resonate.


What are the main reasons people dislike ads?

People may dislike ads for various reasons, including intrusive formats, irrelevant content, and repetitive messaging that can lead to annoyance and a negative perception of the brand.

How can advertisers address the issue of ad dislike?

Advertisers can address ad dislike by creating relevant, engaging, and non-intrusive content that adds value to the audience’s experience. Understanding consumer preferences and feedback can also guide improvements.

What role does psychology play in advertising?

Psychology plays a significant role in advertising by helping marketers understand consumer behavior, cognitive biases, and emotional triggers. This knowledge can be used to create more effective and appealing ad campaigns.

How can emotional appeal be utilized in advertising?

Emotional appeal in advertising involves evoking emotions that resonate with the audience. By connecting with consumers on an emotional level, ads can create a deeper impact and foster positive associations with the brand.

Are there strategies to make ads more likable?

Yes, there are strategies to make ads more likable. Crafting relatable stories, using humor, ensuring authenticity, and focusing on providing value to the audience are some ways to enhance ad likability and reduce negative reactions.