Occasional Paper No. 26: From advert to action: behavioural insights into the advertising of financial products

How are we affected by financial advertising? What do we pay attention to and when might we be misled? In this paper we explore the science of advertising to answer these questions.

From advert to action

This short animation highlights the main takeaways from this occasional paper.


Building on our earlier work into behavioural biases, we summarise a large body of academic literature to explore the mechanisms behind consumer attention, understanding and behaviour. We build this into a framework for understanding how consumers process information in the form of advertisements, divided into three stages: See, Interpret and Act. We then apply our findings by looking at what the science says about an advert that may be unclear, unfair or misleading.

  • In See, we find that attention may be predicted by the relative salience of information and is also affected by consumers’ motivation and intentions. For example, those searching for a house are more likely to notice mortgage deals.
  • In Interpret, we find that certain ways of presenting information, particularly those which play on consumers’ behavioural biases or which involve percentages may impede understanding and have the potential to mislead consumers in certain circumstances. 
  • In Act, we see that consumers may be influenced into action through techniques which encourage reliance on heuristics or emotion, rather than reason, and the problems this may cause.

Throughout, we offer fictitious examples of adverts to illustrate the behavioural points we observe and suggest further areas for research which can guide our actions.


Paul Adams and Laura Smart

The authors work in the Behavioural Economics and Data Science Unit in the Strategy and Competition division of the FCA.


Occasional Papers contribute to the work of the FCA by providing rigorous research results and stimulating debate. While they may not necessarily represent the position of the FCA, they are one source of evidence that the FCA may use while discharging its functions and to inform its views. The FCA endeavours to ensure that research outputs are correct, through checks including independent referee reports, but the nature of such research and choice of research methods is a matter for the authors using their expert judgement. To the extent that Occasional Papers contain any errors or omissions, they should be attributed to the individual authors, rather than to the FCA.