Last Updated: December 7, 2020

It’s easy to picture “shampoo commercial hair” – those bouncy, long, and luxurious tresses that catch the sunshine and the attention of every male. However, shampoo marketing wasn’t always this way. In the past, when people only bathed a few times a month, let alone used any sort of soap products, shampoo was marketed solely as a medicinal, cleanliness product. At some point over the last century, shampoo migrated from a cleanliness product to a beauty product.

Because shampoo has entered this new category of goods, its marketing placement is more important and influential to the target market. Consumers now view their shampoo choice as one that can make a difference in the way they look, smell, and feel. Under this new weight, shampoo marketers have started positioning consumers as responsible for the health and beauty of their hair.

The Psychology of Marketing Shampoo

Brand and CommercialExplanation of AdvertisementDemographicsPsychological Response Elicited
Pantene “Strength”Shows women practicing yoga and martial arts interspersed with clips of strong, shiny hair being tied in thick knots.Females, 18-45Strength: As a strong, modern woman, your daily activities display resounding strength. Shouldn’t your hair as well? Use Pantene pro-V and your hair will suffer up to 80% less breakage, plus body and shine.
Johnson & Johnson “Happy Hair”Mothers, fathers, and their children interact in a variety of playtime and bath time situations … and one little girl’s pigtails even bounce independently.Mothers of children aged 0-7Lifestyle Envy: Most parents have experienced the bath time battle. Who wouldn’t want to shampoo their child’s hair and have he or she be happy the entire time? This Johnson & Johnson’s “gentle” baby shampoo commercial implies that you can.
Head & Shoulders For Men “Fan in the Stands”Minnesota Twins player Joe Mauer discusses his amazing hair and healthy scalp with a female fan.Males, ages 13-65Desire to be Seen as a Tough Man: Not many shampoos are marketed specifically to men. Most men don’t ask too much from their hair, but they do want freedom from flakes and attention from attractive women. This commercial shows a successful athlete claiming that at least some of his success comes from Head & Shoulders.

Standing out from the suds

Unlike many beauty products, shampoo is one that can be experimented with, since it is a low-cost product that involves little purchase risk. This means that shampoo brands rely on marketing professionals to help them stand out from a wall of similarly-priced products.

How does your hairstyle define you?


  • Women with short, tousled hairstyles (think Meg Ryan) are seen as the most confident and outgoing
  • Women with long, straight, blond hair are perceived as the sexiest and most affluent
  • Women with medium-length, natural-looking hairstyles are seen as the most intelligent and easy-going


  • Men wearing short, tousled hairstyles come across as the most confident and sexy … but also the most self-centered
  • Men with medium-length, side-parted hair are viewed as the most intelligent and affluent
  • Men with long hair are generally perceived as the least intelligent and most careless. However, they are also seen as the most good-natured

Source: LaFrance, M. (2000). First impressions and hair impressions.

Shampoo marketers appeal primarily to users’ vanity. Each tries to position itself as the shampoo that will make the consumer’s hair look, feel, and smell the best. Although depending on the audience, different brands may approach this vanity differently; their main objective is to portray hair that is healthy and attractive. Commercials and print advertisements feature attractive, clean models with enviable locks and lifestyles.

Marketing professionals also appeal to buyers’ environmental sensibilities by differentiating themselves through packaging and ingredients. Up until recently, shampoos didn’t advertise what ingredients were in the products. However, a backlash against unpronounceable chemical compounds has led to a wave of consumers who want their shampoo to be “natural,” – full of honey, lavender oils, and vitamins rather than man-made chemicals.

Having a bad hair day?

Almost everyone has had one: a “bad hair day.” They look different for everyone, and are rarely as dire as the affected individual assumes. However, according to Dr. Marianne LaFrance, professor of psychology and woman’s and gender studies at Yale University, “bad hair days” are real. Her research showed that the perception of bad hair actually produces negative consequences that go beyond vanity.

According to the study, “bad hair days” affect peoples’ self-esteem by increasing their self-doubt, intensifying social insecurities, and amplifying self-criticism in general. “Interestingly, both women and men are negatively affected by the phenomenon of bad hair days,” said Professor LaFrance in an interview. “Even more fascinating is our finding that individuals perceive their capabilities to be significantly lower than others when experiencing bad hair,” she continued. She found that just the thought of a bad hair day caused both men and women to feel inferior and perform below their regular level of function.

Shampoo marketers can capitalize on this research by positioning their brand as the one that is least likely to leave a user with a “bad hair day.” Of course, as mentioned, this won’t look the same for everyone. For a man who feels his hair is thinning, a shampoo with a growth agent (like Nioxin) should be promoted. For a woman with curly, frizzy hair, a silkening formula (like Biosilk) should advertise that quality to her.

I'm putting what in my hair???

How many ingredients on the back of your shampoo bottle are you able to pronounce? How does that make you feel? Recent research has revealed that 34% of women now choose chemical-free hair care products – a fairly new phenomenon. These findings reinforce other evidence showing that more consumers are turning to natural beauty products as a healthier alternative to shampoos and conditioners that contain high levels of chemical ingredients.

So what does this mean for marketing campaigns? While most shampoos are likely still going to contain ingredients like Sodium Laurel Sulfate, Isopropyl Alcohol, and Methyl Chloride for their cleaning properties … those aren’t the ones you should advertise.

Does your new shampoo formula contain honey, lemon grass, or rosemary? Does its accompanying conditioner utilize the moisturizing properties of lavender oil? Those are the words that should be in the commercial and on the front of the bottle! As consumers continue to turn to more natural products for all of their household needs, shampoo will be no exception.

Source: Colmar Brunton Research Corporation. (2011). The Trouble with Clean.

Even if the shampoo a consumer uses is only a placebo against perceived “bad hair days,” simply believing that the product is working is often enough to combat the negative emotional effects of bad hair.

**LaFrance, M. (2000). First impressions and hair impressions.

Why is long, thick, shiny hair so important to us, anyway?

What is it about long, luxurious hair that equals sex appeal in a woman? The easiest answer is that long, healthy hair equals a healthy, fertile mate. “Hair is going to be a signal of that, because a younger woman will usually have longer, thicker hair,” said psychology researcher Dr. Kelley Kline of Florida State University. (Kline, K. (2003). Effects of women’s hair length on perceived attractiveness by men.)

To confirm this stereotype, Dr. Kline interviewed 50 men and 76 women to get an idea of the “perceptions of attractiveness based on hair length.” The study participants were asked to rate the attractiveness of women depicted in 6 different photos. What was the catch? Three of the photos were actually of the same young woman, her hair graphically altered to look short, medium, or long. Otherwise, the woman’s face and expression were exactly the same in each of the three pictures.

According to Kline, both men and women “overwhelmingly find the long hair length significantly more attractive than the short and the medium hair length.”

The psychology of marketing

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As psychologists continue to research and understand more about how humans process information and make decisions based upon these processes, their work will continue to affect the art of shampoo marketing. For more information on how psychology and marketing intersect, click here.

Related careers

Packaging Specialist

A packaging specialist works with the art direction team to make shampoo bottles stand out from others on the shelf through use of design and color. Layout and color choices on shampoo packaging can make or break how consumers view their products on the shelves. Because shampoo is generally a quick, low-risk purchase and consumers won’t research it thoroughly before making a purchase, the way a bottle looks on the shelf has a very large impact on sales. Click here for more information about packaging specialists.

Market Research Director

As a market research director, the psychology of marketing falls under your jurisdiction. Market research directors design research plans and questionnaires while working with project directors to oversee the surveys and studies. Once the studies have been completed, they work to interpret data, write reports, and make actionable recommendations on how to improve consumer interest and sales. Learn more about market research directors here.

Capturing the Shampoo-Switchers: Brand Loyalty Research Overseas

Somewhere along the way, a myth began that shampoo stops working the longer you use it. However, researchers have never been able to find any evidence that hair can “get used to” a certain brand of shampoo. More likely, the user’s nose gets used to the smell, and they perceive the shampoo as working less well.

However, this leads to a culture in which very few people are shampoo loyalists, instead changing brands every time they buy a new bottle. Thus, one of the most effective ways for shampoo marketers to increase sales is to acquire more brand-loyal customers. According to a survey done of more than 600 female consumers throughout Bangkok, Thailand and Hanoi, Vietnam, there are several factors that influence loyalty to a shampoo: perceived quality, brand awareness, advertising attitudes, and distribution intensity.

This study shows the importance of psychology in shampoo marketing, and how consumers view a certain brand as “their” shampoo and are less tempted to stray. Only with consistent, appropriate branding and a high-quality product can a shampoo company hope to build a loyal user base. With the right marketing strategy, people will begin to gravitate toward a signature shampoo in the same way they gravitate toward a signature perfume or cologne.

Source: Tho D. Nguyen, Nigel J. Barrett, Kenneth E. Miller, (2011) “Brand loyalty in emerging markets”, Marketing Intelligence & Planning, Vol. 29 Iss: 3, pp.222 – 232h market.