June 21, 2002

What Does Advertising Do? A View From the Sideshow

When you think that advertising drives all of network television, a large component of cable television, all of radio, and a large chunk of print publishing--that a large chunk of our economy is run on a jury-rigged fashion because the only commodity actually paid for is the provision of eyeballs to advertisers--you start to think that we should pay more attention to the adds we watch.

How much attention do we pay? Avedon Carol of The Sideshow has a view:


| The Sideshow |

...I can't remember a single advertisement I saw all week. It doesn't matter whether I'm watching Buffy (which is full of innuendo and violence, with occasional sightings of skin &etc.) or a cooking show (although some might argue that that's sex, too), I don't remember the ads. Sometimes I may remember seeing an ad, but I don't remember what show I was watching at the time. Mostly, I remember ads when I am standing in front of the shampoo rack at SuperDrug and I see all these highly-promoted shampoos and remember that that's the one with the phony "scientific" spiel that goes along with the animation, and that's the one where the model's hair seems to be sort of metallic-looking. I remember some memorable ads independently - like all those cool Budweiser ads in black & white with nifty blues tunes in the background, which does Budweiser no good with me since I can't stand lager. And, of course, you can still get a laugh out of me with a couple of those late-night ads, like the one for Ginsu knives: "You can break a board in half with your hand! [crack!] But NOT a TOMATO! [splat]" - great knives by the way, but I only found that out because they came as a "free gift" with something my mom mail-ordered; or my all-time favorite, THE AMAZING EGG SCRAMBLER! ("Thwipthwipthwipthwipthwip!") But I have no idea what show I was watching when I saw them.

But what the advertiser wants from me, and gets, is this:

  • I'm standing in the drug store trying to find something to deal with adolescent acne that is extending it's reach well into adulthood, and my eyes light upon that familiar blue jar I've seen in all those ads. Yes! It's gotta be worth a try! (It works.) I never would have bought it if I hadn't recognized it from seeing the ads.
  • I'm watching TV with my father, and am astonished to notice that this 75%-deaf man is singing along with a Nat King Cole tune from an album that's being advertised in the break - one of those Xmas collections. "I didn't know you were a Nat King Cole fan," I say. "It's a good song," he replies, almost defensively. I go out the next day and pick it up. (When he unwraps it on Xmas morning, he immediately takes it to my room, puts it on my turntable and plays "Nature Boy", looking really misty-eyed. "That's so true," he chokes out, as the song finishes.) (I have other stories on the gift-idea theme from advertising.)
  • I'm watching TV with my sweetie when we see an ad for a movie. "Wow, we gotta see that!" one of us says.
  • I've been getting tired of eating the same old Shreddies when I'm in the mood for cold serial, and I see a silly add for Sugar Puffs. "God, I'd forgotten all about those! I want some!" "You like them? Good, I noticed they have some sort of Buffy trinket enclosed but I don't eat them so I didn't get them." "Oh, yes, get them, I like Sugar Puffs!" (The Buffy thing was definitely not something worth buying a cereal you don't want for, BTW.)

If you'd asked me the day after seeing any of those ads what advertisements I could recall from the previous 24 hours, I might have remembered the Nat King Cole ad, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have remembered the others, or any other ad that, ultimately, might influence my future buying. And studies like this one tell you nothing about how people's purchases will actually be affected by the ads they see or what shows they saw them in.

Posted by DeLong at June 21, 2002 01:51 PM

Comments

Quick pointer -- I responded tangentially to this

post tonight in my blog, at http://potifos.com/polygon

Posted by: Larry Kestenbaum on June 21, 2002 11:14 PM

Let me make a (perhaps obvious) parallel with the short history of the internet boom and bust. Many dot.coms where based on revenue projections drawn assuming web advertising original rates. These crunched after a while, partly because of excess supply of hyper-media space, but also partly because of deceptive measures made of user click-response rate to these ads.

I remember that my gutt response to these now-turned-gurus advertising analysts (a subset of people who argue "I always said the Internet was a minor technological shift (because I am not sure I would adapt to a world where is would be all-pervasive.") was:

"idiots, you are just observing with unprecedented accuracy the ridiculous immediate response rate to advertisement. the true value of advertisement lies in brand building, which is a slow, mostly unconscious, phenomenon"... whereby I have, for example, this ridiculous attractions to Harley Davidson's and a repressed attraction to Porsche's (which, I know, are both indecently overpriced, even if you like their stigma.)

At least, in the case of web advertisement, the Porsche of my dreams is just a click away in those magical moments I would hypothetically see an add for it on Brad's web page. Whereas I wouldn't even know where to begin in the "real" world even if I could afford such a luxury. Online, I just have to google-search "Porsche" and even if I make a spelling mistake, I can get started. What a minor technological change, indeed!

P.S. I just realized that some of my arguments had already been made by Larry Kestenbaum. Good things are worth being repeated, I suppose.

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on June 22, 2002 12:59 AM

From today's news...

Programs that use sex and violence to attract audiences, and thus advertisers, undercut the effectiveness of the advertising, says a new academic study -- since what viewers remember is the sex and violence.

http://www.apa.org/releases/tvads.html

Ergo, boring dull shows (one commentator suggests Presidential addresses) may be best for advertisisers.

Fox and the producers of "The Man Show" have already come out with rebuttals.

Posted by: Jim Glass on June 22, 2002 07:01 PM


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