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Advertising: The Good, The Bad, and the Indifferent

We are surrounded in this world by advertising. Advertising is meant to persuade us to do things – not necessarily always to buy things, but to cause or instigate a course of action, whether to implant a message, a product, or a price. Could be to think twice about drinking and then driving. Could be to vote for a specific politician. Could be to buy make-up. Could be to stop in at a popular fast food joint.

We over-complicate the idea of advertising by playing the role of a victim, where we are removed or prevented from making our own capable decisions because of its presence. Advertising is, yes, carefully calculated, immensely researched and funded, and ubiquitously prevalent, but we are, in the end, still our own selves, and if we can’t see past advertising as a part of our daily lives, then we must at least pursue an ability to use it to our advantage. We ought to give ourselves more credit than to pretend we are incapable of making sound decisions in its presence.

It’s probably pretty obvious by now that I work in advertising.

The fundamental concept of advertising is that it is a trade off. We get to watch interesting television programs in exchange for commercial time within them. We get to read a great variety and diversity of magazines and newspapers whose costs are certainly more than $0.99 per day or $5.95 per month, in exchange for a propensity of defined print ads amidst their pages. We get to enjoy live sports events at billion-dollar stadiums, featuring the world’s top athletes at what amounts to a bargain price in exchange for some billboards and field banners. Certainly, there is abuse, as similarly exists in many other fields and industries wherever there is an opportunity to make money.

It’s too bad that there isn’t more “good” advertising out there. I mean, for all the billions of dollars that are spent, you’d think there would be more connection with, and genuine interest generated in, consumers. I find that more often than not, “good” advertising is at least useful, if not on occasion, interesting. What I define as a good ad, in any media, is one that leaves a positive impression. I regard myself as a consumer who has hardened and intrinsic interests and does his research on products independent of suggestion or provocation. Therefore an ad must sway me. If it doesn’t, I’m likely to neither try it nor admonish it, so in the end, it is an ad wasted and nothing has changed.

It’s not a crime nor an ethical blemish to enjoy an ad. And one is not being wishy-washy if one likes an ad but does not buy its product. But advertising, in my opinion, empowers it’s audience more than it enslaves. You and I are provided an opportunity to make a judgement call and base future decisions on the advertising we encounter, because advertising has both positive and negative effects on the companies financing them. These companies are, by in large, sticking their necks out, and the more controversial or bold their message is, the more they risk losing business as much as they hope to gain it.

The overall effects of advertising are hard to measure. It’s tough to say an ad was successful, because how is its success based? Advertising on TV or in magazines can have huge public appeal, but when it comes to product sold, may not pay for itself. Take the Dove “Campaign for Real Beauty” campaign. Its ads made the press all around the world, and were talked about ad nauseam. But when costs are considered for the construction of the various ads and paying for ad space in the multitude of media, surely their return was marginal by comparison. A measure of success is sometimes based more on marketing: brand visibility and recognition, as opposed to sales.

That said, bold initiatives can have negative consequences as well, and this is where I see empowerment. Bad ads provide reason to purposefully not buy a product, in which case an advertiser may have not only failed to gain your attention, loyalty and ultimately your business, instead they may have lost any deference that existed previously, and perhaps that of your friends and family as well. And ads that neither provoke positive nor negative reaction – well, those are a waste of money too, aren’t they? If they don’t leave a lasting impression, then what was their purpose? Wouldn’t have been any different if they hadn’t run in the first place.

I suppose my message here is that we get to, in small ways, shape the advertising we are subject to, because agencies hired to construct advertising poll audiences and ultimately determine creative direction from a projection of what the audience will respond to.

Ads I enjoy and actually look forward to:

– FedEx television ads (specifically their Canadian “Germany” campaign)
– Dairy Queen “Flamethrower burger” TV ads
– Apple’s new web ads on globeandmail.com

(just off the top of my head, and yes, I am a sucker for comedy)

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About the author cdub

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2 Comments

  1. What do you think about the fact that advertising is everywhere? I would agree with you that the average consumer ultimately has control over how he responds to an ad, yet it would seem to me that there is a greater conditioning caused by advertising that has cultivated an exorbitant society (at least according to international standards) which has lead to a nation full of debt.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m for capitalism as much as the next guy, but I am wondering how much advertising has influenced immoderation in society. In other words, what negative influences is advertising responsible, if any? Doesn’t advertisements make it acceptable, if not desirable to live excessively?

    Best

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  2. I would tend to agree with you insofar as our Western society has over-appreciated, overreacted and allowed it to manipulate us. There is a prevalence of obesity these days correlating with the saturation of fast food restaurants and generally unhealthy diets promoted by fast and packaged foods. The fact that these foods are available and in our faces provides for a tendency to respond this way. But I believe that this is a pendulum and it is swinging the other way now – we as a society are on the right track to making smarter decisions, considering our health and well being, making the extra and necessary adjustments, despite McDonald’s, etc.

    There is a routine at play here. When a cultural trend is introduced, such as unhealthy packaged food, or pirating music, or piercing body parts, I see a swing towards dramatic, almost surreal adherence to it, followed by a swing in the other direction, where society “grows up” or starts seeing the bigger picture, perhaps. And these swings occur over different lengths of time.

    Once the novelty of these trends has worn off, folks begin accepting that they exist, but are able to live without them while in their presence. And I think this is my point about advertising. We’re all ‘in’ it, surrounded by it; covered in it. And the novelty should be wearing off, meaning there’s an opportunity to see the bigger picture.

    Reply

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