Advertising Can Tell You More Than You Think

Does advertising work?  Apparently yes.  The question you should ask yourself is what is the advertiser trying to tell you?

Advertising comes at us in several forms.  There are image ads favoured by prosperous companies intent on building their brand.  The ad will be expensive both to produce and to broadcast.  Highly rated shows with huge charges for ads, like the Super Bowl, have only image ads.  The most common image ad is the lifestyle form.  Beer for example.  The Budweiser horses are not beer but they are pleasant.  I like Budweiser is the idea.

Product ads on the other hand are for purpose of moving a particular piece of merchandise.  The ads are usually cheaper to produce and usually run in lower priced slots.  The advertiser thinks in terms of units sold.  So may dollars of advertising for each piece sold.

Advertising is an art form and according to Gore Vidal, the only art form invented in America.

If we understand the art form we can draw inferences about the product from its ads.  If the ad is informational, then we are interested or we are not.  If it is image then we might notice that Mazda “Zoom-Zoom” is fun and it provides a good feeling. If it tells us the price, it is product and trying to make a sale.  Not different than the used car salesman.  “But wait, there’s more” is a famous line from Ron Popeil infommercials.

Some ads have unintended messages. When an ad is trying to persuade us, it is likely propaganda.  Political ads come to mind.  This type is also found in other areas.  Movie ads are one of my favourites.  My indicator is that if they advertise a movie after its release, it is a dog.  I doubt they intend to convey that message.  The 2013 movie, “The Lone Ranger” cost $250 million to make and did not do well.  Eventually it managed to earn around $265 million but that was supported by $150 million in advertising.  Good movies spread by word of mouth.  Cheap!

The same thing occurs today with the various people selling precious metals.  They present facts, like national debt is obscene, or they are printing money,  but these facts are used to imply that the currency must collapse and only precious metals can save you.  I am not privy to any actual evidence that the implication follows.  Despite gold falling 40% or so over the past few years, the ads are nearly unchanged.  How can that be?

Precious metal ads, political ads and movie ads all demonstrate that the underlying purpose should be examined before accepting the idea.  My thesis is that ads can be useful.  If you notice context, you can understand meaning.  They can tell you what you might want and they can tell you what to avoid.

Well, except for those of us who use a PVR to avoid ads entirely.

Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario. Contact:  

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