Advertising and the Risk of Over-Reliance on Facts

In a time when “everyone knows how to make an ad” it falls on those of us who actually know to suggest course-corrections when needed. How many ads do you see every day that consists solely of a factual claim? This may be a plainly-stated product benefit or just a product shot, a brand name, and a logo. Perhaps in tandem with the rise in digital marketing, ads like this are increasingly the norm.

While advertising should always be rooted in facts, facts alone don’t actually persuade people unless they are already inclined to believe. Why? Because humans are primarily driven by instinct and emotion.

Instinct tells our subconscious mind to engage in processes that it “thinks” will further self-preservation. Emotions are states of feeling that are often accompanied by physical and physiological changes. As we go about our lives, various positive and negative emotional experiences train our subconscious motivations. We then tell ourselves stories about ourselves and the world around us (which are often more false than true) to rationalize our subconscious motivations. This forms our self-identity.

People pick and choose facts to support their favorite personal stories. How does this affect advertising? Well, a fact about a brand only has a chance at persuading people who already think favorably about the brand.

Example: Car safety is valued by most car buyers. The Volvo car brand has been focused on safety for many years. But if someone doesn’t like Volvos, the safety record isn’t going to make any difference. That doesn’t mean they don’t care about safety, it just means they don’t care about the safety record of Volvos. But if someone already has an interest in buying a Volvo, safety facts will help them rationalize their interest as a good decision. The audience must already have positive feelings about a brand to care about facts.

If an ad is appealing, tells a story, stirs an emotion, and communicates facts about the brand, it’s likely to be highly persuasive. Even if one only has a small space, or time frame, for the ad, putting thought towards visuals and the copy will make facts more impactful. So while “everyone knows how to make an ad” maybe it’s still smart to rely on someone who actually knows, if for no other reason than to maximize ROI.

Mark Trueblood is a senior integrated writer available for freelance or full-time work. Visit his portfolio at

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