Some Advertising Concerns Are Legit
I enjoy advertising. I enjoy a catchy billboard, crisp ad copy in a magazine ad, a clever or well-conceived television commercial. In fact, I even proposed to a friend that we need a new cable channel comprised of television commercials and programs about television commercials. He replied, “Get out the buttered popcorn! I’d watch that.”
Having spent more than thirty years in the advertising role with two companies, I intended my theme here to be “In Defense of Advertising,” my motivation being sparked by a hostile essay against advertising that I’d read recently. In order to write a defense of advertising, however, you need to first understand the accusations of your opponents so you know what you’re defending against. The more I explored, the more I understood why there is such a visceral hatred for advertising in many circles.
As you dig deeper and actually listen to what it is that people hate about advertising, some of the concerns are worth paying attention to. The first three of these were extracted from research shared at VIEOdesign.com.
1. Too many
In the old days, a commercial break meant they were going to break for a commercial, which was usually two. Last week I had the TV on briefly and there was a commercial break with at least eight and maybe ten spots. Online advertising isn’t that much better either. There are places where a two-paragraph story is accompanied by click-bait ads down the right flank and 24 more stacked across the bottom.
2. Too intrusive
What’s your opinion of those screen takeover ads? Or pop-ups which block what you want to read and where the little “x” to remove it is almost impossible to locate?
According to the VIEO report, negative ad experiences can really stick with consumers. Seems like common sense, yet advertisers continue to do it. Consumers report, “Obnoxious or intrusive ads give me a poor opinion of the websites that allow them,” (85% agree) and “a poor opinion of the brands that are being advertised.” (84%)
3. Too creepy
This may in part refer to revelations this past year regarding Internet data mining of personal information, especially on social media sites. Stephen Baker’s The Numerati begins by pointing out that companies like Yahoo! and Google are harvesting an average of 2500 data points about each of us every month. More significantly consumers are being creeped out when ads track them, in a manner not unlike stalkers, as they surf the Net. And when ads pop up on your cell phone that say “turn in here for a special offer” as you walk through a mall, you might wonder if geo-tracking isn’t going just a little too far.
4. Too powerful
I recently read a blog post in which the writer stated, “What is advertising all about? In one word: Manipulation.” Why? His argument was that it makes people buy things they don’t want.
I’m pretty sure most people in the ad biz wish they really did have that kind of power. There are many variables that contribute to the excess consumerism people complain about, but I’ve yet to see evidence that advertising hypnotizes people and turns them into automatons devoid of free will. Is it true that people have no responsibility for their decisions when they rack up massive credit card debt to purchase things they don’t need? An ad agency that can deliver those kinds of results would be kings (or queens) of the universe.
This, too, is a common complaint that doesn’t hold up. There are hefty fines leveled against companies that produce misleading or dishonest ads. Truth in advertising laws exists to protect consumers by requiring ads to be truthful and substantiated.
Twenty years ago I did some national radio spots during drive time for a company I worked for. Before ABC would air them, I was required to provide documentation for 12 or 13 claims within a 60-second spot, “First in Synthetics” being one of them. Broadcasters are as concerned as the public about truth in advertising.
According to the FTC, “When consumers see or hear an advertisement, whether it’s on the Internet, radio or television, or anywhere else, federal law says that ad must be truthful, not misleading, and, when appropriate, backed by scientific evidence. The Federal Trade Commission enforces these truth-in-advertising laws, and it applies the same standards no matter where an ad appears — in newspapers and magazines, online, in the mail, or on billboards or buses.” *
Actually, the FTC deals with quite a few areas that address our marketing and advertising activities, including regulations on gift cards, contests and the use of endorsements, among other things. You would do well to review their website once a year if you don’t have an in-house attorney helping you to stay current on all these things.
Some people, of course, hate advertising simply because they hate capitalism. They are anti-business. Advertising is one of the more visible ways people encounter a business, so advertising is by extension evil.
This story originally appeared in print at Business North, a regional business publication servicing Northern Minnesota and Wisconsin.