Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Be the First on Your Block to Understand Advertising

People love being victims. I have this friend who is utterly convinced that advertising manipulates people and makes them buy neither stuff they don’t want nor need. I’ll agree we buy stuff we don’t need and sometimes we purchase something we don’t want (like when I saw Reign of Fire) but to say that we are “made” to buy things not only insults everyone that’s ever bought anything advertised, it doesn’t pay attention to the facts.

The advertising theory goes much like a conspiracy theory. Unseen men fool us into thinking their stuff is worth more than it is. Any random examples that support the theory prove it. Any overarching, reasonable evidence are exceptions or lies. I challenge you to seriously ask yourself the tough questions. If the anti-advertisers were right, why do 33% to 90% of new products (depending on industry) fail? Why is advertising the first thing every company cuts when there’s an economic downturn? Why don’t corporations just sell brightly-colored empty boxes and use the money they save on production to hedge their advertising budget?

Ads don’t—can’t—make us buy things; they can only inform us. They tell us about new products, new styles and new features. In the words of Dr. Jerry Gustafson, we are all authors of our own desires and we decide if we want to buy it. Sure, the information is blatantly biased but people who don’t know that are about as rare as people who don’t know cigarettes are bad for you. If you still don’t believe me, ask yourself why the pop machines aren’t stocked with New Coke.


-Ron said...

The Square Root of Coke

I am old enough to remember the first New Coke. Actually, at the time all Coke was labeled Coca Cola and it was only known as Coke informally among consumers. So when New Coke came out, it was labeled simply as Coke. Only after that experiment died of fast-acting public ridicule did the new distinction of Coca Cola Classic emerge. And New Coke, well, it just disappeared after a few months lingering on the shelves. Tab, it turns out, was a better sell. I remember thinking then (and incidentally, this is one of my really distinct early childhood memories) that I liked the old Coke – so why would change it? To this day I am not sure what inspired the debacle.

But what is remarkable is how effectively the market system performed there, despite millions and millions of dollars in advertising from the company. Coke did everything they could to convince the public to buy this thing, and assure themselves that they hadn’t made the biggest bungle since Jimmy Swaggart harkened on down the road of sexual sin in his own Lincoln (actually, I think that was a bit later, but you get the idea). Yet folks just weren’t willing to drink the stuff. They didn’t like it, they didn’t want it, and hence they did not buy it. Coke promptly “retired” their CEO and rushed what was now Coca Cola Classic back to stores everywhere.

Advertising is meant to inform, that’s true. But we all know that advertising is blatantly trying to get you to consume their product. So while it is correct to assume that advertising can prompt us to try new products we haven’t yet tried, if that product doesn’t hold up under consumer inspection all subsequent advertising will fall on deaf ears. It is hard to imagine a conspiracy, then, when advertising does little more than to remind us of a product’s presence. And in any case, clearly doesn’t “make” us do anything.

I noticed that New Coke is back. They’re calling it Coke Squared these days. But I also noticed that this time around they left the root product alone. Guess those conspiratorial barons of evil advertising heard us the first time.

David said...

First Ron, I think you're thinking of C2-Coke's answer to the low carb craze (and it really is a craze, nothing more). I'm not sure it's supposed to be read as "squared" but what the hell. It makes for a catchy title to your comment.

Second, Coke revamped their formula because Pepsi was taking away more and more of their market share (made popular by their "taste tests" commericals). No one at Coca Cola would admit this but they changed their product to make it more like their blue rival. Thank God they changed it back.