A number of people have pointed out that advertisements that insult consumers use these ads because they work and that I must be affected by ads, too. I agree with these comments. I never said that those particular ad strategies are ineffective, only that they are insulting. I also have nothing against advertising in general — in fact, I am thankful for ads, particularly those that keep my favorite websites free. I have even personally written copy for a few print ads.
I also admit to being affected by advertising. Because I am aware of many of the strategies advertisers use, I believe I am less affected by it than many people, but I know that some advertisements do make me want to buy a particular product or service. Here are five types of advertising that work on me:
Straightforward ads that simply make me aware of something I didn’t know existed – I like soft sells. Tell me what you’re offering and let me decide for myself if I want to buy it. If you’re promoting a movie, let me know who the stars are and what the plot is about, as well as whether I should expect to laugh or cry. Don’t tell me how many other people loved it. In fact, if a movie looks interesting to me but it’s promoted too heavily, I tend to become more skeptical – I start to think, “How bad is it that they’re not trusting word of mouth to bring people to the theater?”
Basic “here’s what we have to offer” ads work especially well if they advertise a product for which I already have a need or desire. For example, I would love to sell some clothes on consignment, but I haven’t yet found a shop that makes it worthwhile for me. (The last time, I took a garbage bag full of clothes to a shop a half hour away and, after their fees, I made about $1.60 – not even enough to cover my gas to pick up the check.) When I saw a print ad for a new consignment shop, I tore it out.
Ads that offer me something of value, even a small value – Lately, we have been receiving several credit card offers that promise $100 in cash or gift cards after our first purchase. That’s a hard offer to resist, even though I realize that our credit scores decrease as we open each new card. Even ads that offer something of smaller value – such as a rebate or even a cents-off coupon – entice me to consider the product or service more carefully. If companies want me to try their product enough to offer me something in return, I am usually a bit more willing to try it. I am a sucker for coupons, rebates, and freebies. I clip many of them, though I don’t always use them. I have learned to control my coupon use enough that I rarely buy things I wouldn’t buy without a coupon or buy a brand name with a coupon when a perfectly good store brand is still less expensive.
Ads that emphasize low price and basic features over bells and whistles – Unfortunately, these ads are rare because most companies that offer “value” products keep their prices low by keeping advertising budgets low. One example I can think of is the Procter & Gamble line of “Basic” paper products (Bounty, Charmin, etc.).
Ads with upbeat music and bright, interesting images – You may have noticed that I tend to like ads that appeal to logic over emotions, but some ear-catching music and well-designed images will get me to look up from my computer while my family is watching television. I would never buy a Hummer, but I loved their ad set to “Happy Jack,” where the kid drives the home-built Hummer over rough terrain. Unfortunately, many of these toe-tapping ads quickly jump from the “love it” to “hate it” category when they start insulting people. The well-choreographed Visa ads where a line runs smoothly until someone pays cash fall into this category. For one, cash is usually a faster way to pay than credit. For another, these ads are way too condescending toward consumers who choose cash over credit, as though using cash is somehow embarrassing rather than financially responsible.
Clever or funny ads – These ads are difficult to get right, as most forms of humor can become offensive. I tend to like ads that use wordplay, which might be considered a low form of humor, but still makes me smile. Ads that make me smile don’t always convince me to buy the products they promote, but they do usually give me a more positive impression of the company.
I’m sure that anyone in advertising who reads this article would be able to place me into several demographic categories simply based on what ads appeal to me. You would probably respond differently to these types of ads and might be convinced by completely different types of ads. In our culture, it’s hard to find anyone who is entirely unaffected by advertising. However, being aware of ads and how they affect each of us personally can help us make wiser choices when it comes time to spend some money.
Image courtesy of Steve Webel