Friday, September 19, 2008

How Much Do Ads Really Influence What We Buy?

Most of us would swear we are not affected by advertising. But if it did not work, companies would not spend billions of dollars each year trying to get their company name and logo 'branded' into our brains and hearts. Its as simple as walking in to the drug store and being faced with a wall of toothpaste- which do you buy? The one you've always bought? The kind your mother buys? The one your dentist recommends? Is it based on taste (and if so have you really done a taste test of more than a few, and did it venture beyond the big name brands)?

The majority of Americans buy Crest and Colgate. Do they really work any better than the brands on the bottom shelf that no one has heard of- of course not! While flipping through Consumer Reports last year, one of those cheaper, less heard of brands (UltraBrite) was ranked as one of the highest quality pastes. I would venture a bet that many have never even tried it.

Whats worse about advertising is it plays on our innate tendencies and uses them to promote products that may or may not live up to the hype. Humans in general fear the unknown and we are drawn to familiarity. Just by having heard the name Crest 100,000 times growing up, especially if it sat on the sink in our own bathroom, we have a much higher likelihood of buying Crest today when faced with that wall of paste. Even now having heard UltraBrite was ranked higher in Consumer Reports, most will still reach for their normal brand next time they toothpaste shopping because that little box on the bottom shelf is new and scary. Maybe they've never heard of it besides this one article, or cheaper must mean not as good (which is untrue), or they don't like that its lower or higher on the shelf.

Ironically the branding makes you feel a connection to it, because you have always used it, its familiar to you.. its your toothpaste (or coffee shop, soda, or shirt). In a country where we are lacking the bonds of a strong community, we seem to derive bits of identity from the brands that we use most often. And advertisers LOVE us for it! We are their pieces of clay that they continue to mold with each passing season.

So how do we live in a world so influenced by advertising? Is there a way to avoid it completely? The simple answer is of course not. To act like advertising does not influence you is to be as naive as those completely ignorant of the power of advertising. But you should be aware of it. Go home and look in your cupboards and on your shelves, notice what you buy and ask yourself why. You have to buy toothpaste, and you have to buy many other neccessities that have multiple brand choices. Sometimes buying a more expensive brand is worth the purchase because it makes a difference (it lasts longer, has a more potent effect, has a truly better taste determined after trying many options, etc). Sometimes its fun to go out and try a brand you've never heard of and you will be utterly and pleasantly surprised!


jkolb September 19, 2008 at 4:59 PM  

I think people are weak to ads targeting certain products more so than others.

For instance if I see an ad for Oreos or another type of cookie I have to go out and buy them. Ads for other foods don't have this effect on me and car ads just piss me off.

Vervster October 6, 2008 at 12:51 AM  

I don't know if you are weaker to certain ads.. I think you just like oreos more than the other ads you see... like maybe you dont need tampons so that ad doesnt affect you! And maybe you just like oreos so seeing the ad is an excuse to eat more ;)

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