Who controls your money? The advertisers, or you?

This blog post by Xup brings up an interesting point on the matter of advertising, product placements, and such. A perhaps odd thing for me to be writing about, considering the Google ads present on my blog, but I think it explains my take on advertising in general and why, despite whatever opinions I may or may not have of some companies, I have no problem with ads in general. It started out as a comment to the original entry, but as I have a rather large policy against writing an essay on someone else’s blog, it gets pasted below.

If I’m going to end up buying something, I’ve usually already found a use for it before I seriously considered buying it. An example is one you’ve already questioned–the cell phone. I’m not very often actually at home, and if I’m looking for work, which I’ve been doing for a couple years now, people still need to be able to get hold of me. And, since not everyone–unfortunately–has taken to submitting job offers via email, that means cell phone. Additionally, just as soon as it becomes a viable option, my land line’s going out the window. But, I’m still going to need to be reachable by folks, including the afore mentioned potential employers.

Also, I tend to gravitate towards products that aren’t exactly actively advertised. For example, yes, this computer’s a Dell. But, it’s one of their lower end models who at the time–and, indeed not at any time to my knowledge since–wasn’t exactly getting a whole lot of marketting from the company. Indeed, I could have gone with an entirely different manufacturer–or none at all, as my laptop was still working; just very, very slowly. But for what I intended to use it for, the laptop wasn’t going to cut it. And, to be perfectly honest, at the time I was working for Dell, which automatically meant they could pretty much beat just about any price out there for a comparable machine–the, perhaps, second time I’ve taken advantage of what you might consider another form of advertising; employee discounts.

I could have waited until the iThingoftheweek came out, and bought it then. Since according to the advertising it’s all supposed to do everything except walk your dog–that’s in Apple’s next model. But, I didn’t need a touch screen. I didn’t need an MP3 player–I don’t even use the one I was given for a gift a while back. And everything else Apple’s equipment can do, I’ve got a cheaper piece of equipment around here that does the exact same thing and gets quite regular use.

I don’t think advertising’s so much designed to force people to make a purchase, either big or small, they wouldn’t have otherwise made–those with very little self-control would have probably done it anyway. But rather, I see ads as more of a way to inform people what’s out there. “Need a way to do xyz? Here’s what we can offer, and here’s why we think you’ll like it.” At the end of the day, you’re still the one deciding if, indeed, you’ll like it for the reasons they say–or, even, if you’ll like it for some other reason. If the answer’s no, it won’t get bought. Sadly, a lot of people are quicker to buy things than decide whether or not it’s something they’ll actually get anything out of, which is probably what at least some advertisers are counting on. But, I believe more so during the last year or so thanks to the recession, I think you’re going to start seeing less and less of that kind of reaction. And, consequently, less and less in the way of so-called brand loyalty, though that may warrant a separate post to explain. You’re half-right, though–if companies don’t advertise, they won’t sell anything. But that has more to do with a lack of awareness than it does a lack of a market.

You mentioned the microwave as an example of a created need. And, indeed, on that you’re right–but it was a need created by us, meaning the average consumer, in much the same way as the fast food industry was a created need. The more we as a society become a market of convenience, wherein we have 50 things to do and 2 hours to do them, the more supposed needs that will be created–again, see cell phones with email capability as an example. Also see 24/7 call centers, wherein there was apparently a demand to have, for example, banks set up centers that were open outside of the normal working day so people could still manage to get what they need accomplished outside their normal hours of operation. And, yes, those banks often times do advertise that–“Open eight ’til late, six days straight.”. But, company executives didn’t just wake up one morning, call a meeting and ask themselves if they could convince everyone else to drop their current bank just by extending their hours. If there wasn’t already a need for it within their existing customer base, it would never have been done. The fact they can then advertise it as a benefit of switching banks is a bonus–and, admittedly, not a very good one as the other banks started following shortly thereafter.

In-store, or in-restaurant sales are another matter entirely, and I’m not sure how relevant they would be to the overall scheme of advertising–they’re an in-store sale, likely one you wouldn’t be aware of had you not already been to that store. So, you’re already interested in something they have to offer. They’re just also saying “By the way, if you use this, we have it available for $x.xx for y bottles.” If you’re already using whatever it is they’re selling, you’re more likely to buy more of it. If you’ve been thinking about trying it, or have tried it before because someone else bought it, you’re more likely to buy it. And if you had no interest in purchasing it to begin with, the fact it’s on sale likely didn’t alter that interest. I’ll go back to your experience with VitaminWater. Had your daughter not brought some home, would you have bought it just the same?

I’m not saying there aren’t a varitable selection of crooked companies who’d just love to show you an ad for something that can cure cancer, get you to pay out your life savings for it and watch the product rather inexplicably fall over dead. But, largely due to the answer to another supposedly created need, now people are able to conduct a lot of their own research should they so choose–again, I’ll use your example of VitaminWater. Couldn’t do that 20 years ago, or even really 10 years ago. There’s no such thing nowadays as a market lock. If Apple puts out a completely crap product, and you see enough people having problems with that completely crap product, if you were initially interested in purchasing it you probably aren’t now. You may go for something else, you may stick with what you have. The advertising didn’t make you do either. All it did–indeed, all it can do–is tell you the product in question is available, and this is what it does. You can either use that product in your daily routine, or not. You can either buy the product hoping to find a use for it, or not. You can either completely ignore the advertisements, or not. If you’re looking, here’s what’s out there. And, here’s what we think it can do for you. If you’re not, it’s probably little more than white noise. And if they can come up with 50 ads to show the same thing you have no interest in obtaining, they’ll pretty well all be white noise. You do the shopping, at the end of the day. Yes, advertisers are counting on it, but they can’t fill a hole if there’s no hole to fill. If you got along just fine up until now without, for example, a cell phone, you’re not about to wake up tomorrow morning and decide you need one. And to this day, there’s not an ad invented that can change that, much to the dismay I’m sure of a few cell phone manufacturers.

And a small update, because clearly when I wrote this post, I was having a spelling fail evening. Corrected. Sorry, Xup! 🙂

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