Are there hidden messages in advertising? Did the movie patrons really buy more popcorn when the cinema operator slipped a secret message into every 16th frame?
Consumers are paranoid about being manipulated and no evidence exists to suggest that subliminal advertising is effective in persuading consumers to buy products.
Let’s stick with the facts as we look at what advertising is and is not.:
Subliminal advertising does not happen.
No controlled experiment has ever found any evidence of planned subliminal advertising and the inefficacy of it is thoroughly proven in hundreds of studies, the myth persists.
Jim Goodnight said aptly "that advertising is the art of the blatant message, not the hidden one."
As much as people are paranoid about the alchemy that is subliminal advertising, it does not exist:
- there ain’t a camel in the cloud,
- and there ain’t naked boobs in the ice.
Sheri Broyles published a great meta-analysis on the topic in the Journal of Consumer Affairs, and re-printed here.
So, if there is no secret to it, how does it really work?
What makes some ads more effective than others? Is traditional advertising dying in the face of the social media onslaught? Are you wasting your money with advertising?
Let’s consider these universal principles of advertising. Well, when we talk advertising we mean the type described below as ‘effective ads’.
An effective ad is/has:
- A relevant message (offer)
- Creatively presented to draw attention (memorable)
- Accessible to the right audience (time & place)
- Consistently repeated
That is pretty much it. Some may like to ad that it should be ‘on brand’ and that is true. But that is true for everything you do.
The following observations may not go down well amongst certain people, but since I am a marketer and not an advertiser, I look at advertising as a tool (not a profession) and it is a tool that I have used and have come to know:
- Bad advertising is bad advertising and you can’t blame the channel or the consumer or emerging media.
- Good advertising practices include continuous evolution and innovation to effectively reach consumers. Bad advertising mediums will die if they don’t evolve. That is not because of new competing media, but because of poor commitment to the craft of advertising.
- We don’t believe that ‘brand advertising’ (propagated by so many) is ever appropriate. You get people aware of your brand and loyal to your brand by getting them to use/buy/experience your product or service. Brand loyalty is a RESULT of your success in getting people to buy your products, it is not a driver.
- Your brand mark (logo) is not your brand; it is simply a sensory reminder of the attributes your brand is known for.
- You don’t ever own a brand. A brand is what customers think of your product/service. You are a custodian of that set of associations and it is disrespectful to suggest or act otherwise.
- Your sales success is a product of [advertising spend X product or service quality]. There is no reason to reduce your spend on advertising until and unless it becomes ineffective.
- Advertising will not cure a bad business. But it will grow a good business. That is: all successful companies are not always successful because of their advertising, but unsuccessful companies are often the result of their non-advertising.
- Whilst there are examples of companies/products that surprised everyone with their overnight success without advertising, the operative word is surprise. If we knew why, we could replicate it but we don’t and we can’t.
- Social Media does not replace advertising. SM is desperately trying to find ways to masquerade as something that is not advertising but achieving the same outcomes. Pure advertising is authentic about its purpose and consumers understand a respect it for what it is. Social media has a place, advertising has a place.
- Advertising will always be a gamble because consumers are fickle and it is almost impossible to predict their preferences and behaviours with certainty. The only way to beat the odds is to keep betting – and it will eventually work.
- Sleep kills 99.9% of advertising.
- Shrink your market you aim to dominate until it is of the size where you can dominate.
- You only have to reach 50% of the market (effectively) because that 50% knows the other half and if your product is any good, they will tell them.