Kevin Simler wrote an article titled Ads Don’t Work That Way posted on the Melting Asphalt website.

« The meme goes something like this: Rather than attempting to persuade us (via our rational, analytical minds), ads prey on our emotions. They work by creating positive associations between the advertised product and feelings like love, happiness, safety, and sexual confidence. These associations grow and deepen over time, making us feel favorably disposed toward the product and, ultimately, more likely to buy it.

Here we have a theory — a proposed mechanism — of how ads influence consumer behavior. Let’s call it emotional inception.  »

« Ads, I will argue, don’t work by emotional inception. »

« Well then: how do they work? … In fact there are many such mechanisms. And they’re not mutually exclusive: a typical ad will employ a few different techniques at once »

« raising awareness.  “FYI, product X exists. Here’s how it works. It’s available if you need it.” Liquid Draino, for example »

« overt persuasion, i.e., making an argument.  »

« making promises. These promises can be explicit, in the form of a guarantee or warrantee, but are more often implicit, in the form of a brand image.   »

« honest signaling, by existing in a very expensive location…  Knowing (or sensing) how much money a company has thrown down for an ad campaign… gives the consumer confidence that the product is likely to be around for a while and to be well-supported.  »

« Cultural imprinting is the mechanism whereby an ad, rather than trying to change our minds individually, instead changes the landscape of cultural meanings — which in turn changes how we are perceived by others when we use a product… »

« Cultural imprinting relies on the principle of common knowledge. For a fact to be common knowledge among a group, it’s not enough for everyone to know it. Everyone must also know that everyone else knows it — and know that they know that they know it… and so on »

« So for an ad to work by cultural imprinting… it has to be broadcast publicly, in front of a large audience. I have to see the ad, but I also have to know (or suspect) that most of my friends have seen the ad too. »

This is why a Superbowl ad reaching 100 million viewers is more valuable than advertising to a fragmented audience of 100 TV shows with 1 million viewers each.

« The inception model predicts that brands would benefit from being “two-faced” or “many-faced” — i.e., that brands ought to advertise to each audience separately, using whatever message is most likely to resonate with each particular audience, in order to provide maximum emotional impact… Instead, brands carve out a relatively narrow slice of brand-identity space and occupy it for decades. And the cultural imprinting model explains why. »

« If I’m going to bring Corona to a party or backyard barbecue, I need to feel confident that the message I intend to send (based on my own understanding of Corona’s cultural image) is the message that will be received. »

« A successful ad campaign doesn’t need to work on everybody. It just needs to work on net — by turning “Product X” into a more winning option, for a broader demographic, than it was before the campaign.  »

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