Source: The Mises Institute, by Ryan McMaken
With Super Bowl Sunday nearly upon us, we’re once again hearing about all the high-priced television ads scheduled for the event that will amuse and influence us while convincing us to buy the advertisers’ products. For many people, football has even become secondary to the advertisements.
Many viewers may indeed by amused by the advertisements. There is a problem for the advertisers, though. It’s unclear that the ads will actually do much to convince viewers to buy the featured products.
There is growing evidence, it seems, that suggests the under-thirty demographic simply doesn’t respond to advertisements, and that brand loyalty is becoming virtually non-existent in an age when consumers rely more and more on third-party evaluators such as Yelp and Amazon to provide insight into whether or not a product is worth one’s time and money.
Many of these discussions about how ads don’t work anymore, however, continue to rely on what is probably an incorrect assumption — namely that advertisements have worked perfectly well in the past.
Indeed, the evidence has always been rather sketchy as to how much advertisers can actually influence the public’s thoughts about goods and services, and consumers have never been at the mercy of advertisers as many seem to think.
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Nevertheless, our faith in the power of advertising — and it’s political variant, known as “propaganda” — has long been nearly unshakable.
For example, an often repeated anecdote used to support this view is the one in which we are told that the world opposed female use of cigarettes until some advertisers convinced everyone to abandon their long-held social views and embrace tobacco for all. This version of history often claims that Edward Bernays, the “father of public relations” devised ingenious advertising methods that manipulated people into abandoning their own existing value systems in favor of whatever advertisers put forward.
But, as Bill Wirtz recently demonstrated, the rise of female smoking also accompanied enormous social changes brought on by the First World War and new physical and economic conditions imposed on women. Rather than revolutionizing social thought, as is often assumed to be the case with Bernays and the tobacco ads, it is also entirely plausible that Bernays simply rode the wave of social change.
Notably, in the 1940s, Ludwig von Mises was skeptical of the idea that advertisers are able to manipulate people into doing whatever the advertisers want. Mises writes:
It is a widespread fallacy that skillful advertising can talk the consumers into buying everything that the advertiser wants them to buy. The consumer is, according to this legend, simply defenseless against “high-pressure” advertising. If this were true, success or failure in business would depend on the mode of advertising only. However, nobody believes that any kind of advertising would have succeeded in making the candle makers hold the field against the electric bulb, the horse drivers against the motorcars, the goose quill against the steel pen and later against the fountain pen. But whoever admits this implies that the quality of the commodity advertised is instrumental in bringing about the success of an advertising campaign. Then there is no reason to maintain that advertising is a method of cheating the gullible public.
In other words, real-world conditions are a key factor in forming people’s ideas and attitudes, and simply telling them things isn’t enough.
Read More Here: Advertisers Aren’t As Powerful As We Think | Mises Wire