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Value of advertising
I don't want you to think for a moment that I object to advertising on the ground that it is based on suggestion.
I advertise my own products and services, and I advertise on behalf of some of my clients! If nothing else, reputable advertising performs an invaluable social function. Without it our lives would be duller and more restricted; we would know little of the enormous variety of services and products that we can take advantage of to grow our business and improve our lives. We would be at the mercy of a handful of providers who would dictate to us what we could buy, when we could buy it, for how much and with what guarantees.
So reputable advertising is a good thing. It's just that not all advertising is reputable, and there's no real protection against the unscrupulous advertiser. The law provides some consumer protection, but it is usually quite inadequate and too costly to pursue redress.
A vendor may not make a definitely untrue statement about his or her products or services without incurring legal penalties, but the distinction between what is an untrue statement and what is legitimate 'fluff and spin' is so obscure that to all intents and purposes he or she can say what they like. For example, the statement "the best in the world" could never be held to be untrue in a court of law.
There is only one way in which the claims can be substantiated or disproved, and that is by buying the article being advertised. And if you do buy it, the advertisement has achieved its purpose. Catch 22.
So far as the claims of advertisements are concerned the public has no means of testing them except by doing what the advertiser wants. If this is so, then you might wonder why the public is not exploited far more than it is, and if there are any limits to what unscrupulous advertisers can persuade consumers (aka 'you, me and our clients') to do.
Checks on advertising
The answer is that there are two very effective checks on advertisements, neither of which cripple, nor even interfere, with legitimate business advertising, but both of which in the long run kill the unscrupulous firm.
The first check is competition. Whatever you are at liberty to say, your rivals are also at liberty to say. The more you advertise, the more they will advertise. The market's wallet will be divided between you and your rivals and you will only secure a larger proportion of it if your advertisement is more effective than the others.
Now, as you no doubt know, effective advertisements can be very costly. The purchase of space and the creativity involved in generating striking adverts can run into the thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Good copywriters, visual designers, technicians and producers cost money, and the better they are at their work the more they usually charge. So, at the risk of generalising, only those firms with a sound, reputable business can stand the financial strain indefinitely, and although temporary abuses are frequent, on the whole and in the long run competition provides a check on the power of advertising.
The second check is in the nature of the product or service itself.
Worthless articles can be sold for a time via a gigantic advertising campaign, no doubt about it. Late-night television survives on infomercials, not every product in them worthy of the claim, "best in the world."
But unless the products and services you are selling reach a certain standard of worth, then no matter how often and for how long you advertise them people will not go on buying them for ever.
Sure, abuses are widespread, for it is possible to sell a very large number of comparatively worthless articles before the great unwashed public becomes aware that it has been taken in; it's possible, in fact, to make a fortune by such methods. But again, on the whole and in the long run, the values of the product or service you are selling exercises a definite check on the power of your advertising.
Side note: Selling products via the internet has proved an interesting case study on how consumers can kill an unscrupulous advertiser. Nearly all internet transactions are processed by credit card, so if the purchaser is unhappy, they need only to contact their credit card company to reverse the transaction. Too many 'chargebacks' and an online merchant rapidly finds out that the public doesn't value their product. The online retailer still has to pay for hosting of the website and merchant fees on the initial transaction, so they can very quickly find themselves facing a very large loss.
Unfortunately, few of the general public learn from their experiences. Despite the fact that they may have been deceived in the past, they still let themselves be persuaded in the present and they pay for their gullibility very heavily.
Suggestion is far more effective if it is backed up by what I call 'prestige' appeal. I'll go into 'prestige' in more detail a little later in this ebook; here I'll just concern myself with the meaning of the phrase.
If a well known 'celebrity' figure can be persuaded to sing the praises of a product or service, people who admire the celebrity's accomplishments can be easily persuaded to buy it.
Thus a famous athlete may lend his name to advertising sports shoes. It will be implied, and it may even be directly asserted, that his successes have been due to those sports shoes. All those people who admire his achievements and wish to emulate them will be strongly influenced by the prestige of his name.
Even when there is no direct link between the product and the celebrity, such as the musician Sting advertising a brand of beer in Japan, advertisers will still aim to suggest to the Japanese public that they, too, can be as cool, successful or whatever 'brand' image Sting has in their minds if they too drink the same beer.
Reports I have written:
Measuring the impact and ROI of social media - for Ark Group
Making Social Media work for your business - for Ark Group
Social Media: The New Business Communication Landscape - for Ark Group
How to get started with podcasting in your organisation - for Melcrum Publishing
Contributing author to How to use social media to solve critical internal communication issues - for Melcrum Publishing
Contributing author to How to communicate with hard-to-reach employees - for Melcrum Publishing
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