Does Advertising Work?

In this week’s Thursday Night Insight, Paul Hague argues vehemently – once again – that advertising can and does work.

What is it about me? My evenings with friends often end up in heated discussion. For some reason, they associate me with all the sins of the marketing world.

–     “You people are terrible for persuading us to buy things we don’t want.”

–     “You people are responsible for profligate consumption and wasting the world’s resources.”

–     “I don’t know who ever buys branded products – I never do on principle – you are just paying for the brand.”

I defend my corner as best I can, explaining that our work is measuring and analysing the effect of marketing while others are responsible for implementation. However, these arguments always leave me feeling defeated as the debates rage endlessly on and, I suspect, with little change of the protagonists’ views. However, I take no offence. Why should I? These are real questions for our profession.

So, it was no surprise the other weekend when we were entertaining some friends and a heated discussion flared about the effect of advertising. The arguments flew back and forth with the speed of a ping pong ball in the hands of the China Olympic team.

–     “Advertising is such a waste of resource. No one takes any notice of it.”

–     “Oh yes they do. We can measure how many people have seen adverts and track if they have bought the products.”

–     “Well that may be so for some people but no one I know takes any notice of adverts and I certainly don’t.”

As usual we got nowhere, which meant that as usual I felt that I had lost. And, all the while, Alfie, my aging boxer dog, was getting agitated and asking for a walk. We packed up the discussion and headed off down the lane.

We live on a lane that drops down for half a mile through woodland until finally it reaches a farm and the River Goyt, at which point it stops and becomes a footpath. In other words, it is a peaceful sort of lane with limited traffic made up of a few cars, bikes and walkers. It is not your average high street. It is definitely not somewhere that an advert would reach thousands of people.

We hadn’t walked for more than five minutes when my friend spotted a small notice, looking very water sodden despite being encapsulated in plastic, and fastened to a tree. It was a pathetic attempt to communicate and my friend was quickly engaged

–     “Oh look Paul, someone has lost their kitten. See here, there is a picture. We must do something, they will be heartbroken.”

And on and on she went.

–     “Yes, I know. I have seen the poster but the cat isn’t around here, of that I am sure. Also, you will see that they lost it in November and it is now April. I would have noticed the cat and anyway, if I hadn’t, Alfie would have.”

(I didn’t point out that the unfortunate cat would have ticked off another of its nine lives if it had had the misfortune of confronting my canine friend.)

I suppose I was still bruised from our earlier discussion in which I had got nowhere and thought I would try and extract some bonus points.

–     “See, I told you that advertising works. You say you never take notice of adverts and here you are looking at an advert, taking notice and getting engaged in action – just like I was explaining.”

–     “Nah. That isn’t advertising. That is just someone that has lost their cat and is asking us to help.”

Alfie looked up at me and sighed. His expression echoed my feelings – “Come on Dad, save it for Monday. Let’s get on with our walk and if I see that pesky cat, I will scrag it”.

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