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If you work on ads, do they work on you?

By Melanie Herekar

If you work on ads, do they work on you?

There’s an old saying I learned back when I worked in New York: ‘The less you believe in advertising, the more it works on you.’


Just like our non-industry friends, we see thousands of ads every day. On TV, on the Tube, on social media. But as insiders, is advertising less effective on us?


In short: probably. But the longer answer is a little more complicated. Planners will be pleased.


We’d like to think we are above advertising. Or at least believe that we can pick and choose what does and doesn’t influence us. But we’d be as wrong as a bad brief.


Being insiders, we are more critical of what we see – but that doesn’t mean we can ‘turn off’ the influence it has on us.


Let me get a little nerdy for a moment. Psychological, social and personal factors influence how we engage with marketing.  


A paper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology details experiments into “evaluative conditioning”*.  EC pairs things in hopes that the positive or negative associations of one will rub off onto the other. These associations have a significant impact on our deeper mental impressions. They drive uncontrollable response. It’s why brands associate themselves with positive things – cute animals, warm and fuzzy visuals, celebrities, etc. This ‘uncontrollable’ association exists even when we try to rationally resist it, and when our conscious minds are occupied with something else entirely.


What this suggests is that it’s beyond our control. That just like our non-marketing friends, we can’t help responding to the ads we see everyday. So let me be the first to admit it. Stick a cute puppy in your ad, and you’ve got me.


Take that psychological influence, then add on personal influences. Demographics, income, education, lifestyle and culture shape the image or status we convey and the choices we make throughout our lives.


Finally, throw in social influences of family, our peer group, and social trends and… we’re no different from our friends who don’t live in our marketing world.


But, while we may not be immune to the impact of marketing, because we work in the industry we tend to look at marketing through a different lens, which average consumers don’t.


We look at the work done by our peers in the industry and – let’s face it – we get judgy. Or, let’s say we evaluate.


We look at marketing and are naturally critical or complimentary. A great concept, but poorly executed? An effective use of media space or is it misplaced given where it’s being consumed? A clever use of data, or an opportunity missed? A great product, but poor user experience? We all do it. We look at marketing and think ‘well done’ or ‘it could have been great’ or ‘I would have done it this way…’


Take the most recent round of Christmas ads. We all look forward to them every year, wondering which will be good and which will be crap. And we have expectations based on what brands have done before. Do normal people do this? Sure they do, but not to the extent we do. And I’d be willing to bet they’re less judgy than we are. 


Think about what that paragraph means. OMG, we actually engage with advertising!


So the grand point of all this is: advertising works on us. We just know it does, and actively let it when it suits us.


Merry Christmas, everyone.



*Hütter (Eberhard Karls University Tübingen) and Sweldens (RSM, Erasmus University