How Effective Is Advertising?

There is a widespread belief by the general public that advertising has powerful effects. This belief sometimes results in demands for the governmental regulation of advertising, especially regulations designed to protect certain groups (in particular, children) and to outlaw deceptive practices. Despite this belief in the power of advertising, economic time-series studies have found small or no effects of the amount a firm spends on advertising on either growth in market share or total product-category sales. Similarly, experimental investigations of single exposures to advertisements find that few people pay attention to any specific advertisement exposure and what little effects are created usually dissipate quickly. However, given the pervasiveness of the mass media, even small effects can be socially significant.

Although the perception that advertising always produces strong effects is probably untrue, there are numerous examples of advertising effectiveness under specific conditions. For example, great advertising campaigns – Ogilvy’s Hathaway shirt man, Leo Burnett’s Marlboro man, Doyle Dane Bernbach’s Volkswagen advertisements, and Chiat/Day’s 1984 Macintosh advertisement – all produced measurable results. Political advertising is especially effective when the candidates are relatively unknown. Econometric studies find that advertising is effective when a brand has hidden qualities or a relative differential advantage. Copy-testing of specific advertisements indicates that communication objectives are often obtained. Advertisers have attempted to specify what makes an effective advertisement (see Ogilvy, 1983). For example, Rosser Reeves argues that an advertisement should have a “Unique Selling Proposition”; Leo Burnett believes an advertisement should portray the inherent drama of the product; John Caples and David Ogilvy have developed guidelines for creating effective advertisements. Social critics also point out that advertising can have indirect effects including: maintaining social stereotypes (see STEREOTYPING), creating a consumer culture, producing a nation of conformists, and specifying false choices (i.e., Chevy versus Ford as opposed to cars versus mass transportation). As with direct effects, it is difficult to state how many of these social effects are attributable to advertising versus other aspects of a mass-market society. However, both correlational and experimental research lend support to the argument that advertising does create pictures in our heads of what the world is and should be.

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