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Ads Don't Work That Way

Kevin Simler
Melting Asphalt
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Conventional wisdom

  • Advertisement works by some sort of “emotional inception,” offering an idea that conveys a deep emotion and implanting it in one’s mind
  • This theory ignores any sense of human rationality
  • Unlikely that seeing a commercial of a person enjoying a Coca-cola means you'll be overcome by happiness when you see a coke in the store

Advertisements work by a different mechanism

  • Raising awareness: ads make consumers aware of products they might otherwise not have known about
  • Overt persuasion: advertisements employ persuasive writing techniques that are meant to make consumers trust the product
  • Making promises: companies offer promises about their reputation or about the quality of the goods they sell to gain consumers’ trust
  • Honest signaling: when companies spend a lot of money advertising a product it offers a signal to customers that the product is worth buying
  • Cultural imprinting: when creating an advertisement, a company offers an idea about the type of people who would use such a product (e.g. athletes drink Gatorade)
    • When this ad is spread widely enough, it creates a cultural meaning for the product
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