Sunday, September 08, 2013

Isn't Advertising Like Politics?

Advertising is not a science. In the world of science, we know how things work, and we can predict with some accuracy how they will work in the future.

But despite 150 years of research and discussion, we can't really agree on how advertising works. And despite the best efforts of Millward Brown and the brain-scanning neuromarketers, we can't predict with much accuracy how consumers will respond to it.

So if advertising is not a science, what is it?

I'm going to say politics.

Maybe politics is just top-of-mind due to yesterday's election in Australia, but I do think the commonalities are striking.

Both draw from science - politics draws from economics, and advertising from psychology (of which certain agencies have a more up-to-date understanding than others) - but both fields are riddled with competing theories as to how to go about things, rather than any agreement about what works best.

In their own way, advertising theories are as oppositional as the clashes between socialism and capitalism, or progressives v conservatives.

For example, some argue it is essential that advertising has impact - if you don't 'cut through the clutter', your message won't be heard. But others argue that the brain works mostly by Low Involvement Processing - we process marketing messages at least as much when we are paying little or no attention to them as we do when we consciously take them on board, therefore cut-through is irrelevant.

Should we be trying to rationally persuade, or emotionally engage? Sell product, or build brands? Is the purpose of advertising to show how a product meets someone's needs, or to create a badge-like brand that enables consumers to display their personality or values to others?

No one has 'the answer', and that turns advertising practitioners into politicians - out there trying to persuade clients to vote for their way of doing things, rather than another agency's.

The irony, of course, is that when a client does decide to make a change, they probably wake up the next morning, go into their new agency, and find that things are much the same as they were before... but just with a different set of people in charge.


Chris Ogunlowo said...

Well said.

Charles Frith said...

It's more like propaganda in my view. Repetition works.

Realist said...

Advertising is like politics because at the end of the day they're both about sales.

Jason said...

I'm not going to defend science-ey, MillwardBrown-driven advertising, but it is worth bearing in mind that science is more concerned with discovering new things, not regurgitating facts.

So the next time your client chunters on about "scientific process" remind them exactly what that means: developing hypotheses, trying to disprove them, getting to theories etc... the scientific process involves a lot of leaps into the unknown, a lot of trial and error.

Much like advertising.

Anonymous said...

Said well.

lubomir said...

Advertising and Politics:
...both seek attention
...both are equally hated
...both love euphemisms
...both find problems everywhere
...both have god complex
...both bring you disappointment
...both masquerade interests as principles
...and we need less from both

Dan Moth said...

I think advertising is like entertainment, both in terms of its content and its ephemeral nature.