Answers for Adam: Is advertising spin actually good?

In his regular column Adam Ferrier poses a question to the industry. Today he asks is advertising spin as bad as it is made out to be?

Advertising is bad right? We coerce people into buying stuff they don’t need. Further, as TV show The Checkout points out (most weeks) we sometimes just put a descriptive word like ‘Baby’, or ‘Premium’ on a certain product, and then charge more for exactly the same thing. For example, all shampoos are basically made of the same stuff – so why are some priced at $3.00 a bottle whilst ‘Premium Salon Quality’ alternatives (at product parity) cost $30 (or more)?

adam-ferrier-2-copyAdvertising creates perceived value, as Jef Richards said “Advertising is the ‘wonder’ in Wonder Bread”, and consumers are more than happy to pay for this image. We will pay significantly more for exactly the same product if it’s wrapped in a layer of aspirational imagery tapping into our desires or fears.

So here’s the thing. Advertising is good because it creates demand, and consumers buying stuff represents around 65 per cent of our GDP. Yet we all know:

a) consumers don’t need to consume as much as we’d like them to in most categories;

b) the world appears to have finite recourses.

So perhaps we are better off getting consumers to buy image, rather than stuff. Image doesn’t make you fat. Image doesn’t require fossil fuels to make, or rainforests to be chopped down.

Therefore, if we can get people happily paying a higher price for the same product – that’s a good thing. The consumer is happy (placebo’s work), and the corporation gets to have a better profit margin. And the Earth is better off too as people are paying for image – and image uses no fossil fuels to make.

Imagine two shampoos both cost $1.50 to make. The first costs $3 to buy, the second, with lots of advertising spin cost $30 to buy. The second one will contribute more to a company’s profits, consumers will feel better about its functionality (look up the price placebo) and $30 is contributed to the economy. Take this even further – can we encourage people to just by image with absolutely no related product whatsoever? The economy would be good and the earth safe.

So my question is simply. Is the advertising spin, such as that pointed out by The Checkout, not in fact bad, but actually needed?

PS for more on perceived value watch this.

Adam Ferrier is a consumer psychologist and CSO at independent creative media agency CumminsRoss. @adamferrier


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