/ Shopping

Do ads influence what you buy?


Are you ad-proof, or do you occasionally find yourself taken in by a claim or aspirational image in adverts? Some of you are already wise to the tricks of the trade.

We noticed that some community members take a slightly more cautious approach to adverts, but surely not everyone is so ad-proof?

Picture the scene. A car drives fast down a sunny coast road miraculously free of other vehicles. Or how about this: an impossibly glamourous couple laughing and dancing at four in the morning through the streets of Paris.

You get the idea. Neither of these adverts makes a claim about the product. In fact, neither tells you anything much about it – the wheel trim of the car nor the smell of the after shave being promoted.

And none of us really believes a new car will ensure a life of sunshine and no traffic lights. Or that the sniff of a new aftershave will have Hollywood stars hammering at our door in the middle of the night.

Still the subtext is clear. Buy this product and get a taste of this wonderful, glamorous/exciting/dangerous (insert your own adjective) lifestyle.

Tempting claims

That kind of subliminal advertising is one thing, but there are also plenty of product ads that make more overt claims, inviting you to enjoy shinier hair, whiter teeth or faster broadband.

As far as such claims go, Which? Conversation member Malcolm R is firmly in what he calls the ‘pinch of sodium chloride’ camp, as he put it in our discussion of claims made for shampoos:

‘As far as marketing is concerned, it has been going on for thousands of years. A supplier will tell you all the positive features of a product, but is unlikely to advertise the negative ones. If we don’t know by now to take advertising claims with a pinch of sodium chloride and use our own judgement and instincts (helped, perhaps, by exposures from Which?), we never will.’

Or as Derek P, puts it:

‘Might there be a clue to the veracity and value of some of these claims within the first four letters of the word sham… poo!’

Watch the wording

We’ve been very sceptical of some marketing. For example, when we looked at the science behind toothpaste claims, our experts compared two toothpastes that claimed to give whiter teeth in a week and saw no evidence to back up the claims.

Some ad claims are of course carefully worded. We’ve been campaigning against those broadband ads that say you can get a speed of ‘up to’ – ads that are technically OK if only 10% of customers can actually get that speed.

I like to think that I share the firm common sense of many Which? Convo members in casting a cold eye on advertising claims.

And yet. Aren’t we all a bit susceptible? With me, it’s eye wrinkle cream. Being a chap of a certain age, I confess to having at least two brands of cream on my bathroom shelf that claim to tackle those fine lines around your eyes.

It’s not really that I expect they’ll make me look or feel 20 years younger. Not really. But you never know. The hope still lingers.

Claims that crumbled

Some advertisers do run into problems. Food giant Kellogg’s, for example, has been banned from telling consumers that its Special K cereal is ‘full of goodness’ and ‘nutritious’ in UK ad campaigns.

And there are those ads that go disastrously wrong.

When some cigarettes called Strand were launched, a big TV ad campaign was produced to publicise them. It showed a dark, wet, deserted London street scene in which a raincoated character, played by Terence Brook, looking similar to Frank Sinatra, lit a cigarette and puffed reflectively. In the background played a tune, The Lonely Man Theme and a voice announced ‘You’re never alone with a Strand.’

It may have sounded good, but sales were so poor that Strands were soon taken off the market. The trouble was that people associated smoking Strand cigarettes with being lonely and who wants to think of themselves as lonely?

So do you think you can be convinced by advertising? Would you choose a product or perhaps a brand purely based on an advert? Or do you consider yourself a bit more sceptical when it comes to advertising claims?


Maybe companies should concentrate more on less expensive advertising and plough that saved expense into reducing prices. That could be the way forward. Then again, the promo people are good at advertising themselves to the companies in question. It’s all a merry-go-round!

It was a well known phrase or saying in the advertising industry that companies knew that half their advertising expenditure was wasted but they never knew which half.

We can look at advertising from our perspective and query its point, or feel there should be less of it. We even think we are immune to it’s influence! As if! The ad agencies carry out enormous market and demographic research and sociological studies to try to ensure that their efforts hit the spot. Magazine advertising is now probably more significant than TV commercials which are really only there to confirm a brand’s continued presence in the market place rather than to push a specific product, hence the increasing trend for whole segments of evening or daytime television to be sponsored by one company illustrating a range of their products before and after each break. Some of them are quite clever or amusing until you’ve seen them twenty times.

Magazine advertising automatically selects a target audience for adverts so a lower percentage of the expenditure falls on stony ground but there is a higher price for such advertising which is passed through to the product price. Rival magazine publishers are locked in fierce contests to deliver the optimum market segment to their advertising clients through their selection of articles and features and presentation of suitable personalities. Readers will also pay high cover-prices for magazines that reflect and develop their lifestyles or special interests and appreciate advertising that reinforces those aspirations. The high advertising sales income has also enabled publishers to launch more and more magazines targeting different segments of the same special interest readership. The number of titles just keeps growing and it is a battle for our hearts and minds. It is as futile to pretend that we don’t succumb, as it is to assert that we take no notice of what we see on the web [in fact we are more prone to believe what we see there than any contrary evidence and its habit-forming tendencies have led to a rash of advertising that some claim is now becoming counter-productive due to overkill].

Personally, and so long as it is kept in order, I like advertising and am sometimes affected by it, at least initially. I would not enjoy a market place without any advertising or promotion. Incidentally, advertising has for long been one of the UK’s strong points internationally and as one of the ‘invisible’ service industries brings huge revenues into the country. A strong home market for advertising develops the creative skills and technical and administrative facilities that support a worldwide reach; we might need more of that in the future.

But there’s so many kinds of advertising. I have the impression that the assumption most people make is that it means TV adverts, and no doubt that’s what most people are conscious of.

But what about the advertising in supermarkets? As far as I know, they charge extra to display products prominently. So if you can’t find a particular make easily, and you’re in a hurry, you’ll buy what you see. That too is surely advertising. I’ve frequently read that the best place for a product to be is at the end of the stands, where you walk round to get to the next alley.

This has always puzzled me, because I’m in fact completely blind to those spots: I’ve numerous times looked for a product very long and (as I thought) thoroughly, only to be told, ‘oh, it’s at the end of the stand’. But it’s where they put stuff they want to sell, and they should know.

I like to think I’m immune to advertising, but that’s what everyone thinks. I’d really love to have a conversation with an advertising expert about this.

In my own personal opinion I just assume that any Add, Company, Seller or Supplier will tell you anything to part you from your money, and if anything goes wrong they don’t want to know, And the only thing product warranty’s cover is the paper it’s written on.