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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?


Taking a pinch of NaCl is still my mantra, but the shampoo Convo (and Patrick) did start me using hair conditioner, and it does make a difference. Mrs r agrees. I haven’t tried anti-wrinkle cream though – they haven’t arrived yet.

I see adverts as informing about products that are available. But you need to view the claims with scepticism and common sense, and if you are of an engineering bent like me you’ll laugh some off and if you remain interested. try and find independent information before you succumb.

When I was little there was tales of an advert in the paper for something that promised to “cut your electricity bills in half”. Those who went for it received a pair of scissors. If it’s too good to be true……

Glad to hear about your new hair Malcolm 😀

Ads are nothing more than an attempt to part you from your money and give you something you didn’t really think you needed or wanted not 5 mins before.

Ads are very often misleading in my opinion, albeit the ASA never agrees. Can you remember one as a few years back when on Gary “Nice Guy” Lineker took a crisp from a bag of crisps, and all you saw was the tips of his fingers go into the bag before producing a crisp. Yet you try and get a crisp out without needing to stick an arm neck and shoulders in. The ASA didn’t believe there was an intention to decieve, so s*d the fact it was inaccurate the ad stood.

Today you’ll see Ryan Reynolds doing a BT ad, were he’s lifted into the air by a helicopter, Really? I’d be very surprised if that wasn’t CG’d up to the hilt.

And whats with game ads, using “Not actual ingame footage”. is the ingame footage that bad you can’t use it. next ad please.

So no, ads are now only something to fast forward thru.

Having sad that I did like the Call of Duty ad that aired at the end of last year. “what you’ll don’t know about Cara” classic. Didn’t make me buy the game though. oh well.

Nigel says:
1 August 2016

I laugh at some adverts that make claims, e.g. head and shoulders is ‘up to’ 100% effective, the words ‘up to’ are in small print. Also, anything can be ‘up to’ 100% effective, you could wash your hair in vegetable oil and it could meet the claim. Even if you could prove that the shampoo was only 0.000000000000000000001% effective, it would meet the advertiser’s claims.
I always think about what ISN’T said in an advert, not what IS said. Remember, all adverts are merely smoke and mirrors, and are simply made to part you with your cash.

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This comment was removed at the request of the user

Right with you, we do exactly the same. Repetitive adverts must surely put people off?

I don’t think the ASA is tough enough with companies who exaggerate their products capabilities. Cosmetics is probably the worst. The pictures of models with sweeping long eyelashes have little to do with the mascara advertised and much more to do with the false lash inserts they are wearing. This fact is displayed briefly in tiny print on the screen and is probably missed by most. What about that annoying idiot who speaks with a Spanish accent advertising the amazing strength of Plenty “ONE SHEEEET” kitchen towels? You cannot rinse them and wring them out, as he claims. They will tear like any other paper kitchen towel if you try or if you use too much pressure when cleaning. They are only good for soaking up spills or wiping your hands on. I know it is supposed to be humorous, but it is not. It is just annoying. Cillit Bang, another gross exaggeration of its cleaning capabilities. I could go on and on. It is time The ASA earned their coin and stopped misleading advertisements such as these. There are far too many of them.

I take very little notice of any advert Those that appear on my computer when I have just been looking put me off buying from that company I can always find somewhere else to buy from If people are trying to make me buy or anything else by “pestering” me I just completely refuse to buy or do it I decide to buy or do things when I want not when someone tells me to

It’s a very interesting arena. Almost no one will ever admit to believing in or being influenced by ads, yet there’s a vast amount of research in both Psychology and Sociology to suggest that the most significant influence is almost always sub-concious. And advertising does influence many people, even if they believe they’re incorruptible in that way. Brexit was a good example of how an advertising campaign based mainly on fear and lies clearly had a huge influence on voters, although almost certainly most probably believed that they’d made their own minds up. And the Remain campaign vetoed use of perhaps the most effective ads.

But advertising is a fascinating mix of Psychology and Sociology. It plays on fear, survival instinct, the need to be part of a group and, possibly more than anything else, self-esteem. We may choose to believe we’re above it all, unaffected by what we see and hear, completely unfazed by the opinions of others, but the evidence says otherwise.

The fears of growing old, losing hair, acquiring wrinkles, being invaded by people ‘not like us’ are all irrational; we have no choice about ageing and most of us are products of invasions over many years. But despite this rationalisation Newspapers (which are themselves little more than adverts for particular political causes in the main) seem to have a significant effect, even on otherwise intelligent and experienced people. How else to explain the DFM’s continued sales figures?

But, like it or not, we are all susceptible to types of advertising. The more intelligent and experienced simply see ads tailored more to their abilities and often determine them to be ‘information’ rather than simply adverts and advertisers are remarkably canny when it comes at knowing how to reach particular groups. For instance, making people laugh is a proven and well-established technique to win favour, thus the unlikely scenario of a Russian Oligarchic Meerkat advocating car insurance comparisons has not only become a world-wide hit but continues to boost visitor numbers to the comparison website in question.

Interestingly, the group most resistant to advertising is the sought-after 18 – 30 year old group. So we of the older generation might believe we’re immune to advertising (which we’re not) but the younger group really is, it seems. Funny old world.

” Interestingly, the group most resistant to advertising is the sought-after 18 – 30 year old group”
Is it because ad-land has failed to note that those who are employed are paying very much more in rent or mortgages? As a group those with the money seemed inclined to take frequent holidays abroad so it probably leaves very little to spend after the mobile phone and SKY subscriptions.

However I doubt that the advertising industry say anything to the clients about the reduced free expenditure but probably insist a new campaign or more money is required.

I totally agree with you Ian that people’s basic psychology is being manipulated. I think this is not good for our society particularly when the TV, being inside our “space”, operates when our guard is lowered.

All programmes on commercial TV are recorded so we can skip all the adverts and reclaim the 12minutes an hour wasted on adverts. Over a year that is probably a couple of days!

Ian – I am so out of touch I don’t know the “DFM” is. Could you explain please?

I always assumed Ian really did not like the Daily Mail … : )

John, DT has it right. I leave to your imagination what the ‘F” stands for…

As to reading it you stay healthy by knowing where the dirt and bacteria reside.

Much obliged, Ian. The only newspaper I read is the Eastern Daily Press, and that not every day, so not tainted by Filth.

If you were to watch 24 hours a day, that’s about 4.8 hours per day.

Over a week 33.7 hours – Nearly 1.5 days

Over a year 78 days

So even in the 1/4 of the day that you are neither working or nor sleeping – that equates to about 20 days.

This then should multiplied by the number of people watching – so millions of wasted days, for what purpose?

None – at the end of the day, normal rational people will buy what they need, at a price and quality they deem satisfactory.

So a toothpaste is a toothpaste, all skin creams serve the same purpose using essentially the same ingredients.

I have not watched commercial TV since the 1980s, mainly to avoid adverts. It would not claim that advertising has no effect on me because there are so many ways of marketing. Simply making a product widely available makes it more likely that we will buy it, and appearance of ads on the streets and magazines raises awareness of products.

I am always pleased to see Which? raising awareness of dishonest advertising. Recently we learned that Nurofen products offering targeted pain relief had been reported to the ASA, which had ruled against the use of this claim. Few people have sufficient knowledge to know if scientific claims are justified, which is why I believe that we must move to approval of NEW claims before they are used in advertising. There is no problem with reuse of existing claims.

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This comment was removed at the request of the user

Joshua sills says:
2 August 2016

Adds can influence the general public to buy goods from time to time as they make yoy think you need or want it but can sometimes just be ignored as people are only interested in the programme comeing back on.

Shadow says:
2 August 2016

I don’t watch tv or read any magazines so I don’t see ads. So I always buy the same stuff unless something is on sale. It works for me

Ads influence me, they influence what I won’t buy. The more inane, irritating , patronising or insulting the ad, the more I will make sure I don’t buy/use the product. Any ads using chimps/actors/celebrities would nearly pursuade me to buy the rival product. The list starts with Gocompare, Meerkats, 118, Tetley, BT, BT, BT, J’adore (whether le Piat d’Or or Dior), and any Christmas adverts before 1st December. The list goes on.

I won’t cut my nose though. Tesco’s “every little helps” and the Co-operative “Good with food” irritates the hell out of me, but I will grin, bear it and use their shops when it’s advantageous for me to do.

That’s a very adroit observation. The ads that featured the faux-Italian tenor singing about ‘just one cornetto’ actually saw a drop in sales. The ad was rated one of the most irritating 🙂

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Do ads influence us in making a purchase?
They say it influences in our brains
I can now only claim I know
Because, aged 66, I have no brains.

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Adverts don’t influence me to buy things – on the contrary, I tend to mistrust them. But favourable reviews do, and what I should like to be reassured about is that reviews aren’t, sometimes, adverts in disguise.
The reviews in “Which?” I DO trust as genuine, even if I sometimes disagree with them!

I have seen a couple of suspect reviews – which I highlighted to Which?. However as I have read many many hundreds of Which? subscriber reviews this is quite low compared to the outside community where people post freely to any review board.

Research has laready revealed that some people will post on products they have never owned. Also more commonly known is the cyber-shilling on products where vendors employ people to write false reviews for their products and against others.

I think that the review system used by “Choice” the consumer organisation in Australia, is much superior to Which?’s as it provides structure to the review and is also vetted before posting. Part of the difference might be that Which?’s CEO has a poor view of the value of customer reviews.

Reviews have a powerful effect on product sales. Which? itself claims this when selling the value of a Best Buy sticker. Problems have arisen when customer comments on a Which? Best Buy’s has been very largely negative as instanced by the Logik’s steamer case.

Subcriber reviews is an area which I consider very important* and which could and should be improved greatly. Very few items are tested for more than a few weeks by Which?s hired laboratories so the reliability in domestic use is totally under-reported. The average reduction of the life-span of washing machines by around 30% over the last 15 years should surely been flagged up by a consumers association!


* generally for products which have a long usage life.

“The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is the self-regulatory organisation (SRO) of the advertising industry in the United Kingdom. ”

Where you can read some of its cases. It does seem that the oft-played penalty of do not show this advert again is rather a weak one given the brief nature of many advertising campaigns.

At least the ASA is responding to complaints and from looking at rulings, often to a single complaint. In contrast, it takes thousands of nuisance calls before action is taken against companies.

I agree that instructing a company to stop using an advert is unsatisfactory, since that company may have significantly benefited over more honest competitors before the ruling is made. At the local pharmacy, packets of Nurofen products claiming targeted pain relief are currently being promoted despite the ASA ruling that the claim must be withdrawn.

Here is information about how to make a complaint about advertising: https://www.asa.org.uk/Consumers/How-to-complain.aspx

I just ignore ads, they are always for hings I don’t need or don’t use, if I need anything I will do proper reseach before buying, if it is something like toothpaste or washing powder I try the cheapest first and if that works OK I continue using it, if it doesn’t suit me I try the next cheapest until I find the one that suits me, usually the first one I try. Buying a large ticket item means doing some research before buying.

No. I’m not swayed by advertisements at all.

Many are so crass, I am surprised companies pay for and publish them, particularly on TV. By crass, I mean that you can watch the ad and still have now idea what the product is until the name comes up on the screen. Total waste of money.

How many so-called celebrities have the faintest idea of how to produce the goods to which the put their names, such as perfumes (normally formulated by experts), and garments (again technically produced by experts in garment technology – not with reference to ‘designers’ who commercially have no idea how to produce a garment).

Claims that you can get Wi-Fi 150m from the hub when I personally have difficulty doing that less than 10m indoors.

Come manufacturers, ensure your marketing staff are telling the truth.

Some adverts are fun to watch. Remember the Honda car that assembled itself from components? It didn’t persuade me to buy Honda – although they have a good reputation – but it was enjoyable. Like the Guiness tumbling books – but I don’t drink Guiness as a result. And the colourful M&S food ads with a catchy tune; I don’t necessarily buy the food they show, although the equally colourful fruit jelly is my kind of pud.

But try to remember other ads and their details – have they stuck to the extent they’ll really influence you to buy something you didn’t know you needed?

Having said this I much prefer to watch BBC programmes, generally better than commercial offerings anyway but particularly because they are not interrupted by those irritating breaks that disrupt the programme.