Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dazed and Confused by Advertising

Did you ever watch a TV commercial and then say to yourself: “What was that about?” You may not be alone as the trade publication Adweek reported the findings of a poll indicating that “significant numbers of viewers find TV commercials confusing at least some of the time.” This doesn’t surprise me in the least, as my research on advertising related thoughts indicates that we often “get it wrong.” For example, consumers viewing a Doritos commercial, upon being asked to recall the ad may reference it as an ad for Tostitos. That’s an expensive mistake for Doritos. Beyond confusing brands, we don’t pay close attention to advertisements, as there are elements--what I call cues--in advertising that serve to direct our minds elsewhere. I have written about memories and anticipations as the two directions we go in when we are “cued” by ads to think about other things. In other words, while watching an advertisement, or reading one in a magazine for that matter, we may begin to think about something out of our past that has little or nothing to do with the brand, product category, or advertisement. Same thing goes for anticipations. I have described three processes in which consumers either totally blank out when the commercial comes on, fade in and out as the commercial runs, or experience what I call lucid thinking in which the consumer simultaneously watches the commercial and has a thought. All very complicated and perhaps sophisticated activities that I maintain advertising actually trains us to do. But the main point is: no wonder we are confused by the commercials we see; we aren’t paying close attention, and as a result we tend to get it wrong, mixing one brand with another.

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