Each day we are bombarded with thousands of advertising messages. TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, billboards and direct mail wage a never-ending battle of products vying for our attention and our almighty dollar. But are these brands “name brands” because they’re good, or because they are advertised as good?

How Good Is Good?

Tide has been the number one laundry detergent for the past 90 plus years. Does it make sense to you, that in all that time, with all the innovation available, that someone, somewhere, couldn’t come up with a better detergent than Tide? The next time you walk down the aisle of your local grocery store keep something in mind. Thousands of hours and millions of dollars have been spent with only one thought in mind. Convincing you to put a product in your cart. So how does all this work?

Explaining the Smoke and Mirrors of Advertising

The first step is a clear understanding of why people buy the things they do. Do I have to tell you — people are weird? They almost never act rationally or logically. What advertising does is exploit this anomaly when influencing the customer.

Advertising experts know that people don’t buy products. They purchase an experience. In other words, it doesn’t really matter what features a product has; all that matters is what a product does. A feature is something a product has and a benefit is what a product does and people buy the benefit the product offers.

Hang on it gets worse. In my seminars I often ask, “How many of you have bought a CD to get one song?” Every time I ask that question a few sheepish hands are raised. Does that make economic sense? Of course not. But remember, we are talking about irrational human beings. Buying decisions don’t have to make sense to a customer unless… they can somehow create a logical argument for their illogical, emotional decision. “One song $12.99 – 11 songs free … I like it!”

Successful advertisers know that telling you all about the great features of the product is a total waste of money. Instead they will tell you how using the product will make you feel. Therein lies the true power of advertising.

Late Night Con Jobs

Ever have a late night, can’t sleep scenario, and find yourself watching some commercial movie channel? You are treated to a never-ending conveyor belt of “got to have it” products all designed to make your life so much better and easier. And they all have two things in common. One, they are all priced at a very economical $19.95 plus shipping and handling. Two, if you order now you get a second one free. Just pay separate shipping and handling. In all honesty, I can’t paint all these products with my “bad” brush. Some actually do what they claim, and work very well.

Where the con usually comes in is with the “shipping and handling” charges. You call the 800 number, give them the delivery info and your card number and they do the rest. When the product arrives the shipping and handling for the additional “free” item is more than both items combined at full price. Most credit cards will allow you to dispute a sale within 30 days, but getting the company to issue a refund may entail more work than most people are willing to do. Most chalk it up to a bad experience and live to be smarter the next time. Before buying a product online open Google and search the name of the product plus the word “complaint.” That will usually pull up some sites where people have felt the need to vent about their bad experiences. Let the buyer beware is still true today even with a host of so-called consumer protections in place.

Some Final Thoughts

Think about the brands you know. Pay more attention to the commercials and ads about your favorites. What “hot button” of yours does their advertising message push? When you recommend a book or movie to someone do you talk in terms of feelings? You will “enjoy” this so much. You will “love” this movie. It’s the most “inspiring” book I’ve ever read. For some reason we don’t say, “It has 214 pages and no pictures.”

When I advise companies about advertising I ask them to keep one thing in mind. Advertising shouldn’t sell; it should provide information to help the customer buy. There’s a big difference between the two.

Have you had a bad advertising experience? Spread the word.