| April 24, 2013
The other day I was with a group of friends when the subject of advertising came up. Given that my profession is inextricably linked to the practice of advertising and brand building, I felt compelled to defend the practice to a group that included a pastor, a rabbi and a couple of academics.
My attempt to explain that advertising could add intangible value to a product experience was met with blank incomprehension at best. Creating intangible value seemed to be equated with duplicity. Advertisers cheated people by creating erroneous beliefs about the quality, efficacy or value of a product. It was unethical. So maybe you can help me come up with a better and more compelling argument?
First, let me state that I am all in favor of developing products that deliver a tangible and positive experience for their users. This is the first step of creating a strong brand. Advertising can serve a useful role simply by informing people of the existence of a product that might serve their needs better. But that does not preclude creating an even better experience through the creation of intangible benefits. Just as placebos can produce a positive response in patients, so too brands can create a more positive experience for their consumers.
The comparison with placebos was prompted by a recent discussion on Millward Brown’s internal social network, The Greenhouse, that pointed me to this article by Jeremy Bullmore in the 2011 WPP Annual Report. In it, Bullmore equates the effect of brands and that of placebos and quotes the famous account planner Stephen King as follows:
…there is still a puritan streak in us which says it is wicked for people to have non-functional values, that they ought to buy brands for function and performance only.
As Bullmore notes, and as I found out the other night, such views still exist. Although not in the minds of the great consuming public, if the experience of a specific brand increases their pleasure in using a product, they consider that is a good thing.
So maybe what I should have said is that advertising is the practice of enhancing the emotional reward associated with using a product. The reward might be additional pleasure, satisfaction, or confidence. What do you think? Please share your thoughts.