Advertising: we see it everywhere and we do our best to ignore it. And yet so much business is dependent upon advertising that we cannot tune it out completely. Why do we need advertising and does it really help consumers in any way?
This is a great topic because most articles that discuss the “benefits of advertising” focus on the benefits to the advertisers. But there are advantages to advertising which promote social well-being, distribution of wealth, and even consumer interests.
Let’s start by looking at the three partners in advertising: Advertisers, Publishers, and Consumers.
Advertisers may be businesses, governments, non-governmental agencies (non-profits), and individual people.
Publishers are the services who carry or distribute advertising, including television, radio, and Internet advertising, billboard advertising, and printed media advertising (as is found in books, magazines, and newspapers). Publishers may also include the manufacturers of packaging (such as boxes and envelopes) who print ads on the packaging, specialty painting and fixture companies that create signs for vehicles and buildings, and small print publishers who distribute novelty advertising platforms like fliers and menus.
Consumers are people, although people may be influenced by advertising for their own purposes or to assist in operating a business or organization. Consumers therefore may be proxies on behalf of groups of people who respond to advertising.
Benefits of Advertising for Advertisers
There are four major benefits of advertising for advertisers:
- Announce new, interesting, or helpful information
- Promote political messages to voters
- Inform citizens of government services
- Engage with customers through story-telling
We use advertising to announce interesting or helpful information to other people. A manufacturer of a product, a retailer, or a service provider may use advertising to inform the general public about the availability of their products and services. But advertising can accomplish so much more, as in providing information on how to contact the advertiser, where to find the advertiser, who the advertiser is, and even what the advertiser’s core philosophy may be.
Politicians use advertising to tell potential voters what their goals and priorities are, when to meet them at rallies and other events, and also what public issues they (the politicians) feel are most important.
Governments use advertising to tell their citizens how to find special services, when special events are scheduled, and also how to participate in government (through election to office, applying for jobs, attending public meetings, etc.).
Businesses use advertising to engage with potential customers by telling them an ongoing story about the nature and strengths of their companies and organizations. Business advertisers also build up customer loyalty to their products and services.
Advertising can be very plain and matter-of-fact or it can be extremely creative, even entertaining. The style of an advertisement may be decided by how competitive the industry of the product or service may be, or it could be that a government agency invokes creative advertising to ensure that the public becomes aware of a very important fact.
Benefits of Advertising for Consumers
There are six major benefits of advertising for consumers who see the ads:
- Learn about product, service, and event choices
- Learn about upcoming events
- Discover new products or services
- Associate products with special activities
- Learn about important social issues
- View the advertisements as entertainment
Because our society produces so many goods and services we have come to rely on advertising to inform us about as many options as possible. We use advertising as a roving index of what goods and services are currently available.
Advertising also serves to remind us of upcoming events. As consumers move through cities in their daily routines they will take note of certain large advertisements over and over again. Just as the ads are placed strategically to persuade consumers to attend special events or buy certain products, so the consumers selectively memorize certain ads for future reference.
Consumers also use non-permanent advertising (such as commercials broadcast on television or radio) to learn about new things, and not just the products and services being advertised. Advertisers have learned to tap into new cultural icons, specialties, and interests to draw attention to their ads. These attention-grabbing elements in ads serve to spread information about new cultural interests and activities to consumers.
For example, a soft drink commercial may be filmed at a relatively unknown sporting event. Consumers will remember the commercial as much or more for the unusual sporting event as for the product being sold. Advertisers may schedule a series of advertisements around a specific theme so as to bond consumer awareness of their products to that theme.
Consumers, in return, learn to associate certain products with specific activities. Although some associations (such as soft drinks) may be incidental, others may be important in instructing consumers about necessary items. For example, a shoe manufacturer may demonstrate the effectiveness of a competition shoe through advertising featuring world-class athletes using its shoes in competition. A new sporting equipment manufacturer may teach consumers how to use its products through commercials that feature specially trained stunt performers using the equipment (this is how snowboarding became so popular).
Consumers may learn about socially important issues through public service announcements and government-sponsored advertising campaigns. For decades tobacco companies inundated consumers with advertising messages about how much fun cigarette smoking should be; when government agencies finally reached a comprehensive settlement with the tobacco companies over the millions of premature deaths their products caused, new advertising campaigns against the health consequences of cigarette smoking began to appear.
Consumers also look to advertising for pure entertainment. They don’t care about the products and services being sold as much as they care about the spokespeople and improbable stories the ads tell. For example, GEICO’s “cave man” commercials became increasingly popular through the years, as has their Gecko. Progressive Insurance’s spokesperson Flo has millions of adoring fans.
Although businesses use these kinds of advertisements to create emotional responses in their consumer audiences, consumers have become accustomed to viewing commercials as entertainment. The more entertaining an advertisement is the more memorable it will be. For the consumer the product or service being sold is less important than knowing which company or organization is behind the advertisement.
Advertising Also Creates Jobs
Obviously stimulating the sale of goods and services — which is the primary function of advertising — is good for the economy. But the business of advertising itself has spawned many jobs including in graphic design, copywriting, cinematic jobs such as directing, acting, and scriptwriting (along with all technical positions), the manufacture and maintenance of advertising platforms like billboards, bulletin boards, and more; and so on.
Other types of jobs created by the advertising industry include the creative roles need for planning advertising campaigns, coordinating the resources needed to produce and distribute advertising, and supporting jobs for administrative and secondary personnel.
And then there are jobs in public relations where actors and spokespeople meet with the public to extend the message and even the personas promoted in popular advertising. The McDonalds Corporation, for example, sends professional “Ronald McDonald” clowns to appear at public events, and to participate in children’s programs at schools, libraries, hospitals, and other social organizations.
Special promotional jobs are also created for participating in sporting events, parades, and festivals and business conferences. Without advertising to create “brand awareness” far fewer people would be employed in these capacities.