Why We Should Take Advertisements Seriously
Advertisements are important social and cultural documents. A representative sample often reflects a society’s concerns and values as accurately as well-executed surveys do. But how is this possible? How could images designed by people who don’t know, or haven’t talked to, us — and who are completely self-interested to boot – possibly reflect our innermost thoughts and feelings? Figuring out how exercises in persuasion by self-interested advertisers somehow manage to create reliable indicators of public sentiment has puzzled social scientists for a long time. Fortunately, it looks like the new social media may provide a key to solving that puzzle.
Here’s how the advertising process works. Advertisers hire talented people to promote their products in attractive and engaging ways. After a long design and testing period, they launch their appeals at targeted populations (called demographics) through selected media: print, billboards, television and increasingly, the Internet. At this point, advertisements are pumped through the media into the massive torrent of communications that characterize everyday life.
It’s not easy to get people’s attention. Advertisers compete not only with other advertisers but also the zillion other communiqués that people receive in a single day. These include pop songs, newspapers, television programming, and the innumerable conversations we have with family, friends, acquaintances and all those others whose paths we cross.