The Role Advertising Played in Turning Everyday Perceptions into Reality #26 #cong23 #reality


Advertising used to be fun. My job was to come up with idea’s that people would want to look at. Maybe make them laugh. Anything to attract their attention and go out and buy a product.

Alas that all changed when they figured out that they could target people by what they were viewing on the internet.

It was a far more efficient way of reaching an audience (if a lot less fun)
Now the advertiser could connect almost directly with their customer because they knew what they were looking to buy.

Social media companies copped this and started to employ the similar tactics.

Giving people what they want.

That way they could get the viewer to stay on their website longer. And the longer they stayed on their site the more (programatic) advertising they could serve to the viewer. And the more money they could make.

The trouble is, by only showing people what they want to see, confirmation bias kicks in and they only believe one side of the story when it comes to conflict. What we percieve to be reality has become less balanced.

This causes conflict in society.

Advertising has a lot to answer for.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. With the advent of the internet, algorithms became an effective route to target audiences.
  2. Social media Companies have learnt from this and use algorithms to push content that appeals from like minded individuals. They do this to keep the customer on their website longer so that they can, ironically, view more ads.
  3. This has created a bubble in which viewers see only content that concurs with their own. Their perceptions become reality with little or no room for other views.
  4. Because we spend almost 6 hours a day on the internet viewing content that is less balanced we as a society have become less tolerant of other peoples views, and this is a cause of conflict in the World.

About Donal O'Dea:

I’m an ex advertising Creative Director and have produced a stack of award winning work for brands like Volkswagen, Carlberg, McDonald’s and Bulmers down through the years. In between ads I co-wrote a few books on Irish culture which included ‘Stuff Irish People like’ and ‘The feckin’ book of Irish Slang that’s great craic for cute hoors and bowsies’ I’m now directing shot movies and producing an ‘advertising led’ cyber security programme

Contacting Donal O'Dea

You can connect with with Donal Twitter (x), see his work or send him an email.

By Donal O’Dea

When I started working as a Creative in advertising 40 years ago, our job was to change the way people’s thought about stuff. In a world where most products and services looked and behaved the same the single biggest competitive advantage brands had was its advertising.

If we could favourably change someone’s perception of a product we had a distinct competitive advantage.

In adland- perception was reality.

I think there were 2 TV stations and 2 (legal) radio stations back then.

And it was easy to influence people in the decisions they made.

Very often the advertising was more stimulating than the programmes they were listening to or watching.

So if you told people that a cheap cigar called Hamlet could make everything okay after a bad day (and you told them often enough) you could make them believe, perhaps that it’d be a good idea to take up smoking.

Jump forward 20 years Bruce Springsteen brought out a song called 57 Channels and there’s nothing on. He was right. People were flicking from one channel to another and were less inclined to engage with advertising.

It became harder to persuade people because markets were fragmenting. More TV stations, more radio stations more newspapers. We had to be more strategic about how we targeted the people who’s perceptions needed changing.

If we wanted to persuade people that Carlsberg was in fact, probably the best lager in the World, we’d now use researchers and media planners to identify who the best people were to aim at and then figure the best media to hit them with our message.

It was called ‘targeting’ and it was necessary because people were being exposed to more marketing communications than they could actually handle and an awful lot of advertising is wasted on people who are never going to buy our products.

Jump forward another 10 years and the internet has really taken off. A lot of people have stopped watching Television altogether. This was the era of laptops phones and tablets.

And targeting took on a new life of its own in this digital age. Now brands could look at what you were looking at online and target you with products they feel suits your buying needs. If they saw that you were looking at reviews for, say, a chainsaw, you’d be looking at Chains saw ads for a week. If you didn’t buy it you’d see ads for electric saws. If you didn’t want that…. how about a secateurs?

This was called programatic. And it was run by the computer geeks. They could write code to put consumers who wanted chainsaws in touch with people who made chainsaws. And while these ads could irritate, it was a very clever marketing tool because there was now less waste for the marketeer.

These algorithms were so clever that other industries began to sit up and take note.

Social media sites have taken a leaf out of our book. Instead of pushing ads at us, they push information that they think we’d like at us. The longer you stay on a social media site the more money they make. (Funnily enough, with programatic advertising!).

So if you’ve taken a stance on the Stormont Assembly in Northern Ireland, it’s likely you’ll get fed content that supports that view. Likewise with the way you vote… or your stance on issues on something like abortion.

If you feel something about anything the programming guys will try to target you with content to support that view. It’s all innocent enough. They just want you to hang around a little longer so that you can see some more ads in the background. Where’s the harm in that.

Now here’s the thing. 99% of the Irish population is online. The average daily usage is 5 hours 59 minutes. Business Plus August 2023

Now people are consuming more than just ads. They’re consuming news articles and opinions. And they’re only seeing ads for what they want and seeing articles and opinions that concur with their own.

With the result that a lot of people are now living in a bubble that contains only like minded individuals. People who think the same way vote the same way. Tolerance for differing opinion and voting habits is way down because it doesn’t have a voice in this bubble. And because of confirmation bias these views are unlikely to be challenged.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the ever increasing vitriol between the Republican tribe and Democrat tribe in America. It’s become difficult for their elected representatives to find common ground and run the country because the other persons opinion has played such a minuscule role in their media consumption. On each side of the divide there’s a different perceived reality.

These algorithms are causing conflict.

It’s playing a role in the Russian-Ukraine conflict

It’s playing a role in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

And I think Advertising has a lot to answer for.

God be with the day:-)

Is There a Place for Advertising in Society 3.0? #50 #cong20


 Advertising is one of the most potent forces fuelling modern capitalism. But what is the role and place for advertising in Society 3.0? We have come from an era where accumulation and acquisition was an accepted norm in society. The default was to acquire. Advertising has always been a tool used to create that demand. That is its economic effect. But the tension with advertising has always been in its social effect on society, which has been significant. Is there a place for advertising in Society 3.0?

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Key Takeaways:

  1. Advertising has been used to create demand. Will that help us to build Society 3.0?
  2. It’s a powerful tool which shapes societal norms and influences beliefs and behaviours
  3. At its core is creative thinking, which is in itself neither good nor bad
  4. We can apply that power to better design Society 3.0, through influence, persuasion, and yes, manipulation

About Ed Melvin:

 Ed Melvin is a Director at Publicis Dublin, an award-winning creative consultancy that provides advertising, design, strategy and communications services.

Contacting Ed Melvin:

You can connect with Ed on Twitter or LinkedIn.

By Ed Melvin

Advertising exists at the intersection of our economy and our society.

Advertising has formed societal norms both positive and negative, created cultural reference points, and has been influencing both beliefs and behaviours in society for over a century. It is unashamedly propaganda, that has created permission for us all to quite literally, consume with abandon.

Where we are now is an era where advertising is even more powerful than ever. Its effects on society are clear. Targeted advertising gets people to vote, or nudges them not to bother. It manipulates people to take action in real-time, to make bets, purchase tickets, treat themselves. It persuades us over time to buy into and believe myths about products and brands.

There is a shift from influencing people on a societal level, towards persuading people on an individual level. Modern advertising does both. Our society continues to be shaped by commercial forces, reaching us through advertising.

It seems clear that if there is going to be a Society 3.0, then we will all need to take collective and individual responsibility, for reducing consumption. What is the role for advertising in this? There are businesses such as Patagonia and IKEA that are embracing the circular economy, adopting sustainable practices. They understand business models that are completely for-profit are less likely to appeal. Those are just two examples of businesses that understand their societal responsibilities.

In general though, advertising has been directed thus far to drive consumption. But what is its role in building Society 3.0? The answer is perhaps to harness the creative thinking that is at the core of advertising. And to apply it in new ways, across:

  • Behavioural design to change society for the better
  • Helping people to make choices that will benefit them in the long-term
  • Creating new social norms around sustainability and responsibility

In short, advertising’s negative associations and questionable ‘moral’ impact on society is just down to how creative thinking has been used to persuade and manipulate. To this point it’s been used largely for commercial ends and that has had a societal impact. I’d like to posit that in creating Society 3.0, it will be used largely for societal ends and that will have a commercial impact. But I believe it will have a very relevant role that is perhaps underplayed, perhaps because of perhaps distaste around discussing it.

I am fond of this honest observation by advertising great Bill Bernbach, who spearheaded creativity in New York in the 1960s:

“All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level.”