More than three in four consumers say most of the claims that brands make in advertisements are exaggerated, according to a study by Lab42.
Specifically, among surveyed consumers, 57.4% say advertising claims are “somewhat exaggerated,” and 19.0% say they are “very exaggerated,” Lab42 reported.
Only 2.8% of consumers surveyed say the claims in various ads are very accurate. For the full report, click here.
How did we come to this sad, sorry state of affairs? How did a whole industry undermine its own credibility without raising alarms? Here’s my personal take. The advertising industry I joined as a young man (at Leo Burnett in Chicago in 1972) was much different than the industry today. It seemed every commercial I wrote was scrupulously reviewed by agency lawyers, industry associations, and government regulators. Likewise, research ruled.
Commercials were tested, refined and retested in animatic form before production. Then commercials were tested again in finished form after production. Commercials were more trusted then and felt more compelling. They worked. Even clients believed … in the process.
Then during the Eighties, creatives revolted. They felt straight-jacketed. They argued that:
- Research forced everything into the same expected mold.
- Lawyers sapped the fun out of commercials.
- Advertising was failing to differentiate brands and make them stand out.
- People didn’t watch TV to look at the ads; they watched it to be entertained.
- Advertising needed to be more entertaining to succeed.
At that point, the race for eyeballs had begun. The creative development process was more about eye-candy. Writers and art directors argued that if people weren’t watching, there was no way the commercial could succeed. Of course, they were right.
But that logic contained several fatal flaws:
- It assumed that people weren’t attending to commercials.
- Gaining attention is only the first battle for customers’ hearts.
- Unless advertising also manages to convert that awareness into interest and preference, it has failed.
While the Nineties were certainly a fun period to be in advertising, the industry was sowing the seeds of its own destruction. The eye-candy theorists failed to realize the devastation that unregulated, unpersuasive advertising would wreak on the industry.
Today, that eye-candy leaves many with a bad aftertaste. Perhaps it’s time for the pendulum to begin switching back. Better yet, perhaps it’s time for agencies to evolve to a higher level and to understand some basic truths.
In many cases, advertising makes people aware, but fails to gain interest. Therefore, prospects don’t seriously consider the client’s product or service. Said another way, prospects don’t put the client on their shopping lists.
The process looks like this. Information needs increase at every level.
- Before people will purchase a brand, they must prefer it.
- Before people will prefer a brand, they must be interested enough in it to put it on their shopping lists and explore it further.
- Before people will be interested in a brand, they must be aware of it.
The battle for dollars takes place on four levels, not just one. Awareness, interest and preference come before purchase. Overlooking any of those steps is fatal to a sale.
And trust is essential to every single one of them. If people don’t trust you, they won’t do business with you. People don’t buy from advertising they don’t trust, and they certainly won’t buy from companies they don’t trust. Exaggeration for the sake of eyeballs does not serve clients well.