I was researching a story the other day and as often happens, an innocuous statement got me thinking. I love when that happens and I am constantly surprised by where it it can take my mind and make me think very differently about things I hadn’t considered before. This statement – ‘most consumers don’t trust advertising’, took me on a path to reconsider my past as a consumer and the evolution of online reputation marketing – reviews.
First off I thought about advertising and its ingrained embellishment with the truth. I pondered on all the ads I have seen for fast food chain hamburgers for instance, that appear luscious, gleaning, and huge, when in reality they generally always appear as the mirror opposite in reality – tired, small, and unappetising.
Advertising is an old and established practice, designed to create images that appeal to humans’ desires, longings and feelings of inadequacy. As a teenager struggling with my body image I was convinced that quaffing bowls of Special K would shed the kilos, cos that’s what the ads said. Don’t even get me started on the ads for cigarettes in the 1950s, where doctors recommended the best cigarettes to smoke to alleviate stress and heart disease.
Advertising, in whatever medium, has one sole purpose. To connect consumers with a brand by creating a problem, or a need and providing the solution. Unpopular? Then you’re not driving our brand of car. Body odour issues? Then you haven’t made the change to our deodorant. Too bald? Why haven’t you bought our hair restoring product? Too hairy? Act now and buy our hair removal gel. Too lonely? Then sign up to our platform to watch a million hours of TV and movies. Advertising is a one way conversation, with a huge net, designed to arouse and motivate our innate feelings of inadequacy. So yes, I can fully understand why it isn’t trusted.
That lack of trust also goes some way to explain the slow death of terrestrial television. Obviously there are other factors in play there as well – such as the evolution and mass acceptance of online platforms to consume entertainment but I am yet to meet anyone who would say they love TV because of the ads. Ads ruined TV, they broke into the narrative flow, the volume was always louder ,and it was so tedious and tiresome to be barked at to sell things people didn’t always want or need.
So if consumers don’t trust advertising, what is it that they trust to help make them make decisions on what to buy or who to hire? It’s no huge reveal on this blog, to say it’s online reviews, because it is. If advertising has any function now it serves a a gateway to more information to make a balanced and informed decisions. This car is amazing and you should buy it! reviews say no. Consumers say it’s uneconomical, unsafe and designed badly. This printer is a real beauty, get it now! Consumer reviews say it is in the top five most trusted and respected printers because it is efficient and doesn’t consume huge amounts of ink.
Consumers are generally smart. They want to buy and hire in good faith and be rewarded for their choices. They don’t want to be tricked by falsities or smoke and mirrors. So I don’t at all mind that traditional advertising is losing its dominance. As a consumer who relies on online reviews, I’ll take the experiences and value judgements of other consumers, over the clever imagery and word play of a copy writer and creative director every time.