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Are advertisers — and buyers — stupid?

A couple of years ago, a relative of mine was attending a college graduation ceremony when she noticed that there was a large number of marketing majors receiving diplomas. Asking a fellow attendee the reason, she was told, “Oh, it’s the easiest major in college. They’re not very smart.”

It seems that marketing/public relations folks suffer from the same ambiguous view many hold of other professionals. “I hate all attorneys — except mine.”

The bottom line is that recruiting and retaining a bang-up marketing person or advertising agency is just as critical as having a crackerjack accountant. They don’t give those jobs to chimps.

A quick glance at the TV confirms that America’s advertising minds are sharp indeed. In fact, many times the commercials outstrip the shows on which they appear in terms of creativity and production.

The current Miller Beer television commercials for the “High Life” are good examples.

Using creative, tight camera shots with hilarious tongue-in-cheek monologue, the pieces are brilliantly done and stick with you. Speculating that perhaps a man would put fruit in his beer only to meet dietary requirements, the commercial asks, “Then again, how bad could scurvy be?” This is not your father’s beer commercial.

The appeal of advertising, and how important marketing is to American consumers, perhaps is best proved by the “plain-label” experiment. Plain-labeled products are a response to consumers who maintain that fancy labeling and promotional costs only drive up the retail price. Give us a quality product that can be offered at a reduced price by the distributor because of the savings in marketing expenses, and we will buy them.

But we haven’t. Never a sought-after commodity any way, when presented with simply “BOLOGNA” in large block letters, we seem to lose our appetite. We put it back and go with who we know, those other guys with colorful packaging that we have become familiar with through advertising. I guess the more mystery we can take out of the meat the better.

Indeed, the importance of labeling as a tool for consumers to use to make informed purchases has been in the news lately concerning catfish. The U.S. has accused the Vietnamese of putting fish on the American market that is actually a species called basa. Yet the label, if not read carefully, could leave buyers the impression that it is locally-raised catfish. At issue here is not only brand confusion but consumer health. The Vietnamese-raised basa fish are produced under less rigid standards than U.S.-raised catfish in terms of the use of chemicals and general production techniques. Consumers beware, and read twice.

No group knows how important advertising is, or how it can subtly enhance life and make it easier to manage, than print media. The Mississippi Business Journal is certainly no exception. Just as with all other newspapers, we are dependent on advertising support to survive.
After all, buying ink by the gallon is not cheap.

However, print ads offer the MBJ and other newspapers — and their readers — another generally overlooked benefit. Their artwork enhances the look of the page, and they break up the text, making the page much more readable. One of the knocks on e-books is the monotony of reading screen after screen of unbroken text. It’s hard on the eyes and the mind.
Newspapers are much more reader-friendly due to well-designed and well-placed advertisements.

Is our attack on advertisers’ intelligence really evidence of a lack of confidence in our own smarts? I think that we would like to believe we’re just too bright to fall for Madison Avenue’s “stunts.” Yet, we have proven not only to be dependent on advertising to get through life, but, admit it or not, we enjoy the experience.

Perhaps it galls us, but advertising has become as much an American way of life as — well — bologna.
In our defense, we must remember that marketing does not go after the brain but after the heart. It’s a psychological appeal. Falling for the spiel does not prove a lack of intelligence. It simply proves us human.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

About Wally Northway

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