Ignore advertising or hate it…but you can’t deny that you need it!
We all love to hate advertising but advertising is as necessary as the air we breathe! O.K. That’s an exaggeration, but well, in a modern world, perhaps it’s not.
The good side
The advertising industry (alongwith its corporate master) has done some things really wrong and as a result a lot of people distrust all advertising..but there is a good side, its useful side. Most of us already know the importance of advertising I guess, but it’s not on the top of our minds. So here’s a reminder. Just a few brief points:
1. All business activity needs advertising to inform people about products and services. It’s important to keep in mind that consumers become aware of the choices available to them.
2. Advertising helps improve quality of the product. Brands compete and try to outdo each other in order to be first with the consumer and this can spur innovation.
3. A democratic government needs advertising. This is the only way that the candidate can reach out to his/her voters.
4. In fact, whether it’s a brand, a government, a community event…all require advertising. NGO’s use advertising to spread educational messages and organisations collect donations through advertising. And let’s not forget the importance of classifieds and appointment ads.
5. In most countries the media cannot survive without advertising. Whether it’s television, radio or newspapers, advertising is their life-blood. Government sponsorship of media does not always work and may lead to consumer dissatisfaction. How many of us watch Doordarshan more than we watch a private television channel? And believe me DD is far better now, and that’s because of private competition. If DD was the only TV channel, we are likely to get below average fare as anyone who remembers what DD was like before the advent of cable knows.
6. Consumers pay less for their tv, newspapers and magazines. Without advertising a private tv channel or newspaper or magazine will cost a lot. Nothing will be free or almost free anymore. Instead of shelling out Rs 2/- for one’s daily newspaper you might have to shell out Rs 100/- and forget about enjoying it with your daily cuppa. Most of us will head for either the library or wait until we get to the office. Only the rich benefit in this case. The benefits of the media reaching all citizens at a nominal price are vast.
7. And ofcourse the advertising industry also creates a huge number of jobs! It was estimated that (according to an economic study for 2005) $278 billion of company advertising would drive $5.2 trillion in sales and contribute to 21 million jobs in the United States.
Yet we hate advertising!
Despite our rational mind telling us all of this, we hate advertising. As soon as the commercial onslaught starts on television we switch channels. Either it’s plain boredom or distress at seeing so many ads.
The ad world’s greatest problem
The fact is that the advertising industry’s biggest problem today is the anti-advertising feelings amongst people. These feelings aren’t new, and nor are they restricted to one part of the world. Whether it’s a developed market or an underdeveloped one the rage against advertising seems to be building up.
A gallup poll in the United States said that advertising tends to be treated like a “dirty word’ and the poll said that only about 10 percent of those polled thought that the advertising industry was ethical. And 75 percent of Europeans believe there is too much advertising. A recent study revealed that more consumers have “wholly negative” feelings (36 percent) about advertising than “wholly positive” (28 percent). Sixty percent are more negative about advertising than they were a few years ago; and a whopping 69 percent want tools that block advertising completely.
Lies, all lies!
The problem with advertising is that it doesn’t just inform people…it tries to persuade, entice, lure and influence. This may be necessary for a brand’s growth and business growth, but therein lies the pitfall. Companies and brands are tempted to cross the line and blatantly lie and/or find loopholes in the law to promote their products. The ad on the right is a surrogate ad promoting alcohol although alcohol advertising is banned in India. Brand managers have targets to meet and if misleading advertising does the trick, there are no qualms.
Packaging and positioning of a product can also be misleading (marketing) and a case in point is Maggi ‘Atta‘ (whole wheat) noodles. Unless the marketer clearly mentions (on the pack) how much atta used in the mix, such positioning is misleading. Particularly so in India, as we do not even have a legal definition of what constitutes ‘whole-wheat’ flour. I have picked up an oil from the Dollar Shop here, which calls itself a blend of Olive and Soya Oil. On close scrutiny one realises that the Olive Oil is only 5 percent of the whole.
One of the ways to sort out such blatant displays of misleading marketing and advertising, is regulation. Both by the government and the industry. Government generally does not interfere too much, barring laying out broad guidelines and setting legal limits. Companies find it fairly easy to get round the law. Often the advertising councils depend on consumers to make complaints, but in countries like India consumers are less aware and often do not complain. We have one of the lowest complaint rates here.
It’s ideal if the ad industry self-regulates. This is common in developed markets but while it may not have worked as well as it should, (as one commentator pointed out in a comment on a previous post on self regulation in India), it’s still needed. For India however, self-regulation is in it’s infancy and we need self-regulation in place as one of the measures to prevent misleading advertising.
The government needs to do more work too. In my view, children in particular need to be protected against misleading advertising and I hope India goes the way of countries like Sweden where all television advertising aimed at children under the age of 12 is banned.
But if one has to take a holistic view, advertising is needed for business growth and without it we will go back to the dark ages, literally speaking as access to information will decrease. So the answer is more control and more checks and balances. And ofcourse a strong consumer awareness, which is sadly lacking in India.
And as far as I see it, if the ad industry doesn’t get it right soon, if it persists on pulling the wool over consumers’ eyes, the worse it will get for them. The cynicism and distrust which has crept in which increase as consumers get more aware and this can only harm brands, even the good ones. As a result, companies will be forced to spend more and more to try and convince consumers. It makes me wonder if the backlash against advertising will ever start to reverse…
(The photographs are mine.)
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