Paying (for) Attention

This past week, three stories about advertising caught my eye.

1) Ad Age ran a story on an Innerscope Research study for Time Warner about media device use during non-working hours. Setting aside all of the questionable aspects of the report and study (using the thoroughly debunked category of “digital natives,” referring to people as consumers, and the reliability of a study with a sample size of 30), the study confirmed what we already know from experience: younger people tend to switch between media devices more than older people: 30 times per hour vs. 17. I can’t stop changing the channel on the one device (tv); kids change channels between devices. The big takeaway was that you have to advertise in creative and emotionally engaging ways if you want to be noticed.

2) Yet it may not be as simple as all that. VatorNews reported on a Nielson survey of “28,000 online consumers in 56 countries throughout Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and North America.”

Nearly nearly half (47%) of consumers around the world say they trust paid television, magazine and newspaper ads. …Confidence [has] declined by 24% for TV, 20% for magazines and 25% for newspaper ad since 2009.

Just as trust for paid ads has spiraled down the toilet, a vast majority of consumers (92%) say they trust word-of-mouth recommendations — an increase of 18% since 2007…The second most preferred and trusted way to get information on a product or service was online consumers reviews (where 70% of global respondents said they trusted this method — a 15% increase since 2008).

So, maybe upping the creativity of ads won’t help as much as ad consultants think.

3) Yet, for those who study trust, this won’t be a surprise. Scholar Daniel Solove has written a great deal on trust, suggesting that it is the cornerstone of social life, and thus, plays a big role in social media. On March 29, PhysOrg carried a story/press release about the work of UC Berkeley sociologist Coye Cheshire on trust. For Cheshire, “trust is a thing that happens between people not things.” To build trust, you need

  • Repeated interactions between parties over time
  • Acts of risk-taking
  • The presence of uncertainty

People do all of these things when in relationship with other, but companies only do the first. Indeed, most companies survive only by eliminating risk and uncertainty. Yet, for real trust–the kind that undergirds recommendatory power–you need all three. Thus, companies can get things that mimic trust like reliability or credibility, but not the real thing.

Now, if you are in the business of business, this is probably not good news. Selling your wares is getting more difficult. The normal order of things has been disrupted!

I wonder, though, if it isn’t more of a case that the golden age of advertising in the twentieth century was an aberration rather than the norm. Over the course of the twentieth century, we saw the rise of cheap newspapers, magazines and television. We also saw large companies emerge as trustworthy entities as they ushered a new age of technological comfort at home, at work, and on the road. Inundated with new media and predisposed to believing corporations, people were primed for advertising in an unprecedented way.

But people just don’t believe the media or companies like they used to. We still buy lots of stuff. It just may be that we depend more on our favorite Uncle Don than that Don Draper guy. That’s hard to plan for, but probably a better way for people to make sure that what we buy will really meet our needs.

(As an aside, if you want to see a great example of the way in which a (ridiculous) picture can set up the interpretation a text, see The Verge’s coverage of the first story.)

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