Does Advertising Really Work?

I like to watch The Voice but I refuse to watch it live. I can’t stand commercials! The only reason The Voice is 2 hours long on Monday nights is so that NBC can milk advertising revenue out of a popular program. I don’t blame them, but I can’t support it.

The amount of advertising in the Voice – be it commercials, product placement or sponsorship – got me wondering, “Does Advertising Really Work”. I can’t claim to have found the answer, but I did find some interesting insights within Martin Lindstrom’s book, Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy. Coincidently, (or not so), Lindstrom studied American Idol in an attempt to prove what he had always suspected, that commercials and product placement don’t work.

Once upon a time, American Idol had 3 main sponsors, Ford, AT&T and Coca-Cola, each of whom paid approximately $25 million annually in sponsorship to the show. The entirety of Ford’s $25 million went into traditional 30 second ad spots. AT&T and Coke not only ran commercials, they also integrated their products into the show itself. For example, the judges drank out of Coca-Cola cups and only viewers with AT&T phones were able to vote via text message. Despite the 3 sponsors paying the same amount, Coca-Cola was, by far, the most prominent brand within the show – present approximately 60 percent of the time.

In order to test the effectiveness of the 3 companies’ ads, Lindstrom and his team used Steady State Topography to measure the emotional engagement and memory of viewers. What they found was that Coca-Cola’s ads were far more effective than AT&T’s and far, far more effective than Ford’s. In fact, watching the Coke-saturated show actually suppressed the subjects’ memories of the Ford ads! In short, the results revealed that ads don’t work unless they play an integral part in the storyline of a program; in which case they appear to have a double-barreled effect where they not only increase our memory of the sponsoring brand, but they actually weaken our ability to remember other brands.

So, of all the brands advertising during episodes of The Voice, I can immediately identify two that seem to have read Buyology – Apple and Twitter. If an artist has a song in the top ten of the iTunes chart when the voting window closes, their iTunes downloads are multiplied by five and added to that artist’s total votes. Similarly, viewer’s have the opportunity to instantly save an artist on Tuesday nights exclusively through twitter votes. Not only are these campaigns integrated into the fabric of the show, they provide a means for the viewers to become a part of it. The Voice voting is the audience’s gateway drug into everything iTunes and Twitter – it’s genius!