The Ads Know What You Need…

Icon thx ProSymbols via nounproject
Icon thx ProSymbols via nounproject

…but they know they can’t deliver.

Ever since I started working in the advertising industry I’ve been amazed at how advertisements can tap into human desires and emotions. In 30 seconds of video or audio, or a few thousand pixels, a successful ad can pull us into a story, make us laugh, bring us to tears, or make us want to call home.

Even though ads can pinpoint our deepest desires, they often leave us hanging. If we’re honest, many ads give us a good diagnosis of our needs, but don’t deliver a satisfying prescription. As the ad ends and the product and brand logo hit the screen, we know we’ve been misled once again. We know that no cleaning spray will help get your teenage son’s act together, no running shoes will make you courageous, and no shaving gel will make you irresistible to the ladies.

There are a few ways to “read” advertising messages such as these.

1. The products really do what they claim to do. Given the size of many ads’ claims, this often isn’t true, but it’s what we often believe (it’s what the companies behind them are banking on).

2. The products are symbols. Always never claimed that their feminine products would make girls confident in themselves, but announced a belief that resonated with women and parents of girls (I’m not crying, I just got something in my eye…). The product you buy is a symbol of the belief that “people like us” share (which is why you, too, should start with why).

3. Ads can tell us something about ourselves. Why does a particular ad move you? Maybe it’s because you should call your dad, or maybe you should invest in some quality time with your family.

4. Ads can point to the future of business. In a video by School of Life entitled How Adverts Refuse To Sell Us What We Want, Alain de Botton claims that “the real crisis of capitalism is that product development lags so far behind the best insights of advertising”. Because advertisers focus so much on connecting with their audience, they’ve uncovered some of our deepest needs. Botton claims that advertising can change the direction of the economy by helping businesses understand how to help meet the many complex needs that people have today.

The next time you’re stuck watching a commercial break (or trying to skip through a pre-roll YouTube ad), listen for the need the ad is pointing to, and ask what the ad might be telling you about yourself. Then go call your family.

Watch the full School of Life clip below: