Sunday, July 16, 2006
I’m sure you’ve seen that advert on the TV.
There’s a car full of people driving through a misty landscape to a muffled soundtrack. Then the car emerges above the clouds into clear mountain air. The roof goes back, the sun comes out, a woman shakes her hair, everyone smiles, the treble goes up on the soundtrack, and a weird-looking cipher appears on the top of the screen, which then rotates ninety degrees so that we can read it.
“FEEL” it says boldly, followed by the company slogan. “Volvo. For Life.”
It’s a clever advert. It creates a string of powerful associations, to do with mountains, fresh air, clarity and sunlight. It makes feeling better a matter of owning a car. Even so, I wonder how many people have gone out and spent £26,225 on a new Volvo because of it.
You’d have to be pretty dumb to buy a brand new car because you liked the advert.
Which makes you wonder why Volvo bothered to make the advert in the first place. Who knows how much it cost? Several million at least. Add to that the other billions spent by rival car manufacturers advertising their wares and you are left with a puzzle.
In the entire history of TV advertising, how many cars do you think have been sold directly on the back of TV adverts? Logic would suggest: not that many.
People who spend money on new cars will most likely concentrate on technical matters, such as mileage, acceleration, the number of seats and what they can afford. After that they may think about styling and colour. Such is the conventional wisdom. It is only after this that the unconscious effects of the associative connections in the advert may play a residual part.
So why advertise cars on TV at all?
The people who make these adverts are not stupid. The car manufacturers who pay for them are not laying out significant amounts of cash as an act of charity. They know precisely what they are doing.
Chances are, if you ask anyone if they are influenced by advertising, they will say that they are not.
I can remember being influenced by an advert once. It was for Budweiser beer. I developed an immediate overwhelming thirst, went over the road to the off-license and bought a four pack of Kronenburg.
Guess what was on special offer? So much for the effectiveness of advertising.
What is actually happening, I suspect, is much, much more subtle than this. In a fiercely competitive market, it is precisely those unconscious associations that have the final say. You don’t go out and buy a brand new car on the back of a TV advert, but deep-down the associations stay with you. Freedom. Sunlight. Mountain air. Cars.
Researchers have worked out that we absorb up to ten thousand advertising images in any one day.
Ten Thousand Days, one hundred million images.
It’s like a form of hypnosis. Constant reinforcement of the underlying message.
The cumulative effects are not to do with the specific products, but with the culture as a whole. The imperative is to “buy, buy, buy.”
Buy, buy, buy, one hundred million times. Buy, even though we know we are killing the planet.
It’s no wonder our world is in such a mess.
Now what was the name of that car again?