What Kind of Advertising Works on You?

Image by Marcin Wichary from Flickr used under Creative Commons

Image by Marcin Wichary from Flickr used under Creative Commons

Admit it. Sometimes an advertisement catches your attention.

That’s just one step away from buying the product. So, it’s kind of a big deal.

We’re constantly inundated with advertising–on the TV, on the interwebs, in the car, walking on the street, in print. Everywhere.

And it’s only going to get worse.

The great promise of social network data is that it will allow targeted advertising. Update your Facebook status or tweet something seemingly harmless like “watching leverage, filmed in beautiful portland, oregon”, and advertisers salivate.


Because you’re helping them model your behavior, and incidentally, so are your friends, by communicating with you.

Sure, this hasn’t panned out quite like they drew it up in the locker room, but still, that’s the end game.

Until then, let’s ponder the ads that work.

What medium is most likely to get your attention?

For me, it’s radio.I listen to the radio in the car. Yeah, I know I could listen to recorded stuff like my iPod, but usually, I’m in the car for a short trip. Bringing along music always feels like work to me. Plus, I usually listen to the same station, even to the commercials. I’m too easily frustrated to bother channel surfing.

And, I’m driving the car and all.

So, I’m the perfect captive audience. Alone with my thoughts and the advertisers. Scary, no?

Some of that stuff gets drilled into your head, e.g. the Shane Company spots. I still expect Tom Shane to mention his stores in Cupertino, Novato and Walnut Creek because I heard those ads so many times communicating to Oracle HQ when I lived in the Bay Area.

I can’t even tell you definitively where they are in Portland, but I can tell you their website URL because those memories will never, ever leave my head. Wow, I wish I could defrag stuff like that.

The other main media for advertising (web, street, billboards, TV, print) don’t work as well on me because I’m good at ignoring them. Last night, forced to watch commercials because TiVo had nothing worth watching (just the wife’s programs, ugh), I got bored during the ads and started playing Flight Control.

So, where are you most susceptible to ads?

Let us know in comments. I promise not to sell your information to anyone 🙂




  1. Posted at 3:00AM? Man, you must be hit by a gazillion Billy Mays (RIP) ads 🙂

    Driving, I tend to hit buttons when ads come on. But somehow I hear them all anyways.

    TV ads can get my attention, even if watching recorded shows, but I don't like constant repetition. Oh man, if I hear “take me away” again (socal casinos)… One that made me laugh was the Pete Ellis Dodge catchy tune they played for years – Pete Ellis Dodge, Long Beach Freeway Firestone exit South Gate – same tune with different words in the Bay Area. Early morning local news ads are the worst. I know the plumbers info, where to get carpeting – but I won't use them! Take that, annoying marketers!

    Jack in the Box has a new ad where he goes to a warehouse store and everything is ridiculously huge – very funny. But does it make me eat there? No.

    I have not used one ad on google or facebook, etc. I admit I've clicked on a couple of google ads that were just targeted so wrong… like Arabic pr0n? WTF?

    The despair.com ads have made me want to buy stuff, but somehow I just haven't gotten around to it. Doing anything at home on the puter just seems like work. Yesterday I bought some Ringling Brothers tickets through ticketmaster – that was just because I saw a writeup on the metrolink magazine I picked up while bored on the train, train riders discount. Grumble service fees grumble.

    Generally, when I want something in particular, I'll look at print or web ads. I know how dangerous I am at Fry's buying on impulse 🙂

    Those Most Interesting Man in The World and some other beer ads stand on their own for entertainment. I hear funnyordie com has a great parody of whoever has the girls and guys oohing over closets ads but haven't checked it out yet.

    A plaintive plea to targeted advertisers: Leave me alone!

    DEEOHDOUBLEYOUDOW! They've been out of business how long? Who was that guy, Shadoe Stevens?

    Anything with Shotgun Tom Kelley makes me think of his pR0n scandal. What was his horse's name again? Dang, even the internet doesn't help. Poor guy, gummint comes in and tells everyone about his dirty magazines, then lets him go. (He was the DJ in the movie Deja Vu).

    And of course, Cal Worthington and his dog Spot. Still haven't bought a car from him (almost, when they started advertising new trucks half-off list, that got my attention at 5:30AM).

    Those gas station pumps with tv's built in – a bit much. I really don't want to see Nancy Grace or her damn advertisers.

  2. I posted at 0300 thanks to the beauty of scheduling a post 🙂

    As a culture, I think we're conditioned to ignore ads, which makes it even funnier when one sticks, whether it leads to a sale or not.

    I have to agree that FB's ads are funny fails, except to some, like the poor women at whom they target weight loss ads:


  3. I don't do TV very often (cuts into my Intertubes time), but radio ads are annoying sticky. There are a handful of places in town from which I will never buy a car because their ads are so annoying, but I could rattle off phone numbers and URLs for those places without thinking. Wonder why radio ads are so effective. Guess they've been doing it the longest, after print (unless town criers count).

    Like Joel, I tend to appreciate the entertaining TV ads, when I see them, and for me they don't have time to get old, which is a bonus. Can't remember the last time one led to a purchase, though.

    At my keyboard, I'm almost completely oblivious to ads. Or maybe I'm just oblivious…our house is surrounded by billboards, and my wife is the only one who notices when they change. Notable exception: I have been known to click through some of the ads in the “free” iPhone and desktop apps that I use (Tweetie, Evernote, etc). Presumably that comes down to more thoughtful/obvious targeting of my interests.

    Also, because it just doesn't appear often enough in this comment: ads.

  4. I love a good TV ad, but I usually find them online. I have one pet peeve w/NFL Network, which I frequently watch live when there's nothing on the TiVo. They run the same half dozen ads over and over and over. It's maddening. “I'm part of the NFL's movement for a more active generation.” Maybe I remember b/c it makes me sad that they have to have a website dedicates to “play ideas”.

  5. Luckily I can avoid them. I don't often watch TV and when I do I can ignore them. I hate ads. They seem like traps to me, like, hmmm, want to sell a car, lets make it all look really simple, like, if you drive the car you get the girl and get a square jaw and a nice house and your life will be so much better. So much stuff for sale, none of it makes us any happier!

    It reminds me that there is a lot of “predatory capitalism” out there which is screwing up our planet in a major way.

    While driving I listen to CDs or BBC radio which has no ads. I never click on ads on the web. I like to fool myself that I am immune to advertising – as far as I'm aware I am. I don't really buy much stuff anyway, so I don't think I'm an advertiser's dream client…

    BTW, no criticism of this post or blog intended, because I think this blog is excellent. I just seem to use the comments as an excuse to climb on my soapbox and being ranting.

  6. Didn't find that critical at all.

    I do wonder at ads like you mention, i.e. this product can make you x. Does that even work anymore?

    Is there a different type of capitalism?

    One thing I like about radio ads is that they're mostly local. So, if I need a specific service or business, I can usually remember one from my radio ad index.

  7. Commercials are for suckers. In the car, I change the radio. At home, I click the remote for the TV. (Which ticks my wife and kids off to the point they call me “the control freak.”) On the net, I don't even see adds because I use the Ad Block Plus extension for Firefox.

    You can't avoid every ad all the time but I try my hardest.

  8. I heard an apropro one this morning. Bimmer dealer in LA has a daughter of Nick (“Nick can't say no!”) going on about how she just doesn't quite get this social networking thing. “I joined facebook and it was nice meeting up with people I hadn't thought about in years. One guy from grammar school even told me how much of a crush he had… on my mom.”

  9. The problem with the car for me that inevitably all the stations I like or mildly care about seem to be running commercials at the same time, not an accident I would guess.

    Plus, I only listen to about three stations max, making the choices slim. I used to flip more, but now, meh. I just sit and listen apparently.

    TV is a different story. I have TiVo, and when I'm subjected to commercials, I play on my iPhone 😉

  10. Maybe fair-trade is still capitalism, but not “predatory” in the way that some forms of money-making enterprises do their business.

    Interesting question though!

    I don't know if the “this product can make you x” work any more, but it seems the advertisers are still giving it a go, when you see all the ads for beauty products and cars, peopled by unrealistically perfect people, open roads, big houses, perfect families etc.

  11. Yeah, does anyone over the age of 25 really believe that anymore? Seriously.

    I guess I'm following the typical definition of capitalism that says money is good, more money is better. Very ways to make the work w/o preying on somebody.

  12. While we're waiting for the targeted ad technology to improve (Chris Brogan recently complained that we have a long way to go), perhaps advertisers can adopt a sea change in their thinking and start designing ads that people WANT to hear. The use of the phrase “captive audience” is no accident; it seems that companies are trying to ram ads down your throat, resulting in the development of technologies that advance pre-recorded shows in 30-second increments. If the ad people were smart, they would design ads that would make people skip the shows and just listen to the ads. (Shouldn't be hard to make ads better than the shows, come to think of it.)

    My biggest gripe, however, is with the use of the same ad over and over and over. I'll admit that I don't understand how advertising costs work, but you'd think that they could record 10 ads in about the same time that they take to record 1. Then the advertiser could rotate those ten ads around, rather than playing the same one over and over and over to ram the specific message down the consumer's/captive's throat.

    Re radio, I am more than happy to change the channel if an ad comes on that I don't like. Case in point – the state of California, which is supposedly in a financial crisis, is still able to find enough funding to air radio commercials about boating accidents, most of which are of the “I was doing unsafe stuff on the boat and critically maimed myself for life” variety. Even though they actually have a bunch of different ads for this (rather than just one), I got sick of the message after hearing it a few dozen times, and any such ad is guaranteed to get me to change the radio station.

    Regarding ads that stick in your head – I lived in Portland in the early 1980s, and therefore had this type of ad ingrained in my head:

    At Tom Peterson's – that's where!
    Buy in quantity!

    I understand that Tom hit some financial hard times after I left, and I don't know if he does any TV advertising any more, but those ads were enjoyable to watch. A friend of mine and I even wrote a song called “Flat-Head” to the tune of Devo's “Block-Head” (for those who don't know, Tom Peterson's corporate logo was a caricature of his face, complete with his buzz cut).

    If Tom did a California boat ad, I'd probably listen to it. Maybe.

  13. As someone who's been in the broadcast advertising business both directly and as a consultant for almost 30 years (mostly in radio), this is a fascinating thread to read through. (Thanks to backtype for popping it onto my radar.)

    Jake, you noted about the irony of button pushing between stations and finding other stations often in commercial breaks at the same time. For years radio programming “experts” have determined that there are certain times of the hour when it's best to play commercials – and when it's best NOT to play them. It usually has to do with how listening is reported to the ratings company. So most music stations tend to run on similar “clocks” as to most talk stations.

    As to the comments by a couple of you about how much you hate hearing the exact same message over and over… Or John wondering why a company wouldn't create 10 commercials at once and rotate them around… The absolute key to advertising success is frequency.

    With the constant bombardment of commercial messages in myriad forms on all of us every day, the only way for a given company to cut through and leave a mark in the minds of an average person is for that person to hear or see a message with frequency.

    It's the same concept of how a particular song becomes a hit song. If an artist put out a CD and radio stations everywhere just rotated all the songs on that CD for a few weeks the chances are practically nill that any one single song would stick with enough people and none would become a hit. But when a record company targets a particular song to be “released as a single” and stations in that format play that song regularly for a few weeks, then – if it's good – it can definitely end up sticking with people and becoming a hit.

    Take it from a guy who's been a DJ in years past: by the time the general public is just starting to latch on to a given song, we are sick to death of it since we listen to a station in much longer slices of time than the average person. So when you might be thinking you've heard one particular ad message WAY to often, chances are many other people have heard it only a couple of times.

    Number one mantra in advertising: Frequency sells. Of course, like a song, the message must be strong for it to sell. The repetition of shit, an all too often bad aspect of advertising, won't sell much of anything.

    Anyway, interesting posts and comments.

  14. Thanks for chiming in (partial pun intended) Steve. Good to hear the expert's perspective.

    I get that drilling a message makes for recognition later, and it works, as I mentioned with the Shane Company. They're across from the Washington Square Mall here in PDX, btw. I heard their radio ad after writing this post and paid attention to catch the location. Funny.

    I love a good ad, and Burgerville, a local fast food chain has be lulzing, recently with their radio ads. Good writing, sarcasm. Awesome. I liked them already, but their ads have made me like them more. That's gold.

  15. Ramming is the point, according to @stevegaines62. Can't say I'm surprised, since it works so well, even if you never consume the product.

    As a former Portlander and a radio ad cynic like me, you would appreciate the latest Burgerville ads. Hilarious turnabouts. That place ruled before and now, even more.

    I have to say, ads that make me laugh win. Although they may not be as memorable, so maybe they fail. But at least I remember the happy tag for that brand.

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