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How does advertising actually work - a summary of an anatomy of Humbug - WARC

How does advertising actually work?
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News, 12 March 2015
LONDON: There are many theories of advertising, none of which are wholly
right or wrong, so it's best to understand them all, or at least the six main ones, a
leading ex-planner has said.
Writing in the current issue of Admap, Paul Feldwick, a planner at BMP/DDB
for 30 years, argued that "each theory, considered as a metaphor, image or 'way
of seeing' could be useful – just as each, taken too dogmatically as 'truth', could
become a limitation".
He accepted that people will disagree with his "taxonomy of ideas" but
maintained that "we will understand advertising better if we start by accepting
that we will never fully understand it".
In that spirit he offered Admap readers his six ways of thinking about
advertising (http://www.warc.com/Content/ContentViewer.aspx?ID=604a063e-8130-48df-99fbd028104f12da&CID=A103965&PUB=Admap&MasterContentRef=604a063e-8130-48df-99fbd028104f12da ),
which form the basis of his book, The Anatomy of Humbug: How
to Think Differently About Advertising. These include advertising as
salesmanship, as seduction, as salience, as social connection, as spin and as
The contradictions are immediately apparent. The salesmanship model contains
many key ideas, from getting attention to factual persuasion and a proposition to
the consumer, while the seduction model works at the subconscious level and is
driven by non-verbal, emotional associations.
Recent work by the likes of Daniel Kahneman and Robert Heath make it hard to
argue against the latter view, Feldwick said, but he added that "it's more arguable
whether our scientific understanding of this is enough to create successful
campaigns, which still depend in practice on intuition, human sensitivity and
Salience is simply getting a brand in front of the consumer – "mere publicity" –
and while it doesn't explain everything, Feldwick suggested that "many
advertisers could get better value from their advertising if they focused on this
simple principle".
Social connection highlights the need to entertain consumers: communication is
not just about mere exchange of content but forms the basis of how people
construct and maintain relationships.
Spin enters PR territory – "the product must appear to be desirable as if without
the prod of salesmanship" and advertising can often achieve this too.
Finally, Feldwick looked at the life of P.T. Barnum and concluded that
advertising may not be an art or a science but mostly showmanship.
"At any rate," he observed, "it's the theory that perhaps makes the best sense of
dancing ponies, singing cats, or a strong man doing the splits between two
Data sourced from Admap
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