“Does advertising work? How is it defined?” asks Richard Seymour in Brechin, Ont. “How can we tell if it works? Is there a way to measure if advertising is effective?” Susan Krashinsky, The Globe’s advertising and marketing reporter, says: “Yes, advertising works. No, advertising does not work. Both of these statements can be true.” She explains:
When you’ve been cringing at pricey airfares for your sister’s destination wedding and you see an ad for a seat sale that kicks your credit card into gear, advertising works. When a story connects with you on an emotional level, or aligns with values that you hold dear, advertising works. When a brand builds an image of trust and value, advertising works.
When you are just trying to read an article and an annoying ad pops up on the screen, or includes too much animation that interrupts the experience, advertising doesn’t work. When advertisers lie, and consumers find out about it, advertising doesn’t work – last year, 65 per cent of Canadians surveyed by the Gandalf Group on behalf of Advertising Standards Canada said they had stopped purchasing a product or service because the ads were unacceptable to them. When advertisers try to target their ads to people who are more likely to be receptive, but cross the line when it comes to privacy, consumers are creeped out and advertising doesn’t work.
It is possible to build a successful brand without advertising. When Milton Hershey launched a candy company in 1894, he was skeptical of the whizzbangery of advertising and focused the bulk of his investments on making good chocolate. He did, ahem, pretty well.
But while Hershey found success with little advertising, the company’s more recent stewards have reconsidered the approach: between 2006 and 2013, Hershey more than quintupled its marketing spending, and saw sales rise. Chief Growth and Marketing Officer Mike Wege told Advertising Age that “it became increasingly clear to us that great advertising well executed can have a greater growth impact in the category than perhaps the company has historically understood.”
So we know ads can work. Your other question – how can we measure advertising’s success – is the more important one.