How do you feel when you see an advertisement play on the TV or your computer? Is your first reaction one of joy? Do you think:
“An ad! I can hardly wait! Honey, come here and watch it with me.”
Probably not. That wasn’t how I felt about ads until I took a break from media and realized just how powerful those 30 second clips really are.
It all started couple weeks ago when I started to feel like I was spending too much time on my iPhone. I would log on “just for a minute” to research something important (“Where can I purchase neon slatted “frat” sunglasses for a toddler?”) or to check my inbox. Down the rabbit hole I’d fall until I finally came back up to the real world 2 hours later. I decided I needed to take a break (“It’s not you, iPhone. It’s me. I just need to go find myself. I’ll call you in a few weeks.”). I went back to analog print materials at night (Thank you, Library!) and decided that when I needed to do computer related tasks, I would do them on a laptop (I know, so 2005.). I read or did crafts instead of watch TV, and if I used my phone, it would be to talk or text with family or to listen to podcasts.
This space-creating, time-warp experiment essentially removed much of my pop-culture exposure when it came to advertisements. I didn’t get to see all the ads about buying a new car or getting insurance or shopping at a clothing store. And you know what? I didn’t miss it. At all.
That is, until I reconnected with it at the gym.
I was happily going to the gym with a new book from the library and an iPhone loaded with some great new podcasts. I got on the cardio equipment and opened my new book to read while I warmed up. A few pages in, I realized that the book I had chosen was totally not interesting (Dare I say boring?). So bad in fact, that I put it down. “Good thing I have a few podcasts to listen to!” I picked up my iPhone, ready to listen my way through my workout when suddenly I realized that I had forgotten my headset. “Nooooo!” I thought. “Now what am I going to do?” I evaluated my options: 1) Suck it up and stare at the wall for an hour. 2) Watch gym TV without the sound on (because ya know, no headphones). After a few minutes of contemplating the intricacy of dried pastel paint from the 1980s, I decided to check out the TV.
I caught about 2 minutes of Fixer Upper on HGTV before it was interrupted by advertising. Having nothing better to do, I watched the ads without the sound or closed captioning on. And what happened next was so surprising.
As I’m watching an ad, I start to feel genuinely happy. Like SO HAPPY. Possibly as happy as I was the day I found out that my close friend was having her very first baby. I’m sweating away, smiling. I’m looking at the people on the TV, laughing and smiling. They are so happy. It’s just so contagious. Now I’m happy. And then, I realize, “What the heck am I so happy about?” There’s no sound. Just lots of colors and happy people all over the place. It’s at that moment in time that I realize I was totally sucked into the ad even when the sound was off. Whoa.
I watched some more ads with the sound off and realized that the people on the screen made me feel just so happy for them. I wanted to be happy with them. Look, they got a new car and now they are SO FRICKIN’ HAPPY. Ohh, look how happy Target makes them: They are dancing! I want to get a car with a bow on it; I want to dance (at Target) too!
As I continued to watch the ads, I realized just how powerful advertising is. Even though I knew about the effects of advertising and advertising techniques (thank you, college), I still was affected by it. Wow!
I decided to look into advertising expenditures and found that in 2016, companies spent over 191 billion (yes, with a “b”) on advertising in the U.S. alone. The U.S. population (according to Google and the U.S. Census) was just 323.1 million in 2016.
That means that companies spent $591.14 on advertising for every man, woman, and child in 2016 in the U.S. alone.
This got me thinking more about ads. I mean, we see them everywhere. And I learned that if you live in a U.S. city, chances are you see about 5,000 ads each day. That averages out to 3.5 advertisements per minute!
If even 0.1% of the 5,000 ads I see every day is successful in making me feel emotionally charged or in need of something, I might feel like I
want need 5 new items or services every day. (Like this gift of nothing. Now I can give my minimalist friends exactly what they want – nothing – for just under $9 a pop. Oh wait, they don’t need that? Bummer!)
To put it another way:
If I am perfectly happy and content with my life when I wake up in the morning, by the time I go to bed, I will need to have purchased more just to be as happy and content as I was when I woke up.
From this experience, I have a new appreciation for the art of advertising. And I have a new habit: double-checking my gym bag for earbuds before leaving the house.
This January, I challenge you to go on an ad-fast; the results might just surprise you.