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The power of advertising

By TOM W. GLASER

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 10, 2001


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[Times art: Teresanne Cossetta]
In 1985, the Coca-Cola Co. seemed to cave in to the competition. It announced that, since Americans seemed to prefer the sweeter taste of Pepsi, Coca-Cola would be discontinued in favor of a sweeter drink, New Coke.

The uproar that accompanied this was unbelievable. All three major television networks had extensive coverage on prime-time news. It made the front page of newspapers across the country. People rushed out to buy up the remaining Coca-Cola, often at inflated prices as collector's items. All of this convinced the people at Coca-Cola that they had made a mistake, that Coke was indeed still America's drink, and that while New Coke was already on the shelves, it would soon be joined by the reborn Classic Coke.

Consider what Coke did: With almost no expense on the company's part, it completely sold out all the old inventories, got front-page and prime-time advertising it never could have bought and, more important, picked up an additional three percentage points of the soft drink market, which translated into $3-billion dollars in additional sales.

Canadian humorist Stephen Butler Leacock said, "Advertising may be described as the science of arresting the human intelligence long enough to get money from it." On the other hand, though, one of the pre-eminent men of American advertising, Bruce Fairchild Barton, summed it up like this: "Advertising is the very essence of democracy. An election goes on every minute of the business day across the counters of thousands of stores and shops where the customers state their preferences and determine which manufacturer and which product shall be the leader today, and which shall lead tomorrow."

As we've pointed out before, nothing happens until the cash register rings, and advertising makes that happen. We know that a great deal of advertising is used to launch a new product, but people don't often realize that advertising is just as important to an established business.

When Philip K. Wrigley, heir to the largest chewing gum company in the world, was asked during a transcontinental flight why he still spent so much on advertising after already being so successful, he replied, "For the same reason the pilot of this airplane keeps the engines running when we're already 29,000 feet up."

Advertising comes in many forms and has many purposes, although the underlying purpose of all advertising is to sell. In terms of the media used, there are print, electronic, outdoor and specialty. Print would include fliers, mailings, posters, newspapers, magazines and anything else that involves paper. Electronic used to mean radio, but then it came to include television, movies (with product placement) and now the Internet. It can also include telephone solicitations, but those are most often sales calls or calls to set up appointments to make the sale.

Outdoor advertising is a huge field, as big as all outdoors. It includes billboards, sandwich signs, outdoor signage, bumper stickers, blimps, signs towed by airplanes, trailers, painted cars and trucks, bus advertising, bus bench advertising, roadside signs, etc.

Specialty advertising is even more diverse, including matchbooks, key chains, paper weights, coasters, book marks, tie tacks, pins, lighters, cigars, point-of-sale displays, ANYTHING you can put a logo or message on, including clothing. The chances are right now you're wearing somebody's advertising, and if others like the look of those pants, that shirt, those shoes, or that hat on you, they're one step closer to buying one for themselves.

But realize that advertising does not sell, any more than anything "sells itself." If that old saw were true, then there would be lots more unemployed salespeople than there are now. Someone has to look the customer in the eye and ask a closing question to make that sale, and advertising can't do that. (Although one Sears catalog customer did propose to one of the catalog hat models by mail through the company.) What advertising does is to stir the customer to action. In the first advertisement of a new car line not long ago, you never even saw the car in the ads.

One reason for this is that different ads have different purposes. When you see a television ad for automobiles, for example, look at what they are saying. Usually the ones aired nationally, like those during Super Bowl, don't deal much with price. That's because prices vary greatly across the country. Rather, they say good things about the car, and are really not designed to sell that car to new customers. They are instead designed to make the current owners of that car feel good enough about their choice to ensure that they'll eventually be repeat customers. That's advertising to build up brand loyalty. The ads that deal with price are normally local ads to get the viewer to come in and at least test-drive one of the cars.

You can neither taste nor smell the food on television, but you can see it, just as in print ads. More important, as on radio, you can hear it. The old adage is, "You don't sell the steak, you sell the sizzle." When you hear that sound, your mind makes associations with your nose and mouth, and you start salivating. One of the best approaches to advertising is to find a way to appeal to the senses, and the more senses you can involve, the better.

It is also good advertising to involve the emotions. This includes the old saying, "Sex sells." A bit crass, but if you watch television at all or read magazines, you know it's true.

Consumers need to be smart and watch out for false advertising. That is advertising things you don't have in order to sell people more expensive things when they are lured in ("bait and switch"), making false claims, misrepresenting true prices -- any of a number of things. Learn to be a critical reader of ads because, while most advertisers are scrupulous, some are not. Even though there are state and federal laws prohibiting false advertising and imposing both fines and jail time, there are always some who believe that they are above the law. The only protection against them is you, your awareness and your powers of observation. Both as a buyer and as a seller, you need advertising, but you must use it wisely.

Barton said, "The faults of advertising are only those common to all institutions. If advertising speaks to a thousand to influence one, so does the church. And if it encourages people to live beyond their means, so does matrimony. Good times, bad times, there will always be advertising. In good times, people want to advertise; in bad times, they have to."

The need and desire to buy and sell are integral parts of human life and are facilitated by society. Advertising is the most effective way of doing this.

Classroom activity

If your class is continuing with the goods/services project, now would be a good time to start figuring out how to advertise it. Depending on your target market, look into your local daily, weekly and shopper newspapers for rates. Check with local TV and radio stations for rates (and see if they'll run your ad as a public service announcement). Check with local advertising specialty companies to find out what ID lanyards or T-shirts might cost. Definitely use your school newspaper, public address system, closed circuit television (if your school has it), hall posters, buttons, lunchroom announcements and whatever creative ways the class can think of.

Money Stuff: Get it! Spend it! Keep It!

Introduction and previous chapters

As orders begin to come in, or goods/services begin to sell, students should do the market research by asking customers how they heard about the goods/services and what influenced their decision to buy. If you go into a second round of sales, this will help the class focus its advertising and marketing efforts.

If your class is not continuing with the project, students can bring in samples of the different types of advertising. Get videotapes of television ads, download Internet ads, bring in print and novelty ads and take photos of outdoor advertising. Then students can interpret each ad, as they do for literature and other forms of communications. Who is the target audience? What is the message supposed to be? Is that the message it actually conveys? Does it move you? If so, is it positively or negatively? What are the elements of the presentations? Have the students think of more ways to explicate the ad.

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-- Tom W. Glaser is a high school teacher at the School for Advanced Studies at the Wolfson campus in Miami. He has won numerous national teaching awards for economics and was named Florida Council on Economic Education Economic Educator of the Year in 1997.

About the Florida Council on Economic Education

Money Stuff was developed by the Florida Council on Economic Education and project director Fonda Anderson. The council is a statewide non-profit organization founded in 1975 to educate K-12 teachers and students about the free enterprise system and to instill in them an appreciation for a market economy. For more information on the council's programs for teachers and students, please call (813) 289-8489.

About Newspaper in Education

The St. Petersburg Times devotes news space to NIE features throughout the year, including this classroom series. The Times' NIE department works with local businesses and individuals to enrich the classroom experience by providing newspapers, supplemental guides and educational services to schools in the Tampa Bay area. To find out how you can become involved in NIE, please call (727) 893-8969 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 8969. For past chapters check out www.sptimes.com/nie and click on Money Stuff.

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