I know it must be Christmas time. The TV is full of advertisements for perfumes and summer holidays! The supermarket chains compete with the quality and length of their commercials. Each is trying to secure the “big Christmas shop”. This year we seem to have freeze frame parties and Santa threatened with COVID quarantine. This has been going on as long as I can remember. In 1959 a satirical mathematics professor from Harvard called Tom Lehrer, wrote and performed his own Christmas Carol. Even then he bemoans the Christmas advertising. It is still very funny. For the Third and Fourth Agers is this all wasted effort?
“An Advertisement only needs to be seen once”
At face value advertising should be a major weapon for service firms. In most industries and for most age groups advertising is an important tool. It is part of the battle between rival propositions. Advertising can encourage us to switch providers or try a new service. There was an adage that to be successful an advertisement only had to be seen once. The problem was, it had to be shown seven times before it was “seen”. It took that long before it broke through the background clutter.
That idea was promoted before Google. In those days advertising was limited to indoor and outdoor media. We saw or heard advertisements on our televisions and radios. We read newspapers and magazines. The urban landscape was covered in outdoor advertising, signs and billboards. Yankelovich was a major US market research agency at the time. It suggested that in the whole of 1977 the typical US consumer saw only 2000 ads. By 2007 this had risen to only 5000 . Breaking through that background “noise” seemed feasible.
The virtual world has changed all that forever. Google delivered one hundred thousand searches per second yesterday. On the internetlivestats.com site you can watch that number get bigger every second. Each search delivers many advertisements, that is after all the Google business model. Forty percent of the world’s population uses the internet on any given day. Each time they do they are exposed to advertisements . We are exposed to display ads, banner ads, video ads. We cannot avoid them since this is the implied cost of using the services for “free”. If that fails, sites are now surrounded by “click bait” all designed to have us click through just to see an ad. The average US person claims to spend twenty-four hours online per week. That is one whole day. The exposure to ads must have exploded beyond imagination.
Relevant and Impactful Advertising for Third Agers
We know that Third Agers will reduce their range of choices for many decisions. They reduce the amount of information they collect on each. They will make the choice as efficiently as possible. To do so they use their expertise and wisdom (Newsletter #021). Is there a role in that process for proactive advertising to attract new customers?
Third Agers might just screen out all the advertising. Processing it takes effort. Unless they are facing an important decision in that service category why invest cognitive energy? We saw in Newsletter #021 the grocery prices task in which respondents had to memorized grocery prices. The list contained both realistic prices and unrealistic prices. Older people did better at remembering realistic item prices rather than unrealistic ones. For them that task seemed more relevant.
To switch an older consumer out of “autopilot” requires salience. We have to make the advertisement relevant. It has to be both impactful and relevant if it is to “break through”. If my grand daughter wants perfume I may watch the ads. If our cookie trail is good enough, perhaps the advertisements will be better customized. They may fit our specific needs and “hit their target”. Of course I have just bought presents for the whole family. My cookies are confused as is obvious from the ads I am receiving.
Relevance effects are seen even in areas such as politics. In one study, older people perceived the relevance of new legislation to be low. They were biased in their decision to support the legislation based on how much they “liked” the law maker. They were less affected by the information about the proposed law itself. They were using the past experiences of that legislator to suggest that this was probably a good law. The nature of the legislation was then manipulated to make it more relevant to the respondents. Both young and old adopted a deliberative evaluation of the law itself. If an advertisement does not seem relevant to the individual, it will just not register.
To make advertising impactful it is better to try to relate such information as a story. If information fits with an existing script or memory it is more likely to be absorbed. A story may do that. Daniel Morrow, from the University of New Hampshire, wanted to design better instructions for medication. He found that both the young and old had a “script” for the task of taking medicines. When asked to study a new set of medication instructions, the young remembered more than the old. If, however the instructions were re-written to fit “the script” it helped both groups to remember more, but especially the old.
Based on Carstensen’s work, making the story a happy one fits with the predisposition of Third and Fourth Agers (see Newsletter #034). Recommendations from friends are more likely to be effective. Those in the form of “stories of my visit” even more so. Trip Advisor recommendations in the form of stories may well work in the same way. Star ratings will be less effective.
Perhaps this Newsletter has made the Christmas ads salient for you?