Commercials: Be Entertaining, Not Informative

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The Today Show did a segment this morning on the best commercials of 2008, as awarded last night by the Association of Independent Commercial Producers. The commercials were fun to watch—some dazzling special effects that made kids’ eyebrows dance in hilarious fashion, a display of iconic images from the past juxtaposed to similar visuals of today. What were these commercials advertising? I have no clue. But apparently they make people want to buy stuff.

The AICP guy said that the big trend in commercials is the “fight for eyeballs,” as he put it. There are so many media outlets battling for our attention, so the trick is to grab our attention in any way possible, even if there’s little or no information given about the actual product. Basically, commercials are trying to sell us a feeling, a “lifestyle.” They’re playing off of our insecurities and desires—spreading the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) message that our lives would be better if only we had that new fabric softener or smartphone.

Does this work on people? Apparently so. The people making commercials—and the execs paying those people—are not dumb. Somehow, the message gets through, subliminally, osmosis-like, whatever. It’s kinda scary. How do you avoid taking the bait? Consumer psychologist Kathleen Vohs has some ideas in today’s Q&A. And hey, don’t give your eyeballs to just anybody.

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