STUDY: Gullible Consumers May Actually Believe Your Client’s Bullshit

By Patrick Coffee 

So… we hear that advertising is dying. And that’s due to growing public skepticism of and intolerance for marketing messages in general, right? A certain former Droga5 executive just published a book on this very topic. It is small and cute and we keep meaning to read it but other things always come up…

Anyway. A recent survey conducted by a couple of dudes at the Kellogg School of Management found that consumers are far more trusting of the stuff brands constantly spew at them than one might think.

As The New York Times put it, “when participants were asked what they thought of modern advertising techniques, they answered with words like ‘credible,’ ‘fair’ and ‘good.'”

That is worth at least one chin-scratching emoji as it seems to go against pretty much all the things we read and write every day.

There’s a bit of a twist, though. This study firmly splits into two columns: things people trust and things they don’t. In the first group we find third-party reviews and pricing promises like “we’ll match X, guaranteed.” Influencers, athletes and other “persuasion by manipulation” campaigns get dumped in the latter camp.

So maybe this research isn’t quite as head-turningly positive as we thought at first. As Zambezi president Chris Raih told the NYT, the interwebs have somehow made us all both dumber and more savvy or cynical at the same damn time.

And it all comes back to this awful word authenticity … or the subtle art of proving that your client actually gives a shit about anything other than selling its products to random people despite the fact that everyone knows this to be false.

Northwestern did a separate writeup of this study back when it went live in April. Some specific examples of stuff people liked:

Ads noting that you can try a product for a limited time but still return it and get all your money back (how often does that really happen)?

And stuff they didn’t like:

Ads where paid actors pretend to be “regular Joes” and talk about how much they love a product

Still a solid “not great, Bob” for traditional creative, which very rarely consists of talking up the awesome Yelp reviews of your client’s product.

Here’s a key sentence:

“Rather than reminding participants that they should be skeptical because marketing tactics are designed to manipulate them into making a purchase, Grayson and Isaac instead encouraged participants to keep an open mind about motives.”

Perhaps predictably, those who were told to think about the motivations of the brands in question were much more skeptical of the work they saw. But isn’t the key to a successful campaign often getting people to turn their brains off and give in to the distraction?