Read the Ads in this Magazine

Supposedly, on average, an American is exposed to somewhere between 200 and 5,000 ads a day, depending upon the study criteria and the individual’s lifestyle and media habits. We will see more information in one day than our great-grandparents did in a year. At the end of our life, we will have spent years watching commercials and reading ads.

I have always been skeptical of these figures. They seem so overstated. So I decided to do a test on my own life.

Driving from West Towne Mall down Highway 12-18 to my house in the near east neighborhood, I ask my daughter Paige, 11, to count out loud the number of ads and selling messages she sees, not including the brand names or dealerships mentioned on cars. Paige counts logos, store signage, billboards, bumper stickers, and yard signs.

Fourteen miles and 23 minutes later, 255 different sellers have tried to get our attention while I am driving by at 25-55 miles per hour. That’s just under 12 ads per minute.

During the ride home, Paige wants to hear a local rock/rap station. Four commercials run, each containing many more selling arguments. I glance in the rearview mirror: 14-year old Lexie is wearing a sweater promoting Wisconsin. Wow. I exceeded the minimum estimate in 23 minutes! There were three more ads on my block: an Obama celebratory yard sign; a “For Rent” sign, and in my garage, a bag of charcoal with a very legible logo.

I decide to do a Google (total now 261 ads) search on the subject of advertising clutter and I can’t resist checking my email. I write a couple of letters. The Google correlation engine reads my emails and throws up content-related ads on the right side. In a cooking class email, there are 12 clickable listings.

Another short email produces four ads: two different deals on a Kia Soul automobile, an ad entitled “Do you know your spouse?” promoting The Newlywed Game on TV, and an enigmatic ad that says “Prepare To Be Shocked!” I am shocked. Because when I send about 10 emails I am exposed to 80 clickable ads.

(T=341). Making dinner for my girls, I count 84 brand names, everything from spices to apple sauce. Even an empty glass pickling jar has a brand name molded into the side. In the refrigerator, there probably are another 60 brand-name packages, all loaded with selling messages. I notice that the even the squash, bananas, and individual tomatoes each have 10 little brand stickers on them (T=495).

The average grocery store has 30,000 sku’s (product slots), and each product face contains many selling messages screaming for your attention. Woodman’s is a pretty noisy environment, even with earplugs, and likely could easily push you beyond the 5,000 message upper estimate. I conclude that the average estimates are correct. At 495 messages in just under three hours, it is a noisy world.

So, what’s an advertiser have to do to stand out in this noisy crowd? First, don’t assume that people are as interested in your message as you are. Assume your ad must work extra hard to capture attention. Second, narrow down your audience. Talk to the people who will already have the greatest interest in your product or service. A business person is more likely to be more interested in accounting software than the average Joe or Jill.

Third, find the most appropriate advertising medium to reach that audience. For example, most of the ads in this magazine appeal more to businesspeople like you. Fourth, promise something important, useful, or relevant to your specific audience. Do a message strategy before you create your ad to ensure it identifies the key point and to ensure it is important from your target market’s perspective. Fifth, get to the point right away. Boil your message down to one main idea. Avoid laundry lists.

And sixth, present your promise in an unexpected way. It is hard-wired human behavior to notice what is new, different, or unusual.

Ads that are different get noticed.