Why Advertising Irritates Me

By Michael Edmonds 20/09/2011


While the advertising industry comes up with some very clever and amusing ads, for example the clip above, I often find myself irritated by advertisements on television. And it is not just because they interrupt my TV viewing. What I find most irritating is the often emotive manipulation used to sell products – playing on the viewers fears, guilt, envy and other emotions. For years advertising companies have exploited psychology to work out the best way to part us from our money, often pushing the boundaries of what I would consider fair and truthful. Indeed, I was quite pleased to recently see Ab Circle Pro advertisements banned on the basis that they portray unrealistic outcomes and could mislead the consumer. Hopefully a few other exercise equipment advertisements will follow given many make, in my opinion, similar unrealistic claims.

When I think about it, advertising could be viewed as the antithesis of science; in science every effort is made to remove bias, to be objective and to focus on the facts. Advertising attempts to introduce favourable bias towards the product, encourages beneficial subjective views and glosses over inconvenient facts.

With the Ab Circle Pro advertisements removed, I wonder if any more advertisements will follow? It seems to me that there a few others that make fairly dodgy claims.

Hmmm, where did I put the address of the Advertising Standards Authority again?

Note – The TED talk from which this clip is taken talks about a lot more than advertising. It is a fascinating discussion about the concept of intangible value and is certainly worth a watch.

0 Responses to “Why Advertising Irritates Me”

  • Oddly I don’t mind the exercise ads as annoying as the “Wear this aftershave/deodorant/etc and you’ll be beating supermodels off with a stick” type of ad. Even though the later is obviously complete fiction.

  • As someone involved in advertising, I find what generally bothers people about it is too much noise and not enough signal. When people learn about things they find useful, it’s not advertising so much as news. It’s having to wade through lots of useless, irrelevant information that makes people hate advertising. I just discovered a comic convention, that I would have liked to attend, happened last weekend. But I didn’t hear about it because they couldn’t afford to advertise it more. Maybe that points to another problem: The least interesting products seem to have the most to spend on advertising. They create too much noise and drown out the signal.

  • Derek,
    What a clever way of thinking about it. The irritating advertising is that with a low signal to noise ratio.
    I like that.

  • Michael – your claim about advertising being the ‘antithesis’ of science is probably 68% true [tongue in cheek].
    Read this checklist comparison:
    You can’t make wholly untrue claims in advertising – nor in science.
    You have to be able to replicate the experience/experiment and get the same results – as in science
    Statistics and measurements have to be verified as accurate – as in science
    There is no requirement for humour or entertainment in science. But many adverts aren’t funny either.

    But without advertising there would be less or no
    – billboards cluttering up our countryside
    – subsidies for bus and transport companies to keep fares low
    – free TV channels
    – well-paid professional sports teams
    – Rugby World Cup

    So, you choose. the dry, clinical world of accurate science. Or the mildly irritating but sometimes amusing consumer advertising that enables much that we enjoy for free or at reduced prices to continue.

    I know which world I want to live in.

  • Rebecca,
    You make some very good points. You have provided a useful perspective on some aspects of advertising I hadn’t considered.
    Perhaps I should have specified that it is some applications of advertising I find irritating.
    While neither science nor advertising can make wholly untrue claims, the purpose of some (most?) advertising is to make bias claims about the product being sold. This is not the case in science which objective, fact only claims are the aim.

    Also, accurate science is not necessarily dry and clinical. In fact some of the best science communicators use positive emotive techniques to enhance the science.

    I guess the type of advertising I find irritating is when it overhypes the product or glosses over certain facts. Health and exercise related products can do this.

    But as you have reminded me there are some fantastically clever advertisements which entertain as well as providing useful information about the product. These I certainly do not find irritating. Indeed, I think Derek summed it up quite well talking about irritating advertising having a low signal to noise ratio.

    Thanks again for your perspective, it has been most illuminating.

  • Maybe one reason that there aren’t a lot of science programs out there on TV is because no advertiser is going to want a program promoting critical thinking alongside the ads??? 😉