The modern consumer is bombarded by advertising that exploits our "addiction" to visual stimuli. But after the holiday rush, can we still become discerning buyers?
LIMA – I imagine I was not alone in noticing how the veritable avalanche of advertising over the Christmas holidays tends to transform this holy time in the calendar of Christian worship into frenzied homage paid at the altar of compulsive consumerism.
The fact is that our society has seen itself influenced by a range of factors that have helped form — and deform — the collective personality of less-discerning consumers.
I remember once asking a demure audience of academics how much stimulation they needed. The immediate response was a stony silence, followed by timid smiles on blushing faces here and there. Clearly an inappropriate question given the welcome it received, I was left with no choice but to adopt the “magisterial” style of asking, pointing my finger at members of the audience.
While I managed to extract some answers, I was first asked to “define what type of stimulus you are referring to, and in which context?” I said I was referring, strictly, to the context of consumer habits. I was asking how much stimulation we consumers habitually receive, almost imperceptibly by touching, smelling, tasting and through our skin and eyes, as every emotional advertisement is processed in a different ways by our brains.
Are consumers influenced? Some data first: We are on average exposed to about two million commercials during a lifetime, yet 30% of consumers say they don’t buy what is being promoted because they don’t understand the advertising message.
How much do we really retain?
Today we talk about neuromarketing and cerebral images used to monitor brain activity through waves. Such monitoring seeks to measure how much of a commercial a viewer actually remembers, and it has found that there is in fact a “black hole” in which unprocessed information is lost. But we can’t forget that we are subject to constant stimulation and seduction by a range of products offered, ceasing at times to be rational consumers and moving toward a clearly emotional state when we make decisions driven by impulses and passions.
Research has demonstrated that the non-conventional or irreverent is not retained any longer than other information, nor are controversies (think Benetton) that might be generated using religious imagery. It is not for nothing that an increasing number of companies and institutions resort to below the line (BTL) strategies that tailor their messages to specific audiences. I’m thinking of an advertisment from the Spanish shopping chain El Corte Inglés in which an executive wearing an impeccable dark suit and shirt combination breaks the mould — with bright red socks.
The fact is we want to be stimulated all the time — we’re addicted to it — which explains our limited attention span. We want to be entertained and have even become addicted to our mobile phones. It seems we cannot concentrate without some visual stimulus. Indeed, we even take the mobile with us into the bath to avoid boredom, and who can claim they have never suffered from Phantom Vibration Syndrome, when we think we have received a message?
It may well be time to stop thinking in conventional terms and try and think differently. But I would also ask, what is really new when everything seems to have been invented? Finally, we can also be punitive consumers thanks to social networking websites, where disgruntled consumers can destroy a brand in seconds.
*Carlos Escaffi is a professor of international marketing at the University of Lima’s School of Business.