I was born in Louisville, Kentucky. Lots of cool things come from Louisville; Muhammad Ali, KFC, The Kentucky Derby, Papa John’s, Hunter S. Thompson, Jennifer Lawrence, Louisville Slugger, and more. Louisville is a town of artists, creators, and history makers. Louisville also happens to be the birthplace of truth in advertising.
In 1909, the Associated Advertising Clubs of America met at Galt House for their fifth annual convention. Led by Samuel C. Dobbs, the convention united to take action against false advertising. This stand began the concept of the Better Business Bureau.
There’s a plaque that sits downtown at the intersection of Main and First streets commemorating this event. I drive and walk by it often. It holds meaning to me.
Growing up, I wanted to work in advertising. I loved creative commercials and ads. Later in life, I realized what kind of power comes with being an advertiser. I learned that many of the decisions we all make every day can easily be swayed by advertising. Advertising is everywhere, and it can be really manipulative.
Advertisers learned that consumers can be swayed to act not with false claims, but with psychology. By creating an emotional response from the consumer, one can create an association with the product. Let’s look at a few examples of how we are swayed by emotion, and how good branding and advertising is about storytelling.
Motivated by Fear
A car manufacturer shows you the scary scenario of a father handing over the keys for the first time to his little girl. It truly pulls at the heartstrings as many parents can relate to still seeing your budding adult as a 4-year-old. “We knew this day was coming,” says the father in the ad. “That’s why we bought a Subaru.”
Inspired Through Music
In 1992, Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign appealed to our inner athletes as we watched artful images of other athletes — young and old, professional and amateurs — stretching, training and running for the “human race.” Of course, this commercial isn’t effective without “Instant Karma” by John Lennon as a backing track. Fun trick: Watch the commercial with and without sound, and you’ll notice the difference. Of course, the commercial also uses the influence of celebrity endorsements.
This invasive form of advertising is the sneakiest around. For this example, I’m just going to let the following video speak my point (gratuitous as it is, it doesn’t get any more true). Once you know what to look for, you’ll begin to see it everywhere. From scrolling through social media or watching your favorite movie or TV show, you never see things the same way again.
And that’s just to name a few examples. The ways products and brands use emotion to enter your lives are virtually endless.
Things have changed a bit since the Advertising Clubs of America helped bring about the Better Business Bureau in 1909. Today, you have to pay for “accreditation” with the Better Business Bureau (paid ratings). For a top spot on Google, you have to pay for it as well. Remember Samuel C. Dobbs from the beginning of this post? He became president (1919-1920) and chairman of The Coca-Cola Company (1919 to 1922).
The intentions were good with the Truth In Advertising movement, but we live in a mostly capitalist society where the competition is fierce. Advertisers hold the power to change minds. It’s a responsibility to take seriously. As a brand, it’s important that you keep that in mind as you tell your story.