Consumer Spending: Advertising’s “Helping Hand”

Posted on 25. Jan, 2013 by in Your Wealthy Life

Consumer spending This is a Guest post from Angie Picardo at NerdWallet

It may be hard to believe, but advertisers want you to spend your money. Shocking, right? All joking aside, however, there is a lot that goes into marketing a product, and every second of a new campaign is spent trying to get into the head of consumer spending habits, making them somehow believe that their quality of life will actually improve with said product.

Advertisement agencies hire on a crew of specialists, from psychologists, to demographics analysts, to media experts—all to help part you from your hard-earned dollars. And everything from pop culture to the color of the packaging and placement of an item in stores is avidly researched.

But in today’s economy, not only is it increasingly difficult to separate the consumer from their money, there’s just…less money. So now, within the past two years or so, merchants are trying a new tactic, focusing less on their product being a necessity, and more on its purchase being reasonable.

What’s Happening

About a year ago, Acura began its “Season of Reason” campaign during the holidays, and it carried through to this year. The premise of the commercials is to make logical purchases without skimping on luxury, or even just making poor choices. Each one begins with a person about to make a tragic investment: a cheesy singing Santa, an overpriced emotional purchase, or even an huge, frosted Christmas tree, but is saved in the nick of time by a “voice of reason” (presented as a celebrity).

Now, what’s happening in these commercials is very interesting. While the product (in this case, an Acura vehicle) is being featured, it’s not really the intended focus of the commercial. Instead, a story is being told, and there is most definitely a moral: don’t just spend, spend smarter, and spend better. The tag line even reads, “Luxury, intelligently priced.”

On a similar vein, Progressive recently released a commercial that was surprisingly Flo-less. But what did they do without the much-loved (or hated—Flo is apparently quite the divisive figure) face of Progressive? Well, they took the policy package she usually carries, and literally made it speak for itself. The little animated policy spends the commercial alternating between promoting Progressive’s benefits and just being cool and happy, essentially leaving us with the message that traditional advertising almost isn’t necessary for a product this good.

How This Is Different

Instead of marketing their products to appear to be necessary or trendy, the marketing strategy here is more consumer spending centric. Both the voice of reason and the animated policy are meant to appeal to the “enlightened consumer,” one who knows that their business is valuable and is not one to waste their money (even if they may have a lapse now and then). Traditional advertising has an air of “words of the wise,” that is to say, they know their product is good, and so you should go on and buy it. With this new trend, we see an appeal to buyer frugality, almost camaraderie with the customer that says we know you’re smart, and that’s how we know you’ll choose our product.”

What We Should Consider

This words-for-the-wise strategy does two things: it separates the consumer from the “average” spender, and it makes them think feel that they have perhaps found the best fit for them: a product that is adapted for their smart, economical lifestyle. It also makes these types of advertisements stand out from the rest as beacons of quality and thoughtfulness. They still want you to spend your money, and they know they can’t fool you, so why not just get straight to the heart of the matter, and show you how their product it the epitome of better, smarter spending? This psychological tactic is great, because it almost makes it less about the money, and more about how you define yourself through your purchases. What kind of person are you? Well, what do you have?

While it is a nice change of pace to see merchants shift with the economic atmosphere, it’s still important for us to remember that they probably haven’t done as much homework as we would do ourselves, and why would they? They are there to make money, just like the rest of us. Keep in mind that it pays to do your research; what are you purchasing, do you need it, and what are your other options?

Don’t let advertising tactics keep you from being a knowledgeable, practical consumer.

Angie Picardo is a staff writer for NerdWallet, a personal finance website dedicated to helping consumers find the best credit cards.

Image by Photo Monkey

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2 Responses to “Consumer Spending: Advertising’s “Helping Hand””

  1. This is a great post. I work as a market analyst for a major communications company, and I focus on what consumers want – and don’t want – from their programming. You really hit the nail on the head here. The goal is to make the consumer feel like *they* are the ones making the decision, instead of feeling persuaded by the company promoting the product.

    Reply to this comment
    • Money CactusNo Gravatar

      28. Jan, 2013

      I really like learning about the different ways marketers try to get into our heads too! There are some smooth operators out there these days aren’t there?

      Reply to this comment

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