Why do companies still advertise us to death?

The volume of advertising we consume on a daily basis is overwhelming, so many of us believe we’ve developed an immunity to advertising’s persuasive powers. As a result, when I tell people I work in marketing I generally get questions like this:

“I never buy things because they’re in ads, why do you bother?”

That questions—and others like it—are based on a false premise: That the purpose of an advertisement is to convince us to buy a particular product. Advertising isn’t that directly effective.

The idea that advertising can “convince” people to buy a product by explaining why it’s superior to competitors—known also as the “strong” theory of advertising—has been thoroughly debunked. Advertising, in reality, is a weak force that simply reminds consumers that a particular brand exists in an attempt to nudge them into buying it next time they’re shopping in that category.

In a nutshell, the purpose of any advertising is to reinforce associations between product categories and specific brands. It’s why you think of McDonald’s and Coca Cola when someone asks you to name a fast-food restaurant or a type of soda.

Humans are programmed to be more trusting of things we recognize. The same psychological force that makes babies racist also makes us likely to buy the same toothpaste brands for decades at a time.

Most of the things we buy are trivial and inexpensive, so we use mental shortcuts to save time and effort. When choosing something as simple as a soda, we rarely investigate every option available before reaching a decision. Generally, we quickly grab the red can with the cursive white writing and move along with our lives. That every single person knows exactly what brand of soda was just described is a testament to the effectiveness of decades of advertising.

Even when making high-involvement purchases, such as a new car, the effectiveness of advertising is undeniable. Sure, you’re going to decide between the Toyota and Hyandai based on the merits of each, but how did you end up in those two dealerships to begin with? Advertising.

We associate certain attributes with certain brands because those brands have spent years re-enforcing those attributes in their marketing activities. It’s how we all know that Jeep is for adventurous people, Mercedes is for people who want to look rich, Toyota is for ISIS, Hyandai make cheap small cars that still feel overpriced, etc. We use all these association to compile a shortlist of potential brands between which we will ultimately decide.

Can a new Australian retail eCommerce business compete?

I’ve been investigating the feasibility of a launching new online retail operation for a couple of weeks. This is primarily for a client who’s attempting to move their established wholesale business into the consumer marker, however I’m also exploring the possibility of using retail as a means to monetize a website I own in the pet industry.

This post is both a brainstorming activity and an attempt to condense my own thoughts into something a bit more coherent. I’m sharing it here because—as unlikely as this is—my thoughts could be useful to some other aspiring entrepreneur exploring this area. Continue reading

Québec City, Canada

There’s an unsettling and out-of-place feel about Québec City. The architecture is decidedly European, as is the local language, the food, and the vibe. A person dropped unconscious into Québec would struggle finding any evidence to suggest he’s anywhere but a seaside village in France.

Just outside of Québec City are two notable attractions: Île d’Orléans; a sparely populated pastoral island known for its locally-produced food and wine, and the Montmorency Falls; a spectacular waterfall that’s taller than Niagara Falls.

If you’re yet to see how maple syrup is made, Île d’Orléans’ Erabliere Boily is arguable the best place to experience it. The owners walk guests through the entire maple syrup production process and even offer freshly-made maple taffy. The farm also sells dozens of different maple-based products to, including candy, maple sugar, syrups, sauces, chocolates, teas, and everything else you could possibly imagine.

Québec City is a destination in which one could spend weeks immersing themselves in the culture and cuisine, but the hurried traveler could also sufficiently explore its main attractions in one or two busy days.

Central Park, New York

Wiktionary’s definition of “concrete jungle” reads like a checklist of adjectives one would use to describe New York City. The cityscape harsh, unattractive, conspicuously devoid of greenery, and denser than Jim Hoft. Central Park, comparatively speaking, is a paradise.

I visited Central Park in middle of summer. The surrounding city was sweltering, noisy and smelled like hot garbage. Central Park, natural beauty aside, was the perfect escape from the discomfort of the city. The air was cooler and smelled fresh and clean. In fact, the air in Central Park is literally less polluted than that in the city that surrounds it.

Central Park features a small zoo. All things considered, it’s quite unremarkable, housing a small collection of mammals, reptiles and birds that one would find in any major zoo anywhere in the world. Nevertheless, it’s a nice, relaxing (and surprisingly inexpensive) way to spend a few hours.

Outside of the zoo, the park bustles with wildlife. Sparrows and squirrels scuttle skittishly across the park’s vistas, aiming feverishly to separate humans from their food, while simultaneously trying to avoid making any contact with said humans.

The ponds and reservoirs of Central Park are visually stunning, especially in the evenings as the lights of the New York skyline shimmer across their waters. Paddle boats are popular in the lake at the southern end, while fishing most enjoyable in Harlem Meer at the northern end.

Salzburg Old Town, Austria

Arguably best known as the setting for The Sound of Music, the city of Salzburg’s Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site internationally renowned for its architecture and picturesque surrounds.

I visited Salzburg in January of 2015 on a day trip for somewhat-nearby Hopfgarten im Brixental. It was a bitterly cold day, but the Old Town area of the city was still packed with tourists and shoppers. The short trip duration made it impossible to venture off the beaten path, so I was only able to visit the most notable attractions.

The point of arrival into the Old Town is the UNESCO World Heritage listed Getreidegasse (shown below), Old Town’s primary shopping street. It features an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants—mostlty both chain stores, but there’s a few interesting locally-owned boutiques dotted throughout.

I’m not usually much of shopper, especially in overpriced tourist areas, but the relentless cold wind and rain made going into stores a survival necessity. I went home with a handful of souvenirs, a Christmas decoration, and a few essentials from H&M. I don’t speak a word of German, but most of the shop keepers and waiters were able to speak decent English. Many of them spoke Italian too, which proved to be a useful fallback language when over-enunciated English and furious pointing proved fruitless.

The Salzburg Cathedral and the Hohensalzburg Castle are the main tourist sights in Old Town. The castle is one of medieval Europe’s largest, but unfortunately was closed for repairs while I was there (it’s usually open year-round). The castle sits on a hill overlooking the town and is accessible either by walking or the funicular (sloped rail). The walk is utterly exhausting.

The cathedral, fortunately, was open and we were able to explore it freely. The Baroque style architecture and many windows above the nave made the interior lighter and more joyful than that of a more traditional Roman-Gothic cathedral.

Lerici, Italy

Lerici is a town in northern Italy on the Italian Riviera. The town is home to roughly ten thousand people; a number that rises considerably in the summer months as holidaymakers fill the hotels, restaurants and beach.

I’ve visited Lerici twice. The first time, in 2008, we stayed several nights in the Hotel Florida Lerici and used the town as a jumping-off-point for the nearby Cinque Terre. The second time was in 2015, when my travelling companion and I took a bus trip from La Spezia for lunch and some light sightseeing.

The town’s primary attraction is the Castello di Lerici—Lerici Castle—which was constructed almost 900 years ago to protect the town and harbor from Saracen attacks. It was used militarily for three centuries, under the rule of the Republics of Genoa, Pisa, Genoa (again), and later the Ligurian Republic.

Today the castle houses a paleontology museum, following the discovery of dinosaur bones in the Lerici area.