What do people get wrong about the advertising industry?

29 November

Hmm, at a very basic level we still think that ads are all about images in magazines, billboards and on TV screens. But it really is a new world now and, as more money is spent online, the efforts of the advertising industry have turned to profiling people online and through our phones.

"In terms of what advertising actually is, there are a lot of misunderstandings out there."
This tells marketers an extraordinary amount about our online and offline behaviour. Some of the most significant developments involve retail, location and targeting on a moment-by-moment basis. This requires a lot of data about us, and I’m not sure citizens are aware of how much data they are sending out about themselves.

Also, in terms of what advertising actually is, there are a lot of misunderstandings there. Historically advertising has a rather strict definition in that it involves use of paid-for media space to communicate a message of some shape or form. So it’s doesn’t involve logos on cans of beans, it’s not about brand packaging, and it’s not even about wider marketing activities: it’s about communication through paid-for media space. Scholars will argue exceptions to this rule, but it just about holds.

The consequence of having only a vague sense of what advertising does is that when it comes to things such as sugar and food promotions, for example, we confuse brand and supermarket activities with what ad agencies are employed to do. Agencies certainly have ethical duties about what they portray and how they sell their client’s goods, but advertising is more limited than we sometimes think.

Andrew McStay is the author of Digital Advertising, now in its second edition.

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