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The Art of Advertising
there's more to it than you might think

When it comes to selling, you can't go past advertising. No matter what's on offer or how good it is - breakfast cereal, cars, houses, floor-mops - without commercial hype, no-one will buy if they don't know it exists. Remember the snake-oil salesman in the western movies? Townsfolk saw his wagon the instant it rolled in - how could they miss it, decorated as it was with advertisements for his dubious products. They'd listen to his patter about the miracle in a little bottle which could cure aches and pains, heel wounds and was guaranteed to grow hair on a billiard ball. It probably reeked, tasted foul and did none of the things the flashy dude claimed, but people bought it anyway because he knew their weak points and how to exploit them. That's the essence of advertising - see a market, pick the targets and shoot them straight in the heart, no quarter!

We are the ones in their sights and during the course of any day we will be hit many times, often without even realising. The advertisers know how to catch our attention as we drive along the freeway, duck into the store for a carton of milk, or simply glance through the daily newspaper. The obscene amount of money that goes into producing this hype is entirely justified because it snares the attention of the consumer and brings in the bucks. That's always assuming they've used the right bait and presented it in a way that simply can't be ignored. To achieve this, they've studied us in depth - who we are, what we need, how we think, when and where we will be at our most vulnerable.

Supermarkets are the classic selling arena. By their existence alone, much of the hard work is already done because people only go there to spend money. There will always be a few who come in out of the heat and wander along the freezer section just to cool off. Despite the fact that they had no intention of buying, they might still be tempted to pick up a little something on their way out, maybe a candy bar that catches their eye and tickles a fancy, one they didn't have before they came in. The manager anticipated that and catered for it, setting up a few self-serve dispensers right next to the checkout which everyone leaving has to pass. It's a popular spot for impulse-buying, and lucrative in more ways than one. Not only do the store-owners profit from the sales, but they actually charge manufacturers and suppliers who wish their goods to be placed in these all-too-obvious areas. The same applies to other premium sections like the end of aisles, ideal for those point-of-sale displays that confront customers before they've even started their shopping. The rows of shelving are another consideration - what will the buyer see first? Anywhere that is eye-height and easy-grab is prized by suppliers and they don't mind paying for the space. In fact, if they choose not to, their products will be relegated up or down on the racks where they are hard to reach and not easily glimpsed, reducing sales potential.

Simply being in a convenient position isn't always enough. Even shoppers in a rush won't necessarily fill their trolleys with items from the middle shelves just because they are handy. They look for labels and packaging of familiar brands they've had before and trust. Names like Kelloggs, Cadbury and Heinz are household words, renowned for quality. Now they are, but when they first appeared donkey's years ago they were just another packet or can. Since then, millions have been invested in advertising to get them known and immediately recognisable as worth buying. Despite achieving popularity, much more continues to be outlaid to keep them in the public eye and give them an edge over their rivals.

Commercials are everywhere and, in the main, the best ones are the simplest, perhaps an image of the actual packet, or a brand name that has been seen so often that anyone can recognise it at a glance. Even children who can't yet read know a Mars wrapper on sight and what it contains. Once people are indoctrinated by frequent exposure, a single word in a particular style triggers that same image in their memory. They don't have to be up close to know how it's spelt and what it refers to - the familiar style and colours tell them that from a distance. And if they are in the market for a certain type of product, the brand name which has become synonymous with it is the one that will come to mind first. Icons take this selling tool to a higher level. Hype to promote them has been so intense that even words have become unnecessary. See the familiar "tick" on sports gear and you know it's Nike. There's a double bonus here - free advertising by people who bought the clothing and walk around showing off the symbol on their T shirt and joggers. Same with that large stylised yellow "M" in the distance declaring there is a McDonalds underneath. Busy shoppers might have registered it briefly, then pushed it to the back of their minds while negotiating the precinct carpark; but there'll be a reminder in waste bins or carelessly tossed on the ground - paper cups and bags bearing the iconic symbol - and seeing this in passing might just excite their taste buds to the point where Maccas is their next port of call. All this from a fleeting image.

It is tantamount to subliminal advertising, the practice of implanting a suggestive image in a flash, often less than a single second. It's there and gone so quickly that a person thinks it was their own idea. Believing this, they guess there must be a reason for it, a liking or desire that suddenly popped into their head. Then, they only need to glimpse somewhere that sells whatever they seemingly yearn and there's every chance they'll stop off and buy one. The value of subliminal images was recognised years ago and was frequently used in cinemas. It was easy enough to slip in a frame or two into the movie, seeing as there were sixteen of them for each second of film. It was the reason a number of patrons would rise from their seats in unison because they all had a sudden, inexplicable urge to buy an ice cream. Once authorities realised the unfair power of this suggestive implantation, its use was banned; but enforcement was an impossibility. Could you imagine how long it would take to scan every single frame of even one movie? Knowing this, many unscrupulous advertisers would have simply grinned and carried on regardless. Maybe they still do.

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