Ads rarely drive purchases

Only 4.7% of Canadians cite recent ads as 'most important influence'

When it comes to encouraging purchases, advertising has the least weight, according to the latest Strategy/Decima poll.

Only 4.7% of 2,000 Canadians cited ‘recent ads’ when asked the multiple choice question, ‘Which of the following is the most important influence on your purchases?’ Price was the most popular response at 49.1%, followed by brand recognition (25.4%) and limited-time special offer or discount (15.7%), while 5.1% of participants refused to answer or didn’t know.

While agreeing the results are statistically significant, Peggy Richardson-McKee, SVP at Toronto-based Decima Research, isn’t surprised that advertising scored so low. But she suggests the numbers may be skewed since consumers ‘don’t like to admit that advertising has an effect on them.’

‘The question is also fairly broad and you don’t know which category they’re thinking about. There’s a lot of difference between buying a coffee versus buying a car.’

Philippe Garneau, partner and executive CD at Toronto-based brand consultancy GWP Brand Engineering, agrees and points out that, regardless of what they say, consumers are impacted by all of these components together. The fact that brand recognition also scored lower than expected is misleading, he adds.

This is because ‘a purchase is never the result of seeing an ad,’ but rather a combination of a series of events. Explains Garneau: ‘You have to have heard of the brand, it has to have been endorsed in your own mind, and you have to have found it at a credible retailer. Then there’s word of mouth, there’s all these other things.

‘The fact of the matter is that brands do matter to people, but they’re going to tell you that what really made them move was a rational proposition – that it was good value for the money at the right time. They’re never going to admit to having bitten on those shiny hooks known as brands.’

However, Garneau was a bit more concerned about the results of a second question that asked, ‘Have you ever decided not to purchase a brand because of annoying or misleading advertising?’ Forty-seven per cent answered yes, compared to 51% who said no.

‘It was higher than I would have thought, but I think it’s also part of the fact that you get social points for being offended by advertising,’ he says, adding that this is particularly true among higher-income, higher-educated consumers who may have read Naomi Klein’s No Logo, or taken media studies in university.

Certainly, the likelihood that consumers were turned off by advertising grew with household income and education. More than 57% of Canadians in the $100,000-plus range answered affirmatively, as did 60.3% of those with a post-secondary degree, compared to 41.3% of consumers with household incomes under $40,000 and 36.3% of those with a high school education.

Garneau thinks most respondents likely equated the synonyms ‘annoying or misleading’ with ‘offensive,’ and that they were probably never intended as the target audience for the offending spots anyway. But that’s not to say marketers should completely discount the results; they should consider the risks when they push the boundaries of taste.

He adds: ‘So many crimes get committed in our industry for the sake of awareness and you can’t take awareness to the bank. Some of these people who make ads that offend people do so very much at their own peril.’

For both questions, significant disparities were noted by region, age and household income. Of course, the power of price lessens as household incomes climb, but surprisingly, price was more frequently cited by younger consumers in the 18-to-24 (51%) and 25-to-34 ranges (57.1%), versus older Canadians in the 45-to-54 (47.8%) and the 55+ (42.1%) demos.

Perhaps one explanation is that brand recognition appears to have its biggest influence on the baby boomer set, with 27.3% of 35-to-44s and 28.6% of 45-to-54s admitting so. Brand recognition also increases in significance with income and education. Meanwhile, recent ads had the biggest effect on those in the coveted 18-to-24 age demo at 6%, which makes sense considering the amount of messaging that targets youth. But oddly, the supposedly neglected 55+ consumer group had the second-highest tendency to choose recent ads, at 5.7%.

Interestingly, on the second question, the affluent baby boomers were most likely to punish brands for poor advertising with 51.8% of 35-to-44s and 50.7% of 45-to-54s answering affirmatively, compared to only 42.5% of 25-to-34s.

Garneau isn’t the least bit taken aback by this discovery. ‘The middle-aged person has suddenly gone from being hip and cool to being a parent. We’re seeing ads [from youth-oriented brands] that reject adult authority and spit in the face of convention. These consumers are in a difficult place – they are not ready to buy those products for their kids, and are offended by the messages.’

However, the point is that they likely would have never purchased the stuff anyway.

Decima conducted this poll on behalf of Strategy via its monthly telephone omnibus, for which data was collected from 2,000 consumers between Jan 15 and Jan 25. Each month a random sample is generated and quotas for each region are disproportionately allocated. The data is weighted in tabulation to replicate actual population distribution by age and sex within regions, according to census data.

For more information, contact Decima Research at (416) 962-2013.