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Ads just work, no matter what you think (hackernoon.com)
184 points by awad on Nov 7, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 196 comments

>The most famous illustration of that is the Pepsi paradox: in blind tastings, Pepsi is quasi-systematically preferred, but Coke continues to be the absolute bestseller. It’s the triumph of branding over taste, as the mere presence of brand labels leads people to switch their opinion.

This isn't entirely due to branding. Pepsi is preferred during sip tests but Coke is preferred when drinking a whole can[0].

[0]https://www.wideopeneats.com/difference-coke-pepsi/ *This article does refer to the branding "New coke" and "Coca Cola Classic", but the branding was to ensure adoption for an actual change to the drink they had already made.

I'm honestly baffled that people can't tell the difference between coke and pepsi in a double blind test. this was a common science fair experiment at my middle school, and whenever i participated I could easily tell the difference. often restaurants will serve Pepsi when you order coke if that's all they have. I consistently notice this as well (as confirmed by the branding on the soda fountain). Pepsi has a different flavor and has significantly more sugar than coke, so I'm not sure what people are missing.

Perhaps you consistently notice this because you drink one (or the other, or both) regularly and your sense of taste is calibrated. Anecdotally, I drink soda very infrequently, and can't tell the difference; both just taste "extremely sweet."

Coke has a much greater acidic, carbonated "bite." Should be obvious after a few moment's instruction.

I can tell the difference between Coke, Pepsi, Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, fountain or bottle or can, and often which fast food establishment the coke came from if it's fountain. There's nothing about special about it, anymore than telling the difference between tuna and toro. After a bit of experience, it's not challenging.

This, and it has nothing to do with drinking so much about one brand. Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Pepsi, Pepsi Lite, Dr Pepper, Or even some Sainsbury ( UK Supermarket ) Branded Coke. They are God Damn Different.

Not only that, Coke from UK, US, HK, Japan and Mexico taste different as well. Big Bottle 1.5+L taste different to 330ml can, along with Glass Bottled Coke.

And I don't drink them often. May be once every few months or a year.

Note: I never tasted the US version of Pepsi though, so may be they are similar.

For those of you who think you can't tell the difference, or it's very "subtle", are you properly inhaling the drink? Make sure you inhale the fumes slowly and with agitation of the drink in your mouth, and exhale slowly while the drink covers your tongue. I also suggest doing this with chilled bottle or can; fountain beverages add a lot of randomness to the mix.

Human variance being what it is, I'm sure the result will still be indistinguishable to some people, but I also think there's a lot of people who will suddenly be able to tell the difference quite strongly after this exercise. They're certainly in the same "genre" of drink, but quite substantially different. After this exercise you may also understand why Coke is strongly favored for mixed drink applications. (I mean, to the extent that either is favored. Still, "Rum and Coke" is a thing; "Rum and Pepsi", well, it may get you what you ask for, but you may get a bit of a "look" from the bartender.)

(I was raised fairly typically midwest American, and the injunction to keep your mouth closed while eating was rigorously enforced. I have often wondered if the resulting non-inhalation of the food's volatiles has contributed to the generally poor quality of American cuisine at the time, and its slow progress since then. I've also wondered if "don't inhale your food!", which figuratively means not to eat it too rapidly, also has the literal meaning resonate in our brains and prevent us from doing the good and proper kind of inhalation.)

I usually see these concepts applied to wine. But sure, it's an important insight that they apply much more broadly.

Wine was my gateway to these ideas, yes, because otherwise wine is just somewhat strongly flavored grape juice in a lot of cases. But then I noticed it was something you need to do for a lot of things.

I presume this is common knowledge on the one hand, but on the other, I've literally never encountered anyone talking about it in a general food context. (YMMV of course.) One of the best kept secrets of "common" knowledge?

John Sculley, then CEO of Pepsi, failed a blind taste test in front of reporters.

Could that have been intentional? I'm completely speculating, but a public belief that 'they both taste the same' could benefit the challenger at the expense of the market leader.

Coke also has a certain harshness when from a can or bottle. I absolutely love Coke, but do not mind getting pepsi. I will always prefer coke.

I can tell the difference between different bottled water but not Pepsi and Coke.

But that might be because I rarely drink either.

The senses are subtle, especially taste and smell. They also seem to vary more between people than the other senses. I drink soda pretty regularly and don't consider either very sweet, but I can't distinguish them.

It's really not that surprising, a lot of people don't drink either regularly, and there's nothing closer in taste to a can of coke than a can of Pepsi.

I'm pretty sure I couldn't tell the difference due to never drinking soda. But then it is unlikely that I would even ever order one.

Smart move. Quit about 10 years. Whats wrong with tea or water? Sadly when you here stories about schools serving pizza and coke at their cafeteria... No pizza is not a vegetables.

Pizza is made out of cheese, wheat, and tomatoes. Wheat is from a plant. Cheese is basically a plant because it is made out of 100% grass (with some processing). Tomatoes are obviously a vegetable. As you can see, pizza is almost 100% vegetable.

I feel that the HN community should be firmly on the side of Tomatoes are obviously a fruit https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/explore/is-a-tomato-a-frui...

Do we really expect cafeteria pizza to have its cheese sourced from grass fed cows?

Well, does the (flimsy) reasoning break down if the cow is fed corn instead? Corn is still a vegetable.

Even adding animal-based products like bone meal should be fine, since the bones are made out of processed vegetables.

Now you are thinking like a politician!

Of course. A school cafeteria would never give students subpar food.

I mean, Zea mays is panicoideae, and thus very much a grass..

Sorta... Malcom Gladwell didn't really pinpoint anything. He asked an ex-Pepsi product developer.

>>The difficulty with interpreting the Pepsi Challenge findings begins with the fact that they were based on what the industry calls a sip test or a CLT (central location test). Tasters don’t drink the entire can. They take a sip from a cup of each of the brands being tested and then make their choice. Now suppose I were to ask you to test a soft drink a little differently. What if you were to take a case of the drink home and tell me what you think after a few weeks? Would that change your opinion? It turns out it would. Carol Dollard, who worked for Pepsi for many years in new-product development, says, “I’ve seen many times when the CLT will give you one result and the home-use test will give you the exact opposite. For example, in a CLT, consumers might taste three or four different products in a row, taking a sip or a couple sips of each. A sip is very different from sitting and drinking a whole beverage on your own. Sometimes a sip tastes good and a whole bottle doesn’t. That’s why home-use tests give you the best information. The user isn’t in an artificial setting. They are at home, sitting in front of the TV, and the way they feel in that situation is the most reflective of how they will behave when the product hits the market.”

>>Dollard says, for instance, that one of the biases in a sip test is toward sweetness: “If you only test in a sip test, consumers will like the sweeter product. But when they have to drink a whole bottle or can, that sweetness can get really overpowering or cloying.” Pepsi is sweeter than Coke, so right away it had a big advantage in a sip test. Pepsi is also characterized by a citrusy flavor burst, unlike the more raisiny-vanilla taste of Coke. But that burst tends to dissipate over the course of an entire can, and that is another reason Coke suffered by comparison. Pepsi, in short, is a drink built to shine in a sip test. Does this mean that the Pepsi Challenge was a fraud? Not at all. It just means that we have two different reactions to colas. We have one reaction after taking a sip, and we have another reaction after drinking a whole can. In order to make sense of people’s cola judgments, we need to first decide which of those two reactions most interests us.

Which is to say: essentially one guy's (informed) opinion which even he doesn't seem to commit to that strongly.

This is then followed by about two pages talking about branding/sensation-transference concluding with the punch line no one ever drinks Coca-Cola blind

The difference in flavor isn't really considered cut and dry by either of them and Gladwell focuses on branding.

Thank you for the insight - I haven't read Blink, I've just come across this online and in discussions with friends.

The author of the article I linked paints the anecdote you've cited as Gladwell's "research". I had thought it was more exhaustive than that.

Gladwell is an entertainment writer who picks facts and writes interesting stories.

None of them should be taken as factual; he cherry picks and often writers stories well after the source material has been disproven.

For example, Gottman's marriage research in blink that could predict divorce with extreme success was an overfit model without a validation set that didn't generalize well.

Yeah this is a very idiosyncratic pet peeve of mine. Wikipedia's pepsi taste test article also cites Blink with the same sense of authority.

Anecdotally, I find Coke branded soft drinks to use more "spice" for their flavors, while Pepsi branded ones (excluding Dr Pepper) to just load up on sugar. You can do the same comparison with Mug brand root beer versus Barq's. Mug is just caramel colored sugar, while Barq's seems to be "spicy"

>while Pepsi branded ones (excluding Dr Pepper)

Dr Pepper is independent, neither a part of Pepsico or CocaCola Company. Part of their (successful) marketing campaign was making everybody believe that there are only two choices when it comes to soft drink: coke or pepsi. Dr Pepper (and other extinct brands) got left out of the public consciousness this way

Dr Pepper isn't entirely independent - it's a part of Keurig Dr Pepper, and is associated with 33 other bottled beverages including schweppes, canada dry, yoohoo and Snapple

Though, on a regional basis, Dr Pepper gets bottled and distributed with one of the big two.

Back in the 90s when I used to watch ads, Dr Pepper had an advertising campaign in the UK which had besuited scientists examining, and declaring "we can you one thing, it is NOT a cola"

It's 'spice' for me as well - I can always tell Coke from Pepsi because of the 'spice' flavor.

Same, I always figure it's the leaf they use.

Coke is still the only major soft drink to use coca leaves (with the psychoactive components chemically removed).

Perhaps what you are noticing is bitterness from caffeine.

Nah, Coke has significantly more "bite" (boy it's hard to come up with the right term to describe it) than Pepsi does. I don't think there's a significant difference in caffeine content between the two.

I'm honestly baffled that there are people who have trouble telling the two apart...

In Barq's vs. Mug -- quite true. Haven't had either in probably 10 years but Barq's "bite" is the caffeine.

It's not bitter, it's literally like dashing something from the spice cupboard on your tongue.

Only 22 mg of caffeine in a can of barqs. You sure that is what you are tasting?

Ever tasted raw caffeine? Yeah I am sure.

Clearly advertising works, this discussion is proof of it.

In a restaurant or cafe tap water is never advertised unless it is being charged for. This applies to all restaurants, cafes and bars. But you are familiar with the product as you have taps with water in them at home. You don't have to guess the name.

Now imagine if all cafes had big signs with 'free water' advertising the tap water product and rival carbonated beverages were hidden from view out the back. How would you know what the magic word was to be able to get one of these things if the staff just offered you the choice of a glass of tap water or a cup full of tap water?

Then, if the carbonated beverages had to be plain labelled, with no fancy graphics or slogans? What if they just had a big sticker on them warning that they caused death by diabetes? With extra warnings about how second hand cola can kill too? With extra extra warnings of how the sugar in the beverages caused cancer and made you impotent?

Would you still drink the stuff if you were addicted to Coke/Pepsi and had these extra hurdles to obtain the product?

Er, every restaurant I've been to in years has greeted my newly seated table with "Still, sparkling, or tap water?" (This is in the northeastern USA.)

I don't drink the sugar or caloric versions, only the diet, but Diet Pepsi taste makes me almost ill. Diet Coke however is fine and I actually like it. The taste difference to me of these 2 are substantial. I don't know about the caloric versions though.

Different artificial sweeteners seem to affect people very differently. I quite like Coke, but Coke Zero is one of the more vile things I've ever drunk. Yet I also know people who claim they cannot tell the difference between Coke and Coke Zero. Pepsi Max on the other hand I have no trouble drinking.

I can tell the difference between Coke and Coke Zero, after having limited myself to mainly Coke Zero over the past few years to limit calorie intake (in the carbonated beverage arena - most of the time I am drinking water).

When I first tried Coke Zero, I found it better than Diet Coke, and closer in flavor to regular Coke. For me, Diet Coke has that strange Nutrasweet after-taste, which I have never liked.

I didn't find that with Coke Zero when I first tried it, seeking something that was nominally "zero-calorie" without having the bad aftertaste I associated with "diet" beverages (and other foods for that matter).

Now, though, when I drink a regular Coke (or worse, a Pepsi), I find it extremely overly sweet. I can still drink other "regular" colas, but they're not my go-to beverage choices any longer.

I do wonder how Jolt Cola would taste to me now; probably absolutely vile or something (I've also found that Grape Crush - which was already ultra-sweet - is almost unbearable to drink from a sweetness perspective).

I like all of it except Diet Pepsi for some reason (Pepsi Max is maybe my favorite), and even then sometimes I like Diet Pepsi. Occasionally I'll get one that tastes quite bitter, yet another time it will taste like a Pepsi.

This doesn't happen to me with any other diet drinks, not sure why this one isn't "consistent"- I guess maybe because Diet Pepsi I have more often from fountains instead of containers, since it's usually a backup when a restaurant has no other diet options

That's fascinating, thanks for sharing, had never heard about the whole can test.

I think it is the cocaine residue from the coca leaves that people prefer.

Coke products are the only ones with actual extract from the coca plant. It is grandfathered in. They used to contain actual cocaine. They remove that, but they still contain other things from the coca plant.

The very name refers to the coca plant they based the drink on. In contrast, Pepsi and "generic" brands are essentially sugar water. This is likely why Coke had that campaign for a time: "Coke -- the real thing."

People drink coffee primarily for the caffeine. This is generally acknowledged. People joke about being unable to focus because they haven't had their coffee yet, etc.

So, we drink coffee for some meaningful active ingredient. I see no reason to believe we drink soda "for the flavor" and not for the actual active ingredients. Coke has active ingredients that other brands lack.

Headline should reflect the original article ("Ads just work").

Some thoughts...

Humans, in general, seek to improve their environment. One might paint their home, put out plant pots, tidy up, whatever else. In private spaces this all works out.

Advertising goes against all of that. It effectively states 'I can put this ugly thing here, and it'll increase my local happiness (because I don't have to see it), so screw the global happiness'.

I stated a similar form of this argument in another thread. There's a huge banner ad (larger than a person) close to my home, on a bus stop. The last I saw it was some sort of advert for supplements of dubious medical value.

My nice walk to the post office or whatever gets interrupted by this nonsense every time I go outside, big colourful unnatural full-face things reminding me that people are being duped into buying crap they don't need by other people that don't care about them.

I think, and hope, that one day we'll realise that many forms of advertising are effectively mental abuse.

The interruptive nature of ads has had me swearing at them since I was old enough to speak. Advertising has been compromising things I enjoy for literally my entire life. It's unnatural and serves no valid purpose, but somehow "we" as a society accept it.

I wonder about the broad-scale psychological expense to humans to continuously endure the cognitive load of advertisement inundation. I feel like it's like a psychological tax on humanity, literally dampening our potential. If you consider that people like Steve Jobs wore the same thing every day to have "one less decision to make", you can easily gather how important every "clock cycle" of your brain is valuable when you're operating at a high level of functionality. People close their eyes to concentrate further, or turn down the radio during difficult driving conditions -- these are all efforts to reduce sensory input. Meanwhile, advertising is a persistent sensory load.

Along these lines, in the study "The Economic and Cognitive Costs of Annoying Display Advertisements"[0], which was focused around website advertising, one conclusion was: "in the presence of annoying ads, people were less accurate on questions pertaining to what they had read". This was just something I quickly found and I imagine there are many other studies which have similar conclusions.

[0] http://dangoldstein.com/papers/goldstein_suri_mcafee_ekstran...

You can mitigate most of it - not all, but quite a large fraction.

First off, ad-block your browser as much as you can; if you want to really nuke things, go with something like a https://pi-hole.net/

Secondly - get rid of cable television, and stop listening to Clear Channel radio (or any radio for that matter). Avoid ad-driven streaming services (video or audio). In fact, you might cut them out entirely.

Instead, read and/or create stuff to fill your free time. Or write, or learn, or whatever. Anything except being a complete consumer.

Stop going to brick-and-mortar chain stores or restaurants; instead, seek out independent places for similar offerings. Note that these places will not be "ad free" - they are businesses, and as such they must do some amount of marketing. But it will be a local thing only, and much more low-key at that.

For the remainder of stuff, use online shopping. Of course, if you use Amazon, Ebay, Ali Express, etc - there is going to be a level of advertising there. You might be able to block some of it, but not all - do what you can to lighten the load.

Doing all of that leaves only billboards and signage, and of course incidental advertising (overhearing a radio, seeing a TV or something at a friend's house, etc). But if you do everything else, and maybe a few other minor things, you can eliminate almost all of it.

I can think of a potential way you could also eliminate the signage and other forms of passive and incidental advertising, but you'd be a pariah if you tried it. But potentially it could work (and quite possibly be done extremely well, almost to the point where such advertising would "disappear" from your otherwise normal daily life).

Ah yeah, I do everything you've mentioned! :) In fact, typically if an ad interrupts some website or video (including modal popups asking me to "sign up for the newsletter!"), I just close the page. I don't care, there's little content worth me subjecting myself to that abuse. I hope their analytics catch the "bounces" of someone leaving the site at the moment the ads showed up. That might be a bit of an extreme view, but I'm just sick of it, especially as someone who has been using the net since ~1992 and seen it become just completely overridden by non-content.


I get so, so angry when I think about this for very long. It's frustrating to even have to explain it - it's just so _obvious_ that it's a bad thing.

No-one would find it acceptable if they were arbitrarily kicked lightly in the shins, constantly, as they walked down the street. Even if it were monetized. Even if there were no scars, no obvious "permanent damage".

Somehow, the mental assault of advertising is seen differently.

>> but somehow "we" as a society accept it.

To be more precise - "we" consists of 2 groups: ones who control (smaller) and second who is being controlled.

For the first group - ads are source of revenue and wealth. They call the shots. For the second group - majority ... they mostly hate it - but it doesn't matter, no one ask them. They have no say over this. They are being used and sold to and profited from.

That first group still get adverts though from other members of the first group.

Advertising is a lose-lose situation for everyone, just that some lose more than others.

To highlight just how cognitively dissonant society is with ads - we ban smartphones while driving because it's distracting, but the giant TV screen billboard flashing things at me on the highway is totally OK.

Not only are "we" OK with advertising stealing your mental bandwidth, we're also OK with you endangering the lives of everyone around you while it gets stolen!

"cognitive load of advertisement inundation"

Well said, you articulated my thoughts exactly. I wish we could vote on banning public advertising eyesores. With TV or radio I simply choose not to view or listen, but being bombarded with unwanted ads on my walk or commute is insidiously brainwashing the public without recourse.

Vermont, Alaska, Hawaii, and Maine have banned billboards altogether, and I hope more follow their lead.

I agree.

I think that advertising is on dubious grounds when it exists as a substitute for payment (dubious because of the extremely low payout compared to the inconvenience / damage caused).

In public spaces, on transport systems and so on, things that can't be avoided and are either already paid for or aren't even being used (e.g. walking past an ad on the pavement which pays for nothing other than the land it sits on) it's completely inexcusable.

We're trying to encourage people to use public transport.

We need to do _everything we can_ to make it a better environment, more comfortable, more homely, etc.

Knocking out advertising would be an easy win. (Killing off the OTT announcements would be another one... but I digress...)

"on transport systems"

I was going to refute your claim about these things just paying for the space they use, by stating figures that show advertising provides a significant subsidy for Transport for London (which operates the tubes and buses in London).

But I was wrong: annual advertising revenue is just 142MM GBP, or about 16 GBP per London resident. This seems low given how much time people spend looking at ads on the tube.

Yep. I actually discussed this in a similar thread on HN a few days ago.

Fare revenue is approximately 3bn GBP. A 1:20 ratio.

In the worst case assuming no-one additional travels due to it being more pleasant, fares would have to increase ~5%.

My bus fare would go from 1.50 to 1.57.

This is a distraction, though. It's not relevant, because we shouldn't allow damaging activity to occur regardless of whether it might look marginally better economically if we zoom in far enough.

If the tube system funded itself by stealing wallets from random passengers, it would still be right to stop that program, even if fares went up, because it wouldn't be right or good.

A related concern I hear often is that if something becomes n% more expensive, then some people will be priced out.

The correct answer to 'poor people can't afford the bus' is not 'perform strange indirect forms of abuse on slightly less poor people'. The answer is 'fix the fact that people are poor'.

Public services should be funded via taxation, not by private advertising partnerships.

> Public services should be funded via taxation, not by private advertising partnerships.

25% of TFL funding comes from government grants anyway, increasing that to 27% from local property taxation in London seems the most sensible thing, but in the age where people only care about the bottom line and don't factor in externalities I can't see that as an option. The Met are now selling themselves because people won't pay taxes to fund them (London's police budget is 20% lower today than it was in 2012/2013)

That's maybe the ultimate economic argument about ads: They may produce value, but probably not enough to be worthwhile if you ignore external costs.

My standard example is, I strongly suspect that the added bandwidth consumption of ads translates into a greater cost to me (via increased hope and cellular Internet service prices to cover the extra bandwidth consumed) than what people are actually making off of the ads.

It's almost like a version of the tragedy of the commons, where, in this case, the "commons" is everyone's personal space.

I think you're looking at this number and coming to very poor conclusions.

TFL says daily ridership is 5MM people, and based on your figures, daily advertising revenue is 390k GBP. That means that for every 1000 users, they're earning 78 GBP in ads revenue.

From my experience on the tube, I see maybe 10 unique ads in a given day (sometimes less, sometimes more), which means that CPMs on the tube, for an untargeted audience, are about 7.80 GBP. That's a huge number!

I'm not sure why this "CPM" figure is relevant. That might be interesting to someone working in advertising, I don't care whether the advertisers think they got a good deal or not.

(As an aside it's trivially explainable by the fact that on the Tube you are basically forced to look at it, likely for 10-20 minutes. You either stare at the person opposite, or you look up, where oh, there's a convenient hair loss advert).

What matters is whether the person being forced to look at the shit gets a good deal or not.

They don't. I get _nothing_ from an advert on the street, and from an advert on the tube I get a discount of pence, which could _easily_ be made up for in improved mental health outcomes.

You've even quoted it.

> That means that for every 1000 users, they're earning 78 GBP in ads revenue.

So 7.8p per person. It would disrupt my day less to pick that up off the street. That's not a joke, it's serious.

You think it's a lot, because you're mentally multiplying (it's already in this bloody euphemistic "CPM" term) by loads of people and imagining how much you can make from mass abuse.

> What matters is whether the person being forced to look at the shit gets a good deal or not.

Funny, and true.

While reading the parent post, I found myself imagining Mr. Burns from the Simpsons rubbing his hands together as he considered what an awesome 'CPM' he was getting.

Like you, I also think some concepts are bullshit and totally deserving of willful ignorance.

I don't know what CPM is either, aside from an OS I used 30 years ago, but if it makes advertising seem reasonable or desirable, I'm sure I don't want to know.

The way I see it: in an industry whose main goal is to trick people into buying things they don't need, why should anyone expect it won't use its own methods on itself?

> TFL says daily ridership is 5MM people, and based on your figures, daily advertising revenue is 390k GBP. That means that for every 1000 users, they're earning 78 GBP in ads revenue.

I suspect that's 5 million journeys, not people, and it's tube only, not all TFL as a whole.

£390k a day of advertising income, and £13m a day of farebox revenue, means that every £2.60 ticket would be £2.68 without the barrage of adverts.

Sure, but:

- TfL gets ad revenue from buses, bus stops etc., so almost all ~9MM Londoners see their ads every day

- you might see 10 ads in a day, but they're much more eye catching than online ads, due to position and size, and the fact that an average tube journey is about 50x the time we spend on an average web page

- ever sat in traffic behind a bus? those ads are targeted at people who own a car, live in London, and speak English

The major reason I don't subscribe to sky TV is the adverts. It's only about 15% of their revenue, so clearly not everyone thinks like me, but life is too short for adverts.

I don't understand people that listen to non-premium spotify either.

> I don't understand people that listen to non-premium spotify either.

When I listen to Spotify (non-premium), I usually only listen to albums and music in my lists, and not anything random. I am not sure if that plays into things.

But what I have on my browser is uBlock Origin, which seems to block the majority of "interstitial" adverts they stick sometimes in-between tracks. Occasionally one or two sneak thru; many times they are ads for Spotify Premium (kinda hard to block those).

I just don't listen to enough music or anything to justify spending money on the premium offering; the $10.00 a month isn't an issue for me, but I've maybe have listened to the music I have on Spotify a total of 1-2 hours for the entire month of October, and that was kinda random for me - prior to that I hadn't listened to it for months.

I have the majority of the music anyhow as MP3s on my phone; I don't really like non-premium Spotify on my phone because I haven't found any easy way to block the adverts, plus the player in non-premium mode doesn't support "play the album in track order" - it's stuck on "random", which isn't something I like for all of my music (I prefer to listen to albums, rather than songs).

> life is too short for adverts

Agree 100%. In north america you typically pay your cable bill and still get adverts.

Better off just ignoring the whole thing, or stick to public stations.

My leisure time is worth on the order of £1/minute pre tax (given that's what I charge for overtime or consultancy jobs)

Call it 50p a minute after tax.

A typical hour long TV program will have 18 minutes of adverts, or £9. The cost of watching the 40 minute program about £20.

The question then is is this TV program worth £20 to me

If no, I won't watch it.

  is this TV program worth more than £20 but less than £30 to me
If yes, I'll watch, but not with adverts. If it's worth £25, I'll pay upto £5 for the episode.

  is this TV program worth more than £30
If yes, I'll watch with adverts, but only if it costs more than £9 to buy the episode.

Typically the cost of buying a TV episode is very small - on the order of £2, so it rarely makes sense to watch with adverts. Back in the 90s I paid the equivalent of £10 an episode for tapes of DS9 season 6 and 7

Spotify's ads work. When I first started to use their service, ~2011, they had maybe 5 ads localized for UK (where I was working at the time). That meant every 3 songs I would get the same ad. The ad sometimes would change the next day. After couple of days of this seriously fucking up my brain, I decided to pay them money just to shut them up.

I don't understand how people cope with free Spotify either, but maybe with large enough collection of ads, it just isn't that annoying.

> Spotify's ads work

In services where you can avoid adverts by paying, yes. Pay the protection money and you're sorted. It works.

Whether it should be legal to give free sandwiches which has a 1% chance of poisoning you, while charging $5 for a sandwich that's poison free is another argument.

Having worked with a number of attorneys, this would be fantastic to disrupt the status quo. Plenty of competitors acquire clients almost solely by having a huge budget for putting these all around the city. I'd prefer a more research driven approach. Seems unlikely now that I looked it up, most recent state was Alaska (by state referendum) in 1998.

City of Sao Paulo did as well, it is possible.

If you were going to rank the 50 states by natural beauty, those 4 would easily be in the top 5 or 8. That probably makes it an easier sell to ban billboards.

Did they ban church spires and church bells ringing on Sunday. They are advertising also.

If they put really gaudy church spires on a lot of buildings that aren't churches or play the bells at deafening volumes all day every day, I would sure hope they'd get banned, too.

They are advertising, but the point isn't that all advertising is inherently bad. The point is that we've normalized a really unhealthy amount of daily exposure to it and it turns out we are way more susceptible to it than we like to admit.

A church spire can be seen for many miles, and from almost any location in every city, it’s ringing bells can be heard for many miles and in every city. They’ve been doing this for hundreds of years and it’s normalised to the point where your conscious doesn’t notice it, but if Mac Donald’s or coke did this, then you’d notice and lobby to have it banned.

Normal businesses don't have similar weekly events, but no, people don't really mind the sound of bells once a week. Business owners are free to build spires if they want: it's rarely considered a good idea. Similarly, every city and town with a church has had the option to ban spires and bells. When you find me the town that has done that, I will believe that more persons than yourself find these things to be detrimental.

Church spires are an artifact of history, when they performed functions beyond advertising mass times. Still, they're mostly unobtrusive, and in the noise of modern cities, one barely even notices them. If society was a body, then church spires would be freckles. Funny, but not dangerous and you stop noticing them quickly. Ads would be cancerous growths.

> A church spire can be seen for many miles...

I mean, maybe in Ulm? [0] But I can rarely see a church tower over trees and other buildings within a fraction of a mile away.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulm_Minster

For many old German towns their church(es) will be one of their most prominent features, often visible from afar, located at their highest point on a hill, and towering over the entire neighborhood.

Generally it's a pretty sight though, not like billboards at all...

Here where I live, I don't have to see a single church spire, nor can I.

No...instead, I can walk down almost any street, and find a sign out by the road imploring me to come find Jesus, or some other pap - and I can usually pass by 3-4 within less than a mile of each one (we have more than one street here where there seems to be a church of one form or another every few hundred feet for a couple of miles - not even joking).

Welcome to America, I guess, where churches are big business (that's putting it kindly).

If a church were to put something in my eyes, they'd put a sculpture, a nice building, a gargoyle on a wall, whatever.

(That's what they actually do).

If your examples did it - it'd be flashy, colourful, gauche, impolite, nonsense. Scammer grade low class bullshit.

No-one likes having evangelists knock at their door, because they're annoying and interruptive.

> one day we'll realise that many forms of advertising are effectively mental abuse.

I've often hoped that skepticism and recognition of manipulation techniques such as propaganda and advertising were formally taught in schools. Social media is a more recent scourge on the gullible.

> Social media is a more recent scourge on the gullible.

Social media is even worse, because it co-opts regular people into doing the advertising.

Now it's not just ad execs in office towers dreaming up ways to fill your perceptual space with cues and prompts, it's your friends, it's the surf shop down the street, it's everybody advertising to each other all the time.

I don't think skepticism is sufficient unless it actually results in wide-scale action, though. The point of this article is that it _does work_, no matter how skeptical you are.

Which is completely unsurprising. Consider a human as a biological computer. We have bugs, glitches, buffer overflows.

Eventually someone will work out that if you show a human a certain series of images, they'll do something in response.

(This might be a limiting example and a bit absurd, but reduce it a bit and I think my point is clear).

Even if everyone is maximally skeptical, the industry still works.

Whether people are affected by it or not, we shouldn't have to tolerate vulgar nonsense on our streets, in our buses, trains, movies, etc.

The point of this article is that it _does work_, no matter how skeptical you are.

I think that's putting it too strongly. It's more like an epidemiology problem, where we know that it is not possible for everyone to be maximally skeptical, so change from the status quo will not be achieved at the individual consumer level.

A few habitual cigarette smokers quit abruptly, with no apparent difficulty or later relapses. A few smokers never quit yet outlive their non-smoking peers. Some people try cigarettes once or twice and never develop the habit. However, despite the existence of individuals who can overcome, endure, or resist the common effects of cigarettes, epidemiological evidence shows that it takes regulation to reduce smoking and its ill effects at an aggregate population level. It's similar with advertising.

Advertising targets populations. It works on populations. It is neither necessary nor proven that it is possible to craft an advertisement so powerful that anyone who sees it will eventually buy the advertised product. Analogizing human brains to unpatched computers, rife with exploitable buffer overflows, confuses more than it clarifies. (As an example, I saw my first Coors beer ad more than 30 years ago. I have yet to buy Coors beer. I don't drink beer. Nor do I drink sodas, so no Coke or Pepsi in my house either.)

> Eventually someone will work out that if you show a human a certain series of images, they'll do something in response. (This might be a limiting example and a bit absurd, but reduce it a bit and I think my point is clear).

This actually happens. There was a reporter who had epilepsy and was disliked by some group of people. Eventually one of them sent him a twitter message with images that caused him to have a seizure.[0]

[0] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/03/17/fb...

I am not sure I buy that, as humans are more like biological self programmable machines. Smalltalk or Lisp implementations, not C, if you get my meaning.

The first step is recognizing there's a problem. We can discuss further remedies but they are unlikely to be implemented until then.

i.e. Necessary but not sufficient.

I agree, with one exception. In certain ultra-urban locations, excessive advertising begins to take on its own sort of aesthetic that can become paradoxically pleasant. Some streets in e.g. Hong Kong [1] look like something out of Bladerunner. It has this sort of peculiar, and difficult to explain, dystopic appeal. Dystopic appeal should be an oxymoron. What can I say? I like it. Blame William Gibson.

[1] - https://c8.alamy.com/comp/AA7W4X/long-exposure-neon-advertis...

Agreed. Open-air advertising has negative externalities (the annoyance it causes to everyone walking past, which isn't compensated in any way), and as such we should expect that in an unregulated environment it will be overproduced. This is a simple case of a tragedy of the commons. This is an argument for regulation.

I want to print up a bunch of bumper stickers to deface ads with like "Worst Movie Ever" "This perfume literally smells like shit", "This car looks dumb af".

Would be kind of fun to carry a stack around.

Speak softly and carry a can of spray-paint.

Thanks, updated headline to reflect the original article

Posts like these feed my belief that advertising should be criminalized. In physical form it litters the world in more and more ways in order to grab our attention. I don't think there's many deaths associated with billboards along roads - but these billboards have been getting new "features", such as animations, in their battle for drivers' attention.

In digital form ads get even more malicious - trying to reverse-engineer people's thoughts in order to place the most "actionable" ad in front of right person at the right time.

I don't really expect any government to begin to take action against ads at large - but I wish more people would take a good look at all the bad things advertising does to us all.

Same here. It's a rather extremist view these days, but lately we're seeing just how damaging advertising can be to society. They are terrible because they certainly do work, and they're being vastly improved over time. The past few years have seen enormous developments in adtech.

If we extrapolate this, there will be a point where humans have designed such an effective persuasion engine that certain concepts of society simply don't work the same anymore, such as democracy or the free market. It will be a permanent change. We won't be able to close pandora's box, and we will simply have to adapt as a society without these features. There will be parts of us that we aren't prepared to lose, losses that we never even considered the possibility of.

It will be a loss of innocence that I don't think a lot of people are expecting at all. Most people don't think that something like advertising can significantly change what it is to be human, but technology has fundamentally changed us before. We should be more mindful of it before we allow it to happen.

Bear in mind that it doesn't require perfect persuasion of 100% of people in order to break a system such as democracy. All we would have to do is some slight statistical hacking or nudging, and we could make it so that certain outcomes are functionally impossible. It is probably already happening to some degree.

You might be interested in Sao Paulo's clean city law [1].

[1] https://99percentinvisible.org/article/clean-city-law-secret...

Nowadays we have bus' stops and clocks with ads all over the city.

not to mention an investigation on bribes to have your billboards allowed.

I think instead of broadly criminalizing, imposing steep fines for various hostile-to-the-individual advertising tactics would be more fair and effective:

Like, make impose a $1/impression fee on every ad that uses:

- Claims the product will cause an emotion in the user

- Use of superlatives or exaggeration

- Sex to sell

- ...

this quickly escalates into "poisoning the youth" arguments that work in china to censor works of media. Not saying anything cant be done but to say certain means of appealing to the consumer should be banned has been a much larger thing in practice.

In Tokyo where I live, you can see so-called as-tracks all over the town.

Some of them are advertising for prostituting job seeking site. Here is the link. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=YNuJxB2NDhs

It is just disturbing, and I just cannot stop imagining what children would think by seeing these kind of ads. Japan is really sloppy country in terms of ads. There must be powerful regulations on this matter.

As a minimum, most (all western?) countries have harse rules for advertising to children. Can we start by making a blanket ban on advertising childrens stuff, or to children?

I'm very curious to understand why you feel this way.

After all, a very big and important part of our lives is influencing other people (potential and actual boyfriends/girlfriends, kids, friends, investors, students, patients, juries, professional peers, hiring managers, subordinates, voters, etc). I'm sure you don't want to criminalize all of that.

So how do you distinguish advertising as the type of influence that is especially bad?

There seems a world of difference to me.

One is like sending an email, the other like sending bulk email spam. No-one wants the latter in their world, and the world would be a better place without it.

I understand your example, and feel the same. But I don't think you mean that every ad you see is spam?

I got an ad on Facebook from an online recruiter because Facebook saw from my activity that I'm in the job market. It resulted in half a dozen onsite interviews, and made my job search so much better.

I got many useful ads from Google, for example about apps and games that come out, related to my interests.

I hope you don't mean to ban those?

Then how do you distinguish good ads from bad? And you can't just say it's obvious: the government regulator would need a clear rule to decide what's legal and what's not.

I don't mean to ban anything. Well, maybe crass billboards like a huge one overlooking a bay not far from where I live, dominating the skyline.

No, I've never seen a Google or FB ad I wish hadn't been there. Sure, how aren't all ads like spam? It sounds to me like you're in advertising. At least, I've never heard someone who wasn't in advertising defend it, promote it, as you do - comparing it to trying to influence friends or loved ones (!), suggesting it's hard to differentiate from that...

Ok well, I'm happy for you that ads aren't a totally malignant presence in your life as they are for so many people, that you fear the absence of helpful ads etc. I eliminated TV, newspaper ads from my life a while ago, have never listened to radio with ads, so most of my days are ad-free. Although I don't get out much. Am no expert, I guess it's up to you to distinguish good from bad, but sure, defining lines between good and bad X isn't easy - and is continually changing, not to mention gamed - that's why we have judges, juries etc, and not computers deciding these things - because the spirit of the law is the important thing, not the letter of the law. Sorry I didn't put enough time into writing this.

I'm not in ads. I guess everyone has their own personal preferences. I hate generic ads, I literally cannot listen to the radio or watch TV because of ads. But I find personalized ads much more acceptable, and occasionally even useful as I said. Mostly though, I view ads as a cost, which I'm willing to pay to get cool services. Until they get too annoying.

I know other people who prefer no personalization because they feel it invades privacy. And I know yet other people who just don't want any ads.

I'm comparing ads to influencing friends and family and others around us not because I think ads are good, but because I'm curious about how people develop dislike for ads.

When you said "No, I've never seen a Google or FB ad I wish hadn't been there", did you make a typo? I think you meant the opposite? Or did I misunderstand you?

Lets assume I own a shop. Can I have a window display? Can I have a sign over the door saying what my shop is called and what it sells?

ITT: People attacking ads while likely working for the most pernicious advertising companies in history.

If you really think Google or Facebook or Twitter et al's missions are to connect people or organize information you are deluded. Their missions are to be the most effective marketers ever.

I posit that the overwhelming majority of HN'ers do not work for FAANG (though a fairly large chunk may well aspire to).

Edit: in fairness, that would exclude Twitter. What I'm really getting at is that, for all the companies that get a _ton_ of chatter on here, tech is a lot larger than just BigCo's, and I'd expect the overall population here to reflect that.

that's true of every business: they need to make money.

they _could_ try to make money in some way that is more productive to society than spreading mind-viruses

The ethics of ads, in my opinion, is a question of whether the ends justify the means.

Persuasive ad campaigns are an attack on individual choice. The goal is to convince someone to do something: to buy, to vote, to labor, to behave, etc.

If the attack results in an individual choosing something that benefits them, it may not seem evil. However, the difficulty arises in how one gauges benefit. Can advertising bodies be trusted to or even capable of measuring the outcomes individuals' of choices? Can governments?

I will assert that only individuals can be trusted or even capable of measuring choice outcomes. (Democracy is based on this assertion, otherwise voter's choice wouldn't matter). If this assertions holds, any attack on the individual's capability of gauging choice is an attack on democracy and their liberty.

Democracy is designed to be resilient. Essentially the democratic process is a boosting method for classifying the best choices for a population. [1] (Our forefathers weren't dumb). The citizen's choices just have to be slightly better than random to collectively form a single more reliable choice. If citizens' collective choice accuracy falls below 50% the process begins to fail.

Therefore any advertisement that subverts individual, rational choice is evil.

How would one determine if an advert is subverting rational choice? I don't know, but I wouldn't mind them being purged with impunity.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boosting_(machine_learning)


> take aggressive action against (a place or enemy forces) with weapons or armed force, typically in a battle or war.

>(of a person or animal) act against (someone or something) aggressively in an attempt to injure or kill.

>(of a disease, chemical substance, or insect) act harmfully on.

>criticize or oppose fiercely and publicly.

>begin to deal with (a problem or task) in a determined and vigorous way.

>make an aggressive or forceful attempt to score a goal or point, or gain or exploit an advantage in a game against an opposing team or player.

>an aggressive and violent action against a person or place.

>to set upon or work against forcefully

>to assail with unfriendly or bitter words

>a belligerent or antagonistic action

I'm unable to find a definition of "attack" that fits your use.

attack --> individual choice

> (of a disease, chemical substance, or insect) act harmfully on.

> to set upon or work against forcefully

> a belligerent or antagonistic action


The above fit relatively well.

That last one will do nicely: it's an overt antagonistic action. Do you have a better word for actions which subvert your reason?

The scoop:

* Ads are everywhere, not just online; physical ads are harder to filter off.

* Ads work (mostly) on unconscious level.

* Conscious resistance takes effort, and has a limited effect.

> advertising should be considered a public issue as it constrains our ability to solve social and environmental problems.

BTW I can't help but compare this to the recent outrage about social networks and games engineered to produce unconscious impulses to want more, and suggestions to regulate them, the way gambling and liquor are regulated.

I wonder how much of the unconscious-affecting stuff may get regulated. Perfumes affect the sense of scent which is ancient and bypasses consciousness well. Spices, salt, sugar — they all affect the unconscious sense of taste. Certain kinds of attire produce unconsciously recognized images of strength, authority, sexuality, etc. To say nothing of facial expressions. If followed down properly, this rabbit hole of a logic leads pretty deep.

> To say nothing of facial expressions. If followed down properly, this rabbit hole of a logic leads pretty deep.

I'm not sure why you're having such a difficult time drawing the line between billboards and facial expressions.

How about this: "People should be able to express opinions and propaganda however they'd like. Inanimate objects in public spaces should be constrained by something similar to the Fairness Doctrine[0], where factual information is allowed but blatant propaganda is not".

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FCC_fairness_doctrine

You see, certain cultures already put this line much closer to facial expressions, and find it appropriate to wear veils of some kinds to conceal them.

I'm not only talking about e.g. Muslim cultures; veils were pretty normal in 19th century's Europe (though not as thick as in 16th-century Europe).

So my question is where the line will be drawn, because removing the unconscious form humans seems infeasible, no matter how cultures try.

When facial expressions start causing social harm I'm sure we'll regulate those too, but this is the most bizarre slippery slope I've ever seen.

I think you aren't giving humanity enough credit in its ability to differentiate among the enormously wide variety of subconscious effects.

It seems a bit strange to say they all fit comfortably in the same bucket and thus we can't handle them differently.

I take your point, it is an interesting one. Pulling such threads all the way may lead us to strange places.

However, I think it is important to note that we have been using spices and perfumes for thousands of years. Direct, omnipresent commercial advertising, as seen in modern cities, is an entirely new thing. I'm guessing there was much advertising prior to the 1800s (curious to research this more though).

Likewise with social media and good old fashioned social interaction.

I think there are many distinctions that are quite important to make when looking at subconscious influences.

Typical selection bias: ads work if you choose as evidence the ads that work.

For every successful Nike, Coke or Samsung campaign you see there are hundreds of other campaigns that didn't work.

The correct title is: "it is very, very hard to make ads work, but it can be done".

that's like saying bullets are ineffective because most of them miss the target.

I believe "but it can be done" and "ineffective" don't mean the same.

One thing that rarely gets mentioned in relation to ads is the value of priming (the article almost touches on it with evaluative conditioning but misses the mark). Advertisements don't just influence your brand choices, they can hack your brain and change your experiences. Ads can prime you to actually increase your enjoyment of using a certain product more than you would without ads, they can increase the value of that thing for its users.

Think about how this sort of thing works without ads. Everyone has things like comfort foods, favorite shirts or socks or what-have-you, maybe a favorite comfy chair, favorite music, etc. Stuff that has become associated with certain ways of feeling through experiences. Foods that remind you of the comfort of home, for example, that sort of thing. Ads can tap into the same associative system and boost their perceived value in a similar way. And just as with all of the "organic" associations they become deeper over time. When you become primed to, say, enjoy coke just a little bit more than some discount supermarket cola then you build up the anticipation of drinking coke, and when you drink it you deepen the association of drinking coke with all of the positive experiences you've imbued into that moment (feelings of refreshment, maybe family amity, maybe it's associated with the holidays, maybe it feels like you're giving yourself a treat, etc, etc.)

People don't like to talk about this stuff because it's somewhat disturbing and a bit manipulative on the part of brands but it's absolutely real. Think of all of the history of ceremony, ritual, and artifacts that has developed around religions over the centuries, a lot of that stuff is based on precisely the same associative pathways that brands make use of. This is why so many branded products don't just have simple, no nonsense, nondescript packaging and instead have very distinctive or even iconic forms and distinctive labels. It's powerful stuff.

I like how Seinfeld explains it on his Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee show. He says something to the effect of “I like ads because I get excited about the product, buy it, then feel great! Then it totally sucks and I don’t use it, but it felt great so who cares?” It’s tongue in cheek but I like how he explains the phenomenon you’re talking about with some humor.

Huh, the only ads I really notice these days are the ones were amazon tries desperately to sell me a something 15 minutes after I purchase that thing.

I'm befuddled why Amazon, who has been in this game the (second?) longest and has had the most opportunity to take advantage of deep learning can be so bad at delivering relevant advertising. I suspect there's some institutional inertia that prevents them from deploying better technology.

Another example is that Amazon is incapable of recognizing the difference between something bought as a gift versus something for yourself. Thanks to one Christmas present 10 years ago I still get recommended Playstation games.

That I can almost understand. What I can't understand is why after buying a Dremel, Amazon wastes so much of its resources advertising me another Dremel. This is so clearly a losing game for them. The conversion rate for that type of ad is going to be exactly 0!

The virulent nature of advertising becomes so consciously clear when you notice _how many places_ you see ads for that product, right? It's kind of disconcerting.

The answer always is, "metrics show it works". I can't stop but wonder if those metrics aren't made of bovine excrement, of if this is a parallel reality leaking to the one we inhabit.

cf. the article: "There is increasing experimental evidence for the effectiveness of advertising in influencing people’s choices without their conscious awareness."

> Do you really think that 550 billions of dollars are spent each year on something that doesn’t work?

Look at all the top advertisers on the internet, in almost every case it's all big brand advertisers that can't prove results, like Nike for instance. I know someone at Nike who held a marketing position there: she said, basically they just throw the money out there and hope that it works. There's very little validation that any of it works. And, I've heard on an NPR show how a lot of big brand advertisers are just continuing to do what they've always done because they've been doing it so long.

Now, the economist of course would say that companies who squander money on advertisements would loose market share. That's the way it should work. But our capitalist markets aren't nearly as efficient as people commonly believe.

On a personal note: I can tell you 99.99% or more of the advertisements don't work on me at all. How do i know this? I keep close account of everything I spend money on. I once did an audit on everything I've spend money on in the last 3 years and found that almost everything I spent money on is not due to ads (with the exception of SEO ~ I do occasionally find products through search engines but this usually isn't considered a direct advertisement expense). It's not that I'm against ads. If an Ad promised a product I actually wanted (say a home at an affordable price, or a faster way to get to work), I'd buy it in a heartbeat. The problem is, everything that's being advertised is more stuff I don't want.

"I once did an audit on everything I've spend money on in the last 3 years and found that almost everything I spent money on is not due to ads"

I was kind of thinking this as well: I hardly buy anything but unprocessed groceries. But then I thought of the kind of ads that don't seek a purchase, the ones that set the background or expectation of the culture. It's harder to document those working.

    "Big government wastes our taxes and taxes are too high" 
    "Our country is the only developed nation without socialized healthcare."
    "It's normal in America to have two cars in a family or to take an annual vacation by airplane."
    "Guns don't kill people, etc."
That stuff is insidious marketing/advertising too. We may be more vulnerable to it than the consumer type.

The stuff you speak about it easily dismissed. The time it usually takes a mediocre reporter to invent that headline is the same amount of time it takes to disprove the point. It gets easier when you practice for a bit.

>> "Big government wastes our taxes and taxes are too high"

but I know that reducing taxes will probably not fix the local bridge over there.

>> "Our country is the only developed nation without socialized healthcare."

but this is also one of the only countries in the world with a working legal system

>> It's normal in America to have two cars in a family or to take an annual vacation by airplane.

but I have two kids, a loving wife and a set of friends who live locally and provide me better than that vacation to Mallorca

>> Guns don't kill people, etc."

but people are vastly more efficient at killing with guns.

More importantly, by openning any of those headlines I pretty much know what's going to be written there anyway. So there's no value in that - the value is in education.

I know that some particular credit card isn't going to get me more quality time with my family and that some car isn't going to turn me into a wind-swept adventurer on a mountaintop. People fall for all of it.

My point is that managing the background and vocabulary of the conversation is super-valuable to a lot of people and companies -- the parameters around "normal," the expectations around the balance between public government and individual burden, level of fear and insecurity, etc.

Drawing the grid of the conversation is also valuable -- that we shape our political opinions around gun policy or healthcare or taxes rather than species extinction or food security.

But that's not advertisement. Those are ideas and agendas. And I don't see how a company can use those to make more money, seems like a stretch.

Well consider the last one. Gun manufacturers work indirectly through the NRA. It's advertising coming at you from a different perspective, more akin to product placement in a movie. And it's still drumming up a perception of consumer need -- "you are threatened, you need to buy a gun," just as "you are smelly, you need to buy a perfume."

Ads can largely work for generating an action - it's just no one really wants to admit that the CPA is probably orders of magnitude more than we all spin it to be, and in lots of cases isn't efficient, or even profitable.

I deploy ad spend every day, and can see when it works - do I think spending a £1 on the online ads we use is the best use of that £1? In a lot of cases, nope (though in some, yes).

But £1 on outbound marketing when your agency is spinning you a line about it generating £5 is too much for the top brass to resist. I think the entire market would be much better for ads if there weren't so many fingers in the pie - too many people are making money, and too many reputations internally are at stake for the fundamentals to be questioned.

I'd like to say "fk programmatic" - we need to pull the market back into intent based advertising.

As much as I can agree that my purchases are also not tied to advertising, other than "Sale on apples, 50% off", I don't think you can extrapolate based on the people who frequent Hacker News.

While I can't speak for Hacker News as a whole and I'm going to talk about clicks and not purchases strictly, I am willing to talk about developers more generally who frequently say things like "advertising doesn't work on me". Collectively, they are mistaken and it does work on them.

I work on advertising at Read the Docs and when we were first added to the main ad blocker lists our revenue went down. We were 100% pay per click at that time and our revenue went down by the same percentage as the number of ad impressions went down. Looking at it statistically, developers who run ad blockers still click on ads at the same rate as those that don't as long as they actually see the ad.

"Do you really think that 550 billions of dollars are spent each year on something that doesn’t work?" ...yes.

Looks at the 'alternative medicine' field

Yep, it's clear the actual effectiveness of an item or market doesn't have much to do with how much money is spent on it (or how much it makes back).

The ad industry is very good at selling itself

So the ad industry has developed a set of techniques that work to persuade potential customers to buy ads, but those same techniques don't work to sell products/services which aren't ads?

How does that work?

Possibly projecting here, but I think adverts work, but by giving people a push towards something they already wanted/thought, more taking advantage of our lack of impulse control and a tendency to lean towards confirmation bias, I don't think they change minds or brainwash people like it's sometimes implied.

Another way advertising works is by tickling the "TIL" part of our brains. Beginning in infancy humans react to experiences that are unique or peculiar. If we see something new or not normal we immediately want to know more about it.

It's why I think targeted advertising is a bit of a scam. Yes, it's neat that we can do that now and the conversion is outstanding. But what's the real value in advertising for Widgets to people already actively shopping for Widgets? I show 50k ads and get sales off 40% of them, that's good compared to another strategy that only works 10% of the time that I'd have to buy 200k for the same result. Except, how many of that 50k were going to buy my Widget anyway had I not advertised? Whereas 150k of the second set had no idea I sold Widgets or even what a Widget was until I told them. Looks like there's more value in increasing my customer base by spreading a wider net with a lower conversion.

Web traffic increases just after an ad aires on TV, so I guess it works. (Source: my job)

They don't work if you can't see them.

You can block ads online, sure. But good luck travelling across a major city without seeing an IRL advert.

Those are passive billboards. And very few people would mind if the advertising on the web was just as inobtrusive. Initially, it was and generally we accepted it as normal. But ad brokers began making more aggressive ads, with animation, sound, and pop-ups. Thus the demand for ad blockers.

Physical advertising has to obey sign ordinances and in some places laws regulating the content of advertising. (In the US this is loosely enforced and mostly just for food and drugs.) You wouldn't be able to get away with constructing a billboard directly in the right-of-way of a road in an octagonal shape colored red with the word "STOP" on it. But that's the equivalent of what internet advertisers do with their fake virus warnings and the big green "Download" button.

An IRL advert won't follow you home, rifle through your drawers, and sell what it finds to the highest bidder.

Pervasive tracking and unwarranted surveillance via ads are a significant component of the problems that online ads have, but that does not make them worse than the ones you see elsewhere. The ones you see in real life have the distinction of being unavoidable except by going to live in either the wilderness or a country that is not yet developed enough to have them everywhere.

They are technically working if people you know talk to you about something they were exposed to via ads.

I feel very fortunate. I don't see many/any ads on the internet because I run multiple ad blockers. I don't see any ads on the way to work because I work just 2 miles from my house and it's almost all forest between my house and my work, so no ads. I don't watch much if any video content (I prefer to read). I don't listen to radio stations (I prefer audio books). I rarely drive anywhere where there might be ads since I mostly just have things delivered from Amazon.

I would expect that the emotion of disgust is much more powerful in advertising, but hard to use to make positive emotions. Could disgust be used to counteract the brainwashing effects of advertising?

How many 'normal' impressions of McDonalds ads would be negated from a single viewing of an image of a person projectile vomiting with McDonalds branding next to it?

Could buying 1% marketshare counteract the effects of the other 99% of the market?

>"Here’s another example: “please, don’t think of a basketball game”. There you go: instantly and without perceivable effort, you thought about tall black players, an orange spherical ball with black ribs, a red hoop with a net, big foam hands, a transparent backboard, a rectangular floor made of wood, the “Kiss cam”, sneakers with high tops, Lebron James, etc."

I actually thought of a baseball game....

But then I have ADHD and not american..

Advertising in general may work, but any particular ad may or may not work.

I'd rather say that ads "work" in the sense that you don't have to intently watch or listen to an ad for it to affect your brain, just seeing or hearing it is enough.

Now, if "working" means you actually buy something, then yes I have to agree, most ads are not very effective.

I think I may be the minority on HN, I like Ads, or at least certain type of ads. I hate Crappy ads though.

Ads in the form of news, New Promotion, New Product Launch, New Drama Series etc. New Recipe from McDonald/ KFC / Foods you like ( Which fall under Product launch ), Airline Discount, New Restaurant opening in my area, Promotion from local supermarket. New Game coming out, New Concert, New Cars. A Services Company launching a new form insurance... etc etc

I don't even mind having online Ads, most of the problem is somehow these Ads, A/B Scripts decides to make my laptop fans spinning, which I hate. And when they are way over the top, Like having 5 ads just on the front page. It is not ads that I have problem with, it is the implementation and UX problem they cause.

Now whether Ads generate enough revenue or its effectiveness is an entirely different question.

What would be a good start: Every person, no exception allowed, shown in an ad must be older than 18. Drawn ads must only show adult persons. Offenders are barred from advertizing for a fixed amount of time.

A good example of how the increasingly data-driven use of advertising, is in large part responsible for the decline of media that rely on advertising: http://www.paulgraham.com/yahoo.html "The reason Yahoo didn't care about a technique that extracted the full value of traffic was that advertisers were already overpaying for it. If Yahoo merely extracted the actual value, they'd have made less."

What is the tax rate on advertisements? We tax cigarettes and alcohol because of negative externalities. We don't need to get rid of ads, we just need less of them.

go watch "century of the self" by Adam Curtis then tell me what you think

I find it interesting that companies are willing to spend this much on advertising. If you think about it, the competition for eyeballs is also a race to the bottom. The more advertising is the norm, the more advertising you have to do in order to get the same result.

Of course, if you do not keep up... you loose market.

It is. In a competitive enough market sector, most ads cancel out with the competition. But if you stop playing the game, you lose.

The sad thing is just how much waste this creates. Waste of manpower and waste of energy, including fuels used to make and transport physical ads.

Ads are flowers. We can hate on them, and they are annoying, but sometimes they offer something you need.

Ads are weeds. They ruin your garden, are painful to touch and sometimes can even hurt you. Some look nice, most look bad. They add lots of extra work. But every now and then, you can use some in a soup as a backup ingredient.

All advertising has at least a 1% ROI. I don't think ads are a issue to be discussed.

Anyone know how to fight "naming rights" on historic publicly-owned stadiums? Another modern advertising development I don't care for.

I know that I probably fail at this, but I try to actively not buy brands I notice ads for and instead always go for the brands that are unknown (or less known) to me. The advertisers probably still trick me, but I try. I don't care one iota about what my choice of brand/product signals to other people (why would I? I don't care about anyone elses opinion about me in the first place).

This is why Basic Attention Token is going to be such a game changer in my opinion. It's the first new idea I've heard about advertising in a really long while. People should at least be paid for their attention. We pay now by losing our privacy and being manipulated, and receive no benefits. All the benefits go to the puppeteers behind the scenes.

The benefits are the free online service. You seriously can't say that Youtube doesn't have give us huge benefits, it fill so much of my entertainment nowadays, it give me so much knowledge and all theses peoples that produce theses videos are getting paid to made them. Gmail allowed me to have an email when I was too young to pay for it. MSN and then Facebook allowed me to connect to my friends and make communication so much easier.

Ads pay for theses services and not only does it pay for it, it allow people that literally can't pay for it (either by being minor (no access to credit cards) or simply not having the means). That meant that service that depends on a big market to survive can survive.

They work now. But AI will change that.

Yeah, they'll work better.

Now that DL has reached its current level, detecting an ad will always be easier than making it go undetected. The reason is that humans have to detect the ad at a conscious or unconscious level (otherwise it makes no sense to place the ad). Additionally, in many places, an ad has to be clearly marked as such (e.g. the word "advertisement" above an ad in newspapers).

"People are taking the piss out of you everyday. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you're not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are The Advertisers and they are laughing at you...." -- Banksy

> "... You, however, are forbidden to touch them. Trademarks, intellectual property rights and copyright law mean advertisers can say what they like wherever they like with total impunity. Fuck that. Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head. You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs."

Speaking of advertising, the power of words, and the power of laughter:

> Originally, all of the facets of our culture, whether they be in the arts or sciences were the province of the Shaman. The fact that in present times, this magical power has degenerated to the level of cheap entertainment and manipulation, is, I think a tragedy. At the moment the people who are using Shamanism and magic to shape our culture are advertisers. Rather than try to wake people up, their Shamanism is used as an opiate to tranquilize people, to make people more manipulable. Their magic box of television, and by their magic words, their jingles can cause everyone in the country to be thinking the same words and have the same banal thoughts all at exactly the same moment.

> In all of magic there is an incredibly large linguistic component. The Bardic tradition of magic would place a bard as being much higher and more fearsome than a magician. A magician might curse you. That might make your hands lay funny or you might have a child born with a club foot. If a Bard were to place not a curse upon you, but a satire, then that could destroy you. If it was a clever satire, it might not just destroy you in the eyes of your associates; it would destroy you in the eyes of your family. It would destroy you in your own eyes. And if it was a finely worded and clever satire that might survive and be remembered for decades, even centuries. Then years after you were dead people still might be reading it and laughing at you and your wretchedness and your absurdity. Writers and people who had command of words were respected and feared as people who manipulated magic. In latter times I think that artists and writers have allowed themselves to be sold down the river. They have accepted the prevailing belief that art and writing are merely forms of entertainment. They’re not seen as transformative forces that can change a human being; that can change a society. They are seen as simple entertainment; things with which we can fill 20 minutes, half an hour, while we’re waiting to die. It’s not the job of the artist to give the audience what the audience wants. If the audience knew what they needed, then they wouldn’t be the audience. They would be the artists. It is the job of artists to give the audience what they need.

-- Alan Moore

> It’s not the job of the artist to give the audience what the audience wants. If the audience knew what they needed, then they wouldn’t be the audience. They would be the artists. It is the job of artists to give the audience what they need.

I have seen this occasionally from stand up comedians. It can be pretty effective to mingle entertainment with piercing satire.

When I think of the main people who helped me stay sane and not become 100% bitter in my 20s, two out of three are comedians: Bill Hicks, George Carlin, Noam Chomsky. I don't care if they are cliché, IMO they are for good reason :)

> "He was taking fully the role of the witch-doctor in front of the audience... like a big, giant exorcism of all the evil shit that's inside of us, that poisons us day to day. Talk shows aren't gonna help it, the news isn't.. You just need a guy to get up there, take you by the lapels and shake the shit out of you."

-- Eric Bogosian about Bill Hicks

"Advertising tries to make the person you are envy the person you could be with their product. In other words, it tries to steal your happiness, and then offers to sell it back to you."

I don't remember who said it. I wish I did, and then I'd give credit where due...

Ads work, but they are generally extremely inefficient.

And as we get used to avoiding them, they become less efficient, meaning they need to jam more of them in our face.

If we could somehow make it so that every ad was A) very relevant and B) we actually paid attention to it ...

The entire digital ad economy could subsist on you and I seeing maybe 1 or 2 ads a day.

That's it: imagine a world where you only had to see 1 or 2 ads a day!

It's economically possible.

But the worst and most cynical part of it all ... if ads were this efficient, short-sighted advertisers wouldn't stop at 1 or 2 - they would still jam more ads in our faces, thereby ratcheting up short term profit, wondering why his 'per view' metrics continues to all, as we pay less attention!

It's a very pernicious race to the bottom and the only way it would work well is of a benevolent entity with long term foresight and proper incentives basically dictated the terms.

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