The Effectiveness of Advertising: Presidential Candidates & Burgers

As we enter into another Presidential Campaign season, my mind turns to the topic of consistent messaging, and how and why we are influenced to vote for a particular candidate. This process can be more easily depicted with something most of us can relate to—food.

The Perfect Hamburger

On my way to and from work, I drive by a hamburger joint where they display the burger of the moment on signage. I see a billboard for said burger further down the road. I hear the commercial on the radio and get the flyer in the mail. This new burger looks good, sounds good, and in theory, should be good. The thing is, I have been down this road before with last season’s burger. It sounded good, looked good… should have been good. But I had that damn burger and it was horrible. How was I so quickly convinced that this burger was indeed the perfect hamburger, different from the rest?

Successful Advertising in the Works

Let’s think back to Thomas Smith’s book “Successful Advertising,” published in 1885. According to Smith, a consumer’s path to responding to advertising is consistent, regardless of the product.

First, the consumer ignores the product completely. After a few more impressions, they finally notice the advertising and become aware of the product. Finally, the product has earned the consumer’s trust, and it is purchased. This theory is still relevant today.

Frequency Wins

After seeing advertisements for this new, amazing burger everywhere I go, I eventually give in and realize I have been fooled the moment I unwrap the burger. I have been lured into their sales funnel by epic proportions of impressions across many channels. Deep down, I knew this burger wouldn’t look or taste as amazing as the ads were making it out to be, but the sheer volume of messages eventually got to me and blurred my logic. Of course my paleo brain is easily influenced by pictures like this…

Burger Advertisement

Even though I already know I am going to get this…


Both these sad truths reflect a reach/frequency approach to influencing behavior. When an ad is seen (impressions) by so many people (reach) enough times (frequency), before long you’re making a purchase or pulling a lever.

But, Frequency Costs

Reality is, the political ad/hamburger chain strategy is expensive! The cost to be seen everywhere just can’t be reproduced by most companies. The silver lining here is that we can create a moderated version of this model by looking at some more champions of frequency: M&M, Nike, Alka Seltzer and more… they have chosen consistency of message to take the long road. As Sociologist Niklas Luhmann stated, “Familiarity is a pre-condition of trust.”

The idea of frequency and the old “velvet sledgehammer” (i.e. softening the intensity of the blow) has been around for a long, long time. Here are some examples of slogans we have been getting hit with for as long as 97 years.

Reach and Frequency Still Matter

The key for people constrained by budgets is to understand that reach and frequency are important in everyday life, even when we aren’t talking about 40 million impressions a day. When you segment your audience to people who can participate and timing your frequency appropriately with a consistent message, you’re increasing the quality of your impressions and dramatically reducing costs.

“By focusing on true, quality impression—ads seen by actual people the right number of times, tied to performance—advertisers can increase quality instead of quantity and boost return on ad spend, which should be the goal. This is a good thing.” -Derek Huyser, head of business development at AdYapper

Have you ever been able to recognize a name on a ballot but maybe not their agenda? Have you ever ordered a crappy burger, lured in by ads? My advice: Hate the player, not the game. Let the billion dollar industries show us their way, because obviously this is effective. Then, let’s be realistic about our budgets, and be smart with our strategies and tactics to reach the audience with the frequency they need to make smarter choices.