JWT Survey: Madison Avenue, Main Street Don’t Often Connect

September 25, 2007

This article is included in these additional categories:

Brand Metrics | Radio | Television

Popular TV hasn’t always portrayed the advertising industry flatteringly – and whether that portrayal reflects the sentiments and perception of society toward advertising and advertisements is the focus of the “Ad Industry Perception Survey” released this week by Adweek and WPP’s JWT.

In terms of respect for the advertising profession, 14% of respondents say their fellow Americans respect ad people, besting only “national politicians” (10%) and “car salesmen” (5%); the top 3 most-respected positions are “military personnel” (79%), “physicians” (75%) and “teachers” (71%).

The perceived “trend ” for ad professionals reflect similar opinions:  Only 12% of respondents note “improvement” of ad people’s status in recent years.

In “bottom line” terms, ad professionals are seen as a “necessary good” by only 31% of the population (again, besting politicians and car salesmen).

The survey also highlights the relationship between the perception of ad professionals and what they do – most of which is resented:

  • 84% agreed strongly/somewhat with “Too many things are over-hyped now.”
  • 72% agreed strongly/somewhat with “I get tired of people trying to grab my attention and sell me stuff.”
  • 74% agreed strongly/somewhat with “The Internet helps me make better product choices.”

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Not surprisingly, the bottom-line question, “Is the majority of advertising persuasive or not?” reveals that 39% say they consider it persuasive – but 61% do not.

Nevertheless, there’s a tug-of-war between consumers’ perception of advertising as annoying and useful:

  • 52% agree “There’s too much advertising – I would support stricter limits.”
  • 80% agree “I like smart, entertaining advertising.”
  • 80% agree “Advertising can be useful to alert me to some products.”
  • 47% regard “Advertising as background noise.”
  • 74% say “I like informative, factual advertising.”
  • 38% agree “The advertising industry understands Americans in general and connects with them.”
  • 22% agree “The advertising industry understands and connects with me.”

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Moreover, advertisements often still find strong acceptance, as today’s consumers embrace general media as more of a component of their cultural experience and less of an interruption (e.g., Americans admit to tuning into the Super Bowl “just for the ads,” and everyday “water cooler chat” often focuses on a new advertisement or product development).

  • 82% indicate a positive engagement with media overall.
  • 59% consume “traditional” media.
  • 41% consume “interactive” media.
  • Two-thirds claim that “advertising is an important part of the American culture.”

The study “uncovers,” according to Adweek, a basic disconnect between the ad industry’s “worldview” and that of its audience: When asked to pick the word that others would use to describe them, 42% of the sample ranked themselves as “pragmatists” – justifying the feature-centric and end-to-end benefit ad approach resonating most with consumers today (think iPhone launch). How the participants dubbed themselves:

  • 42% Pragmatists
  • 25% Idealists
  • 18% Skeptics
  • 7% Hedonists
  • 5% Cynics
  • 3% Geeks

“For an industry that has prided itself on and has dedicated many of its disciplines to understanding of its audience, we are missing the mark with the pragmatist, who is now the biggest segment of that audience,” said Marian Salzman, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at JWT.

“If we can tap into that mind-set, create messaging and participate in media that best serve it, I think we can begin to resurrect the influence of the industry and move ourselves up the chain of respected professions pretty quickly.”

The study indicates a need for engagement in the context and content of the sell: “friends” and “family” are by far the most persuasive and credible sources (at 86% each, compared with advertising at 44%).

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It therefore makes sense to insert brands into the world of social networks and communities of common interest – which this study suggests have more than one-quarter of respondents actively engaged, Adweek concludes.

More data from the study is available via Adweek (pdf).

About the study: On behalf of Adweek, JWT conducted (Sept. 5-12) a random online survey of 966 Americans, 18 years and older, with a 50/50 balance of male/female participants.

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