Marketing Technology for Growth

What Consumers Really Want from Advertisers and Marketers

what consumers really want from advertisers and marketers

When you stop to think about it, politicians are a lot like marketers. Both tend to be pretty adept at communicating a message, or to be slightly more cynical, telling us what (they think) we want to hear; both have an annoying tendency to over-promise and under-deliver (mea culpa); both have a higher perception of their overall effectiveness than the general populace does; both are disliked by the majority of said populace. For politicians, this last point is evidenced by the dismal approval ratings currently enjoyed by the US Congress. For marketers, it is reflected in a new study put out by Adobe entitled, “The State of Online Advertising.”

Conducted as an online survey of 1,000 members of the general US population along with 250 marketing decision makers, the study’s findings offer humor and insight, two ingredients that make for a good read.

Here are my key takeaways:

a) Marketers think they are doing a better job than consumers do,

b) In reality, consumers dislike marketers more than lawyers and bankers (ouch),

c) When it comes to advertising, consumers prefer traditional media over digital,

d) Ironically, a+b+c adds up to a real opportunity for advertisers and marketers, if they are wise enough to take advantage.

Let me table this last point for a hot minute. First, let’s have some fun with the numbers.


When the Adobe survey asked which profession provides the most value to society, professions that clearly do provide value to society, such as teachers (91%), scientists (88%), and engineers and programmers (68%-how did they get a free pass?), received glowing reviews from the general populous. Big shocker.

Marketing and advertising professionals, on the other hand, fared poorly by comparison, with only 13% of consumers recognizing their clearly overwhelming value to society. This dismal approval rating was only matched by actors, dancers, and PR professionals (which are really marketers in sheep’s clothing). Happily, fully 35% of marketers and advertisers regard themselves as providing strong value to society (the other two-thirds may be calling a duck a duck on this count).

To add insult to injury, 53% of consumers agreed with the statement “most marketing is B.S.”

Funnily enough, even though the majority of US consumers may think marketers are worthless schiesters, 94% agree that marketing is strategic and drives sales, while 76% feel that marketing creates brands.

What’s my take on this seeming contradiction? Consumers understand that marketing, like taxes and politicians, is a necessary evil.


Merely establishing that consumers are not quite ready to pitch marketers and advertisers over the side of the boat, though personally reassuring, is not actionable. Does the Adobe study tell us what consumers are really thinking?

One of the study questions asked consumers to rate whether they agreed or disagreed with a set of statements. Here are the results, depicted in a graphic from the study:


online marketing strategy

Reflecting on these answers, I see three broad themes emerge that provide useful insight into what consumers really want from advertisers and marketers:

Engaging the Senses Works

  • A video is worth 1,000 words (67%)
  • In-Store experiences trump online experiences (67%)
  • Beautiful advertising is most effective (51%)

Humans being humans, sensations drive emotions. This is why advertising and marketing initiatives that engage the senses and trigger an emotional response tend to do better. Videos are a great medium for this because they naturally use both visual and auditory means to tell a story or convey a feeling or emotion. Ads that are visually stunning and beautiful tap into this same innate sensory-emotive reservoir. In-store experiences, if done just right, can have a similar effect on consumers.

Context and Proportionality are Important

  • Every brand needs a funny viral video (19%)
  • All likes are good on social media (22%)

Two features of human intelligence include context and proportionality. We use context to make sense of external stimuli, and to assess their relative merit vis a vis other stimuli. In doing so, we are using proportionality to define how one object relates to another. Among other things, context and proportionality allow us to prioritize our efforts, to separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were.

Does every brand need a viral video? No. For a mortuary or a life insurance company, a goofy viral video might not be the right approach, although it’s likely a great idea for a marketing company. Consumers are very good at making these distinctions; they get context and proportionality. In fact, with more stimuli bombarding them than ever before, consumers are becoming quite adept at using context and proportionality to separate the wheat from the chaff in order to understand what to zero in on, and what to discount or ignore all together.

Marketers should always be thinking about context and proportionality from the perspective of their target audience. Why? The perfect message is that which is given in the right context and just the right proportion. Think of the Three Little Bears…

Subtlety and Honesty Build Trust and Loyalty

  • Online advertising is creepy and stalks you (46%)
  • Web Banner Ads do not work (54%)
  • TV commercials are more effective than online (66%)
  • User product reviews are the best source of truth (67%)
  • Advertisements should tell a unique story, not just try to sell (73%)

Trying to hammer someone over the head with a message or pitch- the mainstay of many a high-pressure sales environment- is a really crappy way to approach online advertising and marketing. Unfortunately, this is the net result of much web-banner ad copy.

Nobody likes to be stalked. Here lies the double danger of ad-retargeting: you are stalking your prospect online (via cookies) before hitting them over the head with a hammer. Though I think ad retargeting has a place in the online marketing mix, it’s like nitro: mis-handle it just a wee bit, and it blows up in your face.

I think the reason television commercials still resonate with audiences is that they have, in large part, developed into a subtle form of entertainment-as-messaging. Think of the most memorable and highly-regarded TV ads- they tend to use emotion and clever storytelling to convey a subtle product message.

Many online video ads do not do this; perhaps in their rush for easy online conversion, marketers and advertisers have forgotten what video ads have in common with TV ads: they both target the same audience: human beings.

This is why we are seeing the rise in consumer adoption of user-generated comments and reviews. Humans by in large trust other humans they can relate to. Affinity breeds connection. In increasing numbers, consumers are turning to other consumers rather than advertisers or marketers to tell them what to buy, eat, watch, and read.


Marketers and advertisers representing brands need to find ways to form affinity and connection with consumers by stirring emotions and engaging the senses; with every new initiative, they should think about context and proportionality; finally, they should use subtlety and good old fashioned honesty to communicate brand value.

By doing these things just right, marketers and advertisers can actually provide real value to consumers. Whether consumers recognize they are doing this is a completely different story…


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Topics: Integrated Digital Marketing