Advertising tips: Where Counts As Much As What

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Advertising tips

Are you spending a lot of money on advertising and having little or no success in getting more sales? While the availability of funds in a downturn economy is an influencing factor, people are still shopping for products and services during hard economic times.  Advertising is meant to influence consumers who are ready to spend, to choose your service or product over that of your competitor.

‘people are still shopping for products and services during hard economic times’

Back in 2007, the Washington Post arranged for a man in a rather non-descript jersey and baseball cap to stand in a grimy corner of a train station in Washington DC.

He stood next to a garbage bin and after setting out his violin case to collect tips, began to play for around 45 minutes. Almost 1000 people passed him by that morning on their way to work. Some sat nearby and had their shoes shined or bought items at a shop. Seven people stopped to listen during that time. Some dropped in tips amounting to $35 but nearly a thousand others simply walked right by.

Why is this interesting? Well, two weeks before the same man, Mr. Joshua Bell performed at the Symphony Hall in Boston. He wore the traditional black suit, and the excited crowds were all prepared to pay $100 each to hear him play. The hall was packed. Mr. Bell is known as a brilliant violinist, his performance has been described by some as telling “human beings why they bother to live”.

In both locations, Bell played the same songs. The man was the same, the instrument was the same and the music was the same. The different was the environment or what marketing people call ‘context’.


People in a grimy train station do not expect to hear a world famous, brilliant, concert violinist, so they walked right past.  In contrast, people heading to a fancy concert theatre are expecting only the best performances and are willing to pay for the pleasure.

The Washington Post organized the experiment in order to discern if the context in which we are exposed to something really matters or not.  They were expecting a different result but the marketing world learnt a lot from the outcome.

‘When advertising, it is important to realize that sometimes what you say, is not as important as where you say something’

When advertising, it is important to realize that sometimes what you say, is not as important as where you say something. For example, you may pay a lot to advertise a… debt counselling service in totally the wrong place and be disappointed that no one comes running to make use of your fantastic debt solution. Keep this in mind when investing in online advertising as well, simply having a lot of people see your advert is no guarantee that they will respond. They need to see your advert in the right place, and in association with other similar products and services.

If we see an advert for a service or product in a place we associate with value and relevance, then we are more likely to pay attention to it. For example, advertising your Debt Counselling firm in the service directory listing of a magazine all about debt, debt counselling and debt review, as opposed to in a magazine about fly fishing. The same person could see both adverts in both magazines, but will allocate more credibility to an advert in an associated industry magazine.

Our brains also come into play, and can (amazingly) trick us into appreciating something more or less, given the context. Researchers have found that people who paid more for a bottle of wine (the same bottle) actually enjoyed the wine more than those who paid less. Those paying less had their brains tell them that since the wine was cheap, it was better than expected but not great. Those paying a lot for it found they genuinely enjoyed the wine. Their brain had primed them to expect a better taste before they had even taken a sip. The researchers say that they became predisposed to enjoying the wine before tasting it.

Of course, the best marketing practice is to have clear, catchy advertising (content) that is presented to people at the right time and place (context). So, for the best results from advertising, be sure to balance your great content with the right context.