Point of View: Buffeting loyalties with advertising

Byron Sharp
Ehrenberg-Bass Institute

There's a view of advertising that consumers often radically revise their preferences after seeing the ad. Perhaps it comes from wishful thinking that the next campaign is going to work a miracle. But does advertising really do this? Often? 'Of course,' say some theorists, 'how else can advertising drive sales — it has to persuade people.' But does it?

If advertising really worked like this, we'd see radical shifts in people's buying behaviour as they were buffeted about by advertising.

Some analysts mistakenly think they see this when they look at panel purchasing data records (for example, from Kantar WorldPanel or Nielsen BrandScan). They interpret purchase runs such as AAABBB as a switch in loyalty from brand A to B.

Just imagine these same analysts reporting on a roulette table... The house always wins... no, he's going to bankrupt the house, no wait, now she's going to be a millionaire, no...' But tossing heads five times in a row doesn't indicate a biased coin, any normal, unbiased coin can toss heads five times in a row; indeed, it's commonplace.