Ads Work via Cultural Imprinting

Ads don’t work by creating a Pavlovian response through association (emotional inception), they work through changing the cultural landscape around us (cultural imprinting). Ads create the impression that everyone else has made the association between a product and a context. Therefore, we make rational decisions by fitting into how other people may perceive what we buy. This largely explains why common consumer goods (highly visible purchases by others) are more effectively advertised at large scale (like the Super Bowl watched by 100MM people).

This only works for products that other people can see broadly. For example, bed sheets can not be advertised in this way because other people don’t have access to seeing your bed sheets so there is no shared cultural context on which to sway your decisions.

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The most famous personal injury attorneys from New York due to non-stop advertising, Cellino & Barnes created a breakthrough business that was very successful (each partner was making $10MM per year at one point). They learned that most people don’t have money to hire a lawyer upfront so they charge a third of any monetary rewards from a settlement. They also realized that they need to stay top of mind for when an injury happens.