6a00d8341c51c053ef013485bc7a83970cAdvertising doesn’t affect you, does it?  But it does influence your friends and neighbors, right?

If you agree with those sentiments, as many do, you’re falling prey to what’s become known as the “third-person effect.”

As it turns out, advertising is effective on all of us, even you and me.  We’re just notoriously bad at figuring out our own motives, especially when it comes to sensing the subconscious, half-conscious, and unconscious desires and impulses that drive much of our behavior.  But we’re much better at the cool observation of others, so we can see that advertising works on “the masses” and even on our friends and neighbors. Hence the third person effect: “advertising doesn’t work on me, but it sure seems to affect others.”

Want to know how to turn this to your advantage?

First, realize that the third-person effect is stronger when the message isn’t directly relevant to the listener/viewer/reader.  As PSYBLOG explains it:

In other words people are likely to be influenced more than they think on subjects that are currently of little or no interest to them. An everyday example would be seeing an advert for a car, when you’re not in the market for a new car. We’d probably guess it has little or no influence on us, but this research suggests we’d be wrong.

Now, I’m extrapolating a bit here, but this rather precisely matches what my and my colleagues experience with radio advertising: despite the innate desire to reach people who are already in the market right nowthe best time to influence your prospect is BEFORE they need what you’re selling, so that they enter the market with an already established predisposition to favor you and your brand.

When I don’t have a strong opinion and have little vested interest, it doesn’t take much to sway my preference. And frankly, this describes exactly how most people think about a great many markets.

Do you really have a strong opinion on which carpet cleaner to call? Or which Small Engine Repair shop is the best? Or who has the best pressure washing service for your deck or fence, and so on?

Most of us don’t – until we need that service or product – then we’d rather not make a blind decision. And that’s where advertising’s influence makes all the difference.

With the right ad campaign, your audience will think of your company first and feel the best about you.  Good enough, at least, to pick you instead of the competition, because you’ll no longer be a “blind choice.”

Pre-internet, this kind of branding campaign meant the prospect would flip open the Yellow Pages and purposefully look for your ad, rather than scanning the page in hopes that one of the ads might catch her eye.

Now, in the age of Google, it means the prospect searches on your companyname or even your Website’s URL rather than typic in more generic search terms for your market. And that pretty much screws your competitions’ fancy schmancy SEO and PPC work, delivering the prospect straight to your Website and then your door.

Just don’t be surprised when your newly thronged store and constantly ringing phone are populated by customers claiming to have heard about you from a friend, rather than your radio ads – ’cause everyone knows they’re not influenced by advertising 😉


  1. Akash Sharma on 08.11.2010

    Great point Jeff, The effect of advertising is more prevalent in this era of marketing. I think secret of the most successful viral campaigns is the same. Thanks for sharing the PSYBLOG link another cool info source as yours.

  2. Joleeta Damap on 06.27.2013

    Wow, I’ve understood this explanation practically,and I’ve probably been a victuim of this for a long time. Thanks Jeff.

  3. kam on 08.25.2013

    hey man tanx am doing a thesis on body image and i need to use third person effect so tanx it was brilliant

  4. sam on 12.09.2015

    Thanks for explanation. I’m doing a thesis on media effect. So helpfull… If u have more explanation about indocator of that theory please share with me… 🙂