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

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