Gonna be talking about how advertisements can be quite misleading today, by using examples taught within my O level English students tuition "syllabus" with me.
This is not just for us consumers (to save our money by not falling for them), but also for anyone in a position to influence your friends/families/followers, and I sincerely hope more "influencers" will also learn to be more savvy and selective in picking the type of ads they choose to be sponsored by / paid for doing.
(this is a fictional ad that I designed)
How to study this ad?
Advertiser: this is from a government body. For them to put out this ad, surely they are educating or informing us about something important. Or to warn us about something.
Key message: the image shows palm oil trees, while the message asks the reader to consider if their infant formula milk contains palm oil. Looks like the government could be trying to tell us that we should not purchase milk powders with palm oil.
Audience: This ad is clearly targeted at parents with babies who are drinking formula milk. Not parents whose kids have already grown up to become adults, nor parents who are 100% breastfeeding their babies.
Call to Action: even though there is no website link or phone number, it is clear that the CTA in this ad is to get the audience to choose milk brands without palm oil.
Next, I changed the advertisement by making just 2 minor changes for my kids, and I asked them to go through the whole analytical process again, focusing on the 4 aspects listed above.
Firstly, I changed the advertiser from Health Promotion Agency to a Leading Milk Brand.
Secondly, I (as the advertiser) added scientific citations at the bottom of the ad. I did this to create a perception of credibility, so that my ad will be better received although I have a direct benefit (I'm selling the milk).
(the final product. I had to do some design shifts as well because of Dayre square crop though)
This time, my students answers changed tremendously (even though I only made two small-scale changes)
Advertiser: Leading milk Brand X. Likely that this is an ad designed to influence us into buying something that the advertiser is selling, in this case, their formula milk (and not that of their competitors).
Key message: to tell parents to check whether their own babies' formula milk contains palm oil in the ingredients list
Audience: same answer as in Advertisement 1
Call to Action: buy brand X's milk
Why are the answers, especially the CTA, so different?
Why so different?
Especially when all I did were two minor design changes?
Simple: the advertiser determines the objective of the ad. From an informational ad (which is put out by governing bodies or non-profit organisations), it has evolved into a commercial ad. And all commercial ads have a selling objective - whether or not they're selling the brand, a product or a service.
Next question: shouldn't the credibility in the second ad be higher since scientific papers were cited?
Yes and no. I deliberately added that in, because as a commerical entity telling people to go for milk without palm oil, my words hold little weight (especially when that's the USP of my products). A government, on the other hand, is in a position of authority and hence it is not necessary for them to cite something to boost credibility ; they already have it.
This happens across all ads from any industry
And that's why we need to be skeptical and more discerning, otherwise we'll keep spending our money on going for stuff that we think are better just because the advertisers (aka the ones profitting from our purchases) tell us so.
This isn't just for the milk powder industry - tomorrow, a beauty brand ABC could also put out an ad saying a certain common ingredient has been found to cause cancer in women. The ad is designed to look as though they are putting out a purely educational ad to inform us of this, but when you investigate deeper, you realise they're selling products without that ingredient which their competitors have, and hence the underlying aim is to ultimate sway you into buying their products.
The first ad is purely fictional. The second isn't, but I will not name the advertiser. I'm not here to name or shame, but to educate. If you happen to know which ad or which company because u saw the original ad campaign, pls don't comment with the advertiser's name either because I will delete ur comment.
My issue with it is that I personally found that ad SUPER misleading, and was shocked to see that influencers (who were using other brands of milk powder) promoting the campaign, what's more featuring their own children, giving off the implicit message that they've chosen to switch to brand X because of this no palm oil message. I wouldn't be surprised if that successfully influenced some of their followers to switch because their fav influencers whom they look up to did it.
A closer look at the evidence cited
Looking at the evidence offered by the advertiser X, they quoted two scientific papers that puts down palm oil. Because I saw the campaign and was now wondering if palm oil is truly bad (so I can switch if so), I went to read the scientific papers they cited. But guess what I found?
Study 1: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28410612
The study's sample size? 33 infants in Brazil.
Study 2: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12480803
The sample size? 10 infants.
Drawing conclusions from such a small sample size is extremely dangerous. Even the famous marshmallow study tested at least 200 children before the researchers dared to draw any conclusions from it, and even then the research conclusions weren't foolproof as they admitted there might be other factors they did not know of or could take into consideration either.
Furthermore, there are hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of babies around the world who drink other brands of formula milk - the ones containing palm oil. And we don't hear anything about it being potentially harmful or not as good as those without palm oil...except from an advertiser who has everything to gain if people now switch to no palm oil formulas, and influencers who were paid to tell us about this message.
I would even warrant a guess that some of these babies (who drank milk with palm oil) have grown up to become exceptionally smart and successful people, and who knows? Maybe even Elon Musk or Nicholas Tse? Or a recent Nobel prize winner?
Yet advertiser X chose to base their conclusions on these limited scientific papers, and roll out a campaign denouncing palm oil as bad because it affects DHA, ARA and calcium absorption. Which are nutrients that lead to stronger, smarter brains in humans, and stronger bones (calcium).
Nothing wrong, but as one of their target consumers, I find this very troubling and misleading. If I hadn't been skeptical enough to question my own initial reaction to the campaign, I may have ended up making a switch that I may come to regret, because these were my first thoughts when I saw the ads:
1. SHIITTTTTT is palm oil bad?!? *runs to the kitchen to check on Nate's milk powder" omg ours has palm oil!
2. HUH does it mean if I continue to let him drink our current brand, he will grow up stupid and with weaker bones? Shit!
3. Eh these influencers are promoting it leh. And they chose it because they want the best for their baby. Surely they wouldn't harm their baby even if they were paid to do this ad! Omg palm oil must be bad then.
4. Okay I better change to a no palm oil formula liao.
But aye, y'all know me la, being the biggest skeptic in the world especially when it comes to anything involving my money, I stopped myself and thought further first.
1. Wait a min, if palm oil really is this bad, then why didn't the government warn us? Surely it'll do them no good to have a population full of weak (bones) and stupid, or less smart, citizens.
2. Surely there'll also be scientific studies with a larger, more reliable sample size with the same conclusion
3. Eh and this advertiser sells milk with no palm oil. Apparently that's their USP to stand out from the saturated milk powder market. Hold on...
And with that, was how I concluded that contrary to what the campaign was trying to make me think, palm oil in infant milk powder is NOT bad and there's no need for me to switch my current brand.
Double confirm by checking what they say vs what they do
Let me first caveat by saying I look to many mummy influencers for recommendations. I sometimes act on it right away, sometimes I don't, but most times I investigate first before I make a decision.
Unfortunately, mummies are damn busy la so when someone I've seen to be trustworthy mummy recommends me something (eg my fellow Nov Dayre mummies are super trustworthy), I also just act on her recommendations without further spot checks la. No need cos I trust her.
To avoid being unnecessarily swayed by influencers when it comes to ads, always check what the person says vs. what they do.
Surprisingly, even while the same particular influencer was telling people that she chooses what's best for her baby + no palm oil , she was still feeding her baby another milk brand that (you guessed it) contains palm oil. Ok la maybe don't wanna waste milk but if it's really that bad then wouldn't it be better to waste it than risk anything?
Another reader of mine recently informed me as well that said influencer is now promoting another milk brand (yes, a competitor to the previous brand X that she just raved about)...barely 3 months after she just promoted brand X.
I dunno la but I'm generally suspicious and don't know of any mummies who change their babies milk so often. Even if their babies are generally ok with most milk. I personally have not given Nate any other milk except NAN (from the hospital) and NatureOne Dairy (which we switched to cos it was just as good but at almost half the price, thus saving us money). Recently I was offered full-sized samples by other milk brands but declined them.
And that's very disappointing cos I thought she was a source I could look at for reliable stuff. So while I've acted on some of her recommendations before, after this incident, I'll never be able to trust any recommendations she makes ever again.
And to you, my dear readers of the internet, you should always exercise skepticism when it comes to any ad or campaign that you see, especially when it's sponsored / a PR post.
That includes stuff that I say - although I don't do stuff like these - you should always make your own decisions.
Because no one pays the price if you take their recommendation and something goes awry...nobody except you. The advertiser has already sold their products, the influencers have already earned their income, and you're left as the consumer who paid for the item but have to live with the consequences.
Happy Father's Day!
Going for our Father's Day dinner with baby Nate now!
Is it okay for influencers to act this way, though?
I'm really torn over this because I've always believed that with great power comes great responsibility, and every influencer / celebrity should always exercise some skepticism and do their homework before jumping to accept whatever ads or sponsors come their way.
But time and time again, I see influencers that I respect break the trust I have in them when they do things like these, and when their words and actions don't gel.
While their follower count and client pool keeps increasing.
Is this what it means to be an "influencer" nowadays? Sigh.
If such actions are the way to more followers and greater sponsorships, then I'd rather not have it.
Sunday, 16 Jun 2019
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