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A television showing a soap opera about pigeons ('Pigeon Street') that is interrupted by an advertisement for 'The Fountain on the Square' for pigeons of 'impeckable taste'.

Advertising can be broadly defined as charging companies money for only ever saying nice things about their products1 so that other people will pay more money for them.

Mostly encountered in print and broadcast media, advertisements usually interrupt magazine articles and television shows just when they are getting to the good part. Most of us would think this would be totally counter-productive: after all, an endless stream of annoying messages, slogans, subscription cards, eau de cologne scent-tester strips and bad queso recipes is hardly going to entice a consumer to buy things, is it? Oh yes it is: once again bitter experience proves that common sense is anything but.

Advertising Theories

There are many theories as to why ads are placed in the most obtrusive locations of the communication flow.

One theory states that by surprising the viewer at unpredictable moments, adverts will catch them with their mental guards down, allowing the message easier passage into the viewers' minds and increasing their effectiveness.

Another theory says that by cunningly placing adverts right after a surprising revelation or some other occurrence that raises a viewer's sense of anticipation, the advert will catch the viewer paying more attention, thereby increasing its effectiveness.

A third theory, more cynical than the other two2, points out that, as often as not, the adverts are more interesting than the communication flow, and the viewer deserves a reward for making it that far. And because people, in general, usually like rewards, the advert evokes a good feeling in the viewer, and this good feeling gets associated with the product being advertised.

It has been said that the only difference between a simple sign with the name of a product on it and a full-blown print ad campaign is $20m, six months of client meetings, three weeks of all-nighters, 14 gallons of half-double-mocha-decaf, several cases of cigarettes, and too many out of control egos.

Careers in Advertising

Careers in advertising have long been regarded as disreputable (hence the title of that famous book Don't Tell my Mother I Work in Advertising, She Thinks I Play Piano in a Bar3). In the '80s, when capitalism briefly became fashionable, thousands of Oxbridge graduates filled the offices of ad agencies across the land, and drove Porsches, did lunch, and generally pontificated expensively about nothing.

If you didn't have the imagination to be a rock star, a career in media had much of the same trappings and didn't involve years travelling round in a VW campervan waiting to be discovered and missing a lot of baths.

1Sorry. That should probably read 'accentuating the positive', or something equally packed with buzz-words, but we want you to be able to understand us...2Which means it's almost definitely more accurate, in our experience anyway.3Come on now, you're just lying4. This is silly.4What, lying in a piece about advertising? Surely there's some mistake...

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