Knowledgeable consumers…what a concept!

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Don’t laugh. I just started watching Mad Men this past week. Now that it’s over, I wanted to see what the fuss was about. I actually learned some things, namely that I really hope my grandfathers weren’t as misogynistic as all that, and that, if they were, that my grandmothers stood up for themselves a little better than some of the women in the show. But aside from the sociological lessons, the show is also a fantastic portrait of the ethical hinterland sometimes associated with the advertising and marketing industries.

In the first episode, Don Draper, brilliant creative director for a large ad agency in Manhattan, is trying to come up with a new ad idea for a tobacco company client on the heels of an article in Reader’s Digest that is telling consumers that smoking might actually be bad for them. He finally sells the tobacco executives on this tag line: “The other tobacco leaves are filled with poisons and pesticides. Ours are toasted.” The suits love it, and Don’s career is saved. What’s more—the ad works. Sales go up. After all, what do consumers know, except what they are told by advertisers?

Of course, ads that are aren’t legally misleading can be very persuasive based not on fact, but on what marketers want consumers to believe. Think about it: the whole point of the advertising industry is to convince people to buy something they probably otherwise wouldn’t. Don Draper wasn’t actually telling a lie…was he?

But with the advent of the digital information age, this scurrying around the facts is becoming harder to do and less acceptable to consumers. If a company is not outright lying, and not necessarily misleading, are they really making anyone’s life better in any substantial way, as most ads claim, and if not, are they making it worse? Perhaps and perhaps not, but shouldn’t consumers know exactly what they’re getting?

Consumers are researching, fact-finding, googling, asking questions, and in general, demanding to know what they’re being sold. According to a recent Forbes blog on current marketing integration trends, written by marketing expert and Forbes contributor Avi Dan, transparency is becoming a trend in the marketing and advertising industry simply because consumers are demanding it, and consumers have an increasing amount of say in the marketplace. Dan thinks that most brands are still unwilling to engage in what he calls “radical transparency,” but that it will become increasingly necessary to success (and profit) to ensure that consumers trust them. And, like it or not, digital media and brands are more closely entwined than ever; people can see you (Young, 2014).

Digital and social media shine a light in dark corners where no light has ever been before. Consumers can no longer be reached just via their emotions. They want you to satisfy them cognitively first, and if you don’t, they’ll find the answer elsewhere. What’s a company to do? Make a product about which you don’t have to lie, give consumers the facts (knowledge), then engage their emotions (convince). It may really be as simple (and as ethical) as giving consumers credit for being the smart, engaged targets they are, and letting the facts speak for themselves.


Dan, A. (2015). 11 marketing trends to watch for in 2015. Forbes. Retrieved from

HBO. (2007). “Smoke gets in your eyes.” Mad Men, Episode 1. DVD.

Young, A. (2014). Brand Media Strategy: Integrated Communications Planning in the Digital Era. Palgrave McMillan.




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2 Responses to Knowledgeable consumers…what a concept!

  1. Jessica says:


    Great topic! I appreciate this topic because there have been times when I feel as if marketing or advertising has just been very insulting to peoples intelligence. Whether they have outright lied about the quality or have omitted the truth about the value, either way as a consumer I feel lied to and insulted that the brand under minds my intelligence and thinks that I could be duped so easily by not informing myself.

    I currently work for a brand who is very transparent, sometimes too transparent but I have always appreciated it because they never pretend to be something they are not and I have always felt as if they do truly hold their customers in the highest regard as not to insult their intelligence. Especially in such a media driven world with so much access to info at all times I feel as if it would be impossible to persuade customers on anything but the truth. It would also be much hard to maintain the relationship after. With such a rough start, why wouldn’t a company just give the consumer what they want? –the truth, for better or worse. If its worse… they probably shouldn’t be selling it, hence the need for the fluff.

    Thank you

  2. Brittani says:

    Brands have definitely had to re-think their strategies when it comes to marketing to the Millennial generation – a generation who doesn’t want to be sold too. Our generation prefers a trustworthy brand. But do those really exist? It seems as though brands genuinely looking to do good and gain nothing in return are rapidly becoming extinct.

    Also, I’ve heard wonderful things about Mad Men. I might have to check it out on my next binge watching session.