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Advertisers don't just shove things into ads. They study what people like and then try to design an approach that will appeal to their target audience. When it comes to what goes into an ad, advertisers have a long list of techniques to choose from. They can decide whether you might like a funny ad better than a touching one, or whether it might work best to get you to see their product as the solution to something you fear (acne or body odor, for example).

Here are some of the most common techniques advertisers use to convince you to buy or do something. Look around — it won't be hard to find an ad that's an example for each.

  • Association
    Using images (like a cartoon character or the American flag), in the hope you'll transfer your good feelings about the image to the product.
  • Call to action
    Telling you what to do — "Buy today!" or "Vote now" — removes all doubt about next steps.
  • Claim
    Informing you about how the product works or helps you.
  • Games and activities
    Putting a commercial into the form of a game can be a fun way for you to get to know more about a product and spend more time with it.
  • Humor
    Using ads that make you laugh can catch your attention and be memorable.
  • Hype
    Using words like amazing and incredible make products seem really exciting.
  • Must-have
    Suggesting that you must have the product to be happy, popular, or satisfied.
  • Fear
    Using a product to solve something you worry about, like bad breath.
  • Prizes, sweepstakes, and gifts
    Using a chance to win a prize to attract attention.
  • Repetition
    Repeating a message or idea so you remember it.
  • Sales and price
    Showing or announcing a discounted price can make a product look better.
  • Sense appeal
    Using images and sounds to appeal to your senses: sight, touch, taste, etc.
  • Special ingredients
    Promoting a special ingredient may make you think the product works better than others.
  • Testimonials and endorsements
    Featuring someone, like a celebrity, saying how the product worked for them can be convincing.

Ask the Experts

Dear Expert, I saw this online ad for a cool remote-control airplane that flies up to 100 feet in the air. I bought it, but it doesn't really fly. Maybe I could throw it that high, but it doesn't fly around like in the ad. What's the deal? I want my money back, but I really want to know this: isn't the ad supposed to be true since it's online? Don't people make sure of that?

"It's online — or on TV — so it must be true," right? Not so much. Yes, the law says that advertisers are supposed to make sure that what they say about their products is truthful, but some companies don't always live up to that standard.

If something you buy doesn't work like they said it would, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation's consumer protection agency. If companies don't tell the truth about what their stuff can do, the FTC can go to court to try to get them to change their ways. OK, maybe it's not as exciting as some of the court shows you see on TV, but the idea is the same: The FTC makes its case. The advertiser responds. And the judge rules. Sometimes the judge may make the advertiser give money back to the people who bought the product, but that can take a long time — and it's not a sure thing.

So you're smart to contact the company and the store where you bought the plane directly. Don't be mean about it, but be firm: Tell them that you bought the plane because they said it could fly — and you want your money back because it doesn't. When you buy something that doesn't live up to the promises in the ads, do two things:

  1. contact the company that made the product and the store where you bought it; and
  2. file a complaint at

Ready, Aim…

In case you didn't know it, you're a target. For advertisers, that is. A target audience is who advertisers think will buy or use their product. Advertisers create their ads to persuade the target audience to buy, think, or do something; and they put their ads where the target audience is likely to see them.

Technique and Targeting Worksheet

Search Terms
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