Sunday, November 18, 2012

Stole Advertising for 11/20

               First, some background information on Stole’s Advertising. Stole argues that the reasons behind the advertising industry’s creation are uncertain. Even advertising companies themselves cannot come up with an exact reason behind the creation. He argues that advertising became a mandatory “business expense” as the economy developed into a “oligopolistic market,” or one where “a small handful of firms who provide the vast majority of the industry’s output... with considerable control over the level of industry output and pricing.... with pricing and output levels closer to a pure monopoly than a purely competitive market” (85). He argues that this market is the gasoline that fuels the flame of advertising. Thus, the role of advertising in these markets is to act as a weapon in the battle to protect and expand market shares. “First advertising permits firms to increase sales without cutting prices, and serves to establish brand identity around a given product or service, thereby making loyal users less susceptible to appeals from direct competitors” (86). Stole argues that this way, advertising is a mandatory expense as it protects large firms from attacks.
To tell the truth about most products, which is that they are the similar cost and similar quality to the competition, would not develop brand loyalty or persuade new comers to use the product. Thus, the advertisers have to “employ puffery, imagery, and emotional or irrelevant claims in advertising messages” According to Stole, this creates the difference in the mind of the consumer, even if in reality there is little difference between the brands. The products that have little or no difference between them are called “parity products” where there is no meaningful difference between any of the brands. In fact, there is a direction correlation to the money a company spends on advertising and how similar their product is to the other companies. The corporations have a “mandatory expense” of proving that they are different to survive in oligopolistic markets. Stole offers soaps, beers, perfume, and pain relievers as examples. I immediately think of McDonalds and Burger King trying to separate themselves from each other with their various ad campaigns and brand associated puffery like Ronald McDonald or The King mask. When it comes down to it, you are buying a burger and fries regardless of which restaurant you choose, but these two fast food chains try desperately to distinguish themselves from each other through various advertising campaigns.
               I couldn’t help but think of all the athletic gear I have purchased over the years and the reasons why I bought the gear, and also how the products are not much different than their big competitors. I am not going to lie about the fact that I have bee a total sucker to the Nike's ads. Is the “storm technology” advertised in Under Armour’s most recent ad campaign any different than Nike’s “Element Shield Max?” Well, according to Nike, their company is different than the rest because of they are the  “ultimate in breathable protection” for braving the elements. Not to mention, Nike has several Olympic athletes that make up their “brand” as the premier athletic-gear company. But looking at the products that Under Armour is selling, the two brands have very similar styles and pricing of their “element proof” gear, but two different ways of wording and branding that appeal. Take a look at their water proof shoes:
Nike’s weatherized mesh gives the protection from the elements, and “Nike Free Run+ 3 Shield Women's Running Shoe delivers a barefoot-like ride with the cushioning, traction and underfoot protection of a shoe, while weather resistance helps keep feet dry in wet conditions”. Whereas the Under Armour running shoes “added a UA Storm finish to repel water while you run. “ Both shoes are wet weather resistant, lightweight, and are very similar in size, cut, colors, and style. The only visible differences are the logos that are strapped on the side. But, it is what these logos have been “branded” to represent that convinces the consumer to buy Nike or Under Armour even though the products are basically the same. Nike has attempted to build their brand to be associated with Olympic athletes and various endorsement deals with popular “celebrated” athletes. (Michael Jordan, Shawn Johnson, Tiger Woods and Lebron James to name a few). The ads project that the attire has created the athlete's success and the athlete cannot rest on talent alone. If one does not use Nike and decides to go with Under Armour they are not a serious or Olympic-quality athlete. However in reality if I wear Under Armour or Nike on a run my experience or "skill" will be the same.


  1. I definitely think you're right when it comes to pointing out that products are all similar and that the claims they make that by wearing Nikes, a runner will become faster is a false creation to boost sales and create a better brand image.

    It seems to me that the difference between brands now is based on the way they treat their employees, their company culture and upholding this image that demonstrates that they are the best in the industry. Like Stole says, it's used as a weapon to boost market sales.

  2. Stina, I'm glad someone else loved the term "puffery" as much as I do. And I'm glad you used an example close to your own product/user experience. By the way, all, Inger Stole is a woman, so use "she" accordingly!

    Anna also brings up a good point about differentiation less through product than through company branding/ethos, e.g. American Apparel's reputation as a "good" employer, that pays a living wage, etc. Yes, it's a way to boost purchasing, but at least then we're getting somewhat at the otherwise "hidden" origin of consumer products, right? So Williams (and Marx) would approve.

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