THE POWER OF ADVERTISING?

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In two research studies announced last month, one proclaimed advertising isn't a very effective way to get people to try new products while the other said advertising is effective in getting youngsters to start smoking. Well, that isn't exactly what the research revealed. But that's what the newspaper headlines about the research said. Looking at the details provides a different picture.

The study on general advertising effectiveness, from Yankelovich Partners, reported that "only" 25% of respondents said a TV ad would induce them to buy a new product. Only? We'd say any marketer who can convince one prospect in four to try a new product with one ad has the world by the tail.

In the smoking study, reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, supposition was piled on supposition to postulate that cigarette advertising and promotions are even more important than peer pressure in getting children to begin smoking.

The study, drawn from a 1993 survey of adolescents, was published long after-coincidentally, just as President Clinton strives to give the Food & Drug Administration power to restrict tobacco advertising. That gives its findings an aura of advocacy rather than reliability. It plays off youngsters' curiosity about "grownup" things-whether it be cars, liquor, smoking or sex-and decides that knowing cigarette brands or themes, or using tobacco industry promotional items, puts them on the slippery slope to smoking.

The Yankelovich study only confirms that most people don't particularly like ads-not that new products can succeed without ad support. The study reported in the National Cancer Institute's journal, on the other hand, tries to say the opposite, attributing too much power to ads-and for a particular purpose: to support government action to ban or seriously restrict tobacco advertising seen by youths.

We don't want kids to smoke, and advertising is one influence-among many-that affects what they think about tobacco. Using dubious research to paint advertising as the chief cause of youth smoking, or any other social or health problem, is no solution.

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