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Sunday, July 14, 2013

CONSUMERS' GUIDE TO SURVIVING TELEVISION ADVERTISEMENTS




Hello World,
I have been working on this for the past few weeks. Here I am with my views on the impacts of television advertisements on consumers. This post is intended to create awareness among consumers so as to help them evaluate their own vulnerability to television advertisements and eventually train their brains to stay away from the attempts at methodical subversion at the intellectual level that modern television advertising has evolved to be an expert at. In simple words, I wish this post can help my readers identify how their brains are attacked with and without their knowledge to make them spend money on things by means of television advertisements. Click here to download the pdf version of this post.




Thanks to the Participants!!!
A massive THANK YOU!!! to all those who helped me by responding to my queries and survey. I had to reach out to so many of you in the process of researching for this post and I know very well, how intrusive my behavior had been. I apologize if at any time my actions pertaining to reaching out to you seemed intrusive or invasive of your privacy. My intentions, like I had earlier disclosed, are more oriented towards creating public awareness regarding the topic in my own way. I have taken and am taking so much from this world and I believe it is only natural for me to feel the need to give back. Thanks again to those who helped me with this. Thanks again for the fantastic support.

Who Is This Applicable To
Anybody, anywhere, who reads this post, can gain at least one useful perspective on how television advertisements influence consumer behavior. I have managed to bring together information from multiple sources and so this post does have a multi-cultural mix from the input standpoint. However, one section of the research I did for this post pertains mostly to Indian viewers owing to the fact that majority of the participants are Indians. But I have compiled the information such that the the interpretations can be understood by people from other cultures too. So read on fellas.

My Methods
The primary data for this post comes from a little survey I did using the services of www.esurveyspro.com. Here is the link to the survey:
Do take the survey if you are interested and I will make sure to update this post with the new results. Personally, I am more curious to learn how the data trend changes with the increase in the sample size.
I did use two television advertisement videos from YouTube in the survey and those ads are given below (survey data analysis section).
The secondary data comes from research involving previously published academic, industrial and government research work in topics including but not limited to advertising, consumer behavior and related statistics. My skepticism got heavily challenged by the information that came across my eyes from these sources.
I have used a new method that I think will help us to learn more about the topic and honestly, my knowledge is not vast enough to verify if this method has already been used before. I, however, wish to name it Circumstantial Reverse Mapping of Ideas. All this does is, it takes a message and reverse maps the “content-to-intention” flow of ideas, which in definition would be a qualitative analysis of content for the possible reasons behind its inclusion in the message (in this case…television advertisements). In other words, by using this method, we would go from the ad-content to the possible reasons for which the advertiser might have included it in the advertisement. This method is in a way, a circumstantial backwards walk-through method, investigative and qualitative in nature. Again, if any of you feel there is a similar method of analysis already in practice in any domain for that matter, do let me know so I can thank the persons responsible for it.
I also went over a few advertisements, attempting to explore the content and intentions of the same and in the process give you one of the million rational perspectives of viewing a television advertisement…in this case…something similar to mine. Let’s get started.


The World of Television Advertisements
The world is filled with television channels and the numbers keep increasing with time. The television brought with itself a modern medium that could reach a wide number of consumers. The early days had the television as an expensive luxury but now it has been reduced to a necessity that is affordable to almost all sections of people. The general public and the broadcasters view television in specific ways but marketers and advertisers viewed it from a completely different angle. With the advent of television, marketers realized that they can reach the illiterates and under-educated who might otherwise not have access to or comprehend the print versions of advertisements. Even with images, the print ads require that the viewer possess a certain capacity to read and comprehend information so as to make the print-ad effective in purpose. This becomes important especially in developing countries like India as illiteracy is still a hurdle to vast segments of social and infra-structural developments. Moreover the television does something that other medium just could not do…..keeping the audience alert and focussed on the content. With the boom in cable television and the subsequent direct-to-home services, television has penetrated most of the households that has access to disposable income and to some extent, even those that doesn’t. Therefore, compared to the other mediums, television has the highest success rates when it comes to impressions or views for the advertisements. These are a few major reasons why companies spend large amounts of money on television advertisements. Hindustan Lever, a company with an Indian name, which is owned by Anglo-Dutch Unilever, spent about 60% of its total advertising budget on television advertisements in the 90’s, which was still the period of growth for television. Looking back, it was easily one of the smartest moves the company did because as of now, consumers from villages that still have incomplete access to electricity, sewage-drains and drinking water are regularly purchasing at least one product from Hindustan Lever. In the Indian market alone, spending on television advertisement rose by 118% from 1995 to 1996, the figures being INR 23.9 billion to INR 49 billion. [Lynne Ciochetto]

Nielsen reports on the global ad-spend trends indicate the the year 2011 ended with a 10.1% increase in Television Ad-Spend (globally) with the share of 65.1% of the total ad spend during the same period. Subsequent Nielsen reports indicate that the first half of 2012 had online ad spend increase by 7.2% and still the lion’s share belonged to television advertisements scoring over 61%. This indicates the reach and return on investments on advertisements through television. If it did not pay off, marketers would not choose the medium for ad spend. [Nielson Global Ad-View Pulse]

What Happens and How is it Measured?
Now that we touched upon facts that indicate companies’ reliance on television advertisements to reach out to consumers, I think it is important to look into how far they succeeded in their attempts. Did so much television advertisement actually pay off? As per Nielson Global Consumer Confidence Index Measurement, which indicates the optimism/pessimism levels of consumers, any value below the baseline value of 100 indicates pessimism and any value above 100 indicates optimism. By the end of 2011, the top 10 consumer confidence index scores had Asian countries dominate the group (6 countries) with India measuring a whopping 122, topping the list. This indicates that Indian consumers were more inclined to buy as they had access to a marginal disposable income around that period. Subsequent measurement for this year indicates that Asian countries are still dominating the top 10 consumer confidence index scores (7 out of 10) with India still retaining the top position with 120 points. Moreover, as on 2013 (end of 1st quarter), the Global Consumer Confidence Index rose to 93 from 91 (2012). [Nielsen Global Consumer Confidence Report]. Simon Murray of Digital TV Research Limited has indicated in a 2011 press release that the estimated growth rate for Global Television Advertising Expenditure is 39% by 2017 with India again among the top 3 growing markets for television advertising. All this point at many logical explanations, the obvious one being that Television Advertisements are proving to be profitable and effective to companies at a global level.

How India Stands Out of the Lot?
Government statistics have always had the crazy habit of throwing light on ironies of market forces. The Central Statistics Office of The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation under the Indian government releases its estimation of consumer price indices on a regular basis and the measurement for the month of May, 2013 stands at 129.2 (the baseline value being 100 that represents that of 2010). The inflation rate measured for May, 2013 stands at 9.31%. It is interesting to note that a country with an increasing consumer price index and a steady 8-10% inflation rate has consumers that are positively inclined towards spending. The explanation is quite simple. India is the second highest in human population and therefore, in spite of poverty and illiteracy widely spread across the country, there still is a significantly large population that has access to increasing disposable income. This from the marketing stand point means that the Indian market is growing and has enough purchasing power that is yet to be capitalized by businesses.




The Consumer’s Stand Among the Chaos
With increasing television advertisement expenditure and the growth of TV as a leading mass medium, complimented by other media including social media, the consumer is evidently placed with a firm hold established by the television in a spot that is visible to the Advertising World. It is obvious that we consumers are already being bombarded with advertisements round the clock and this scenario is only set to grow further. It is therefore necessary for the consumer to make an effort to create self-awareness and protect oneself from unethical advertising. Advertising is a wonderful art that marketers have perfected as a science over the years. But like any other field of importance, advertising is vulnerable to exploitation and there are always chances that a certain section of the marketing community may willingly decide to play with our brains and their short-cuts to make us believe in ideas that are rather trivial but eventually end up making us spend our money on products and services that may either be useless or even harmful to us and our community.

What Do Consumers Feel About TV Ads?
We can now look at the data captured by the survey:
Sample Characteristics
Sample Size
65
Gender
Male: 86.36%
Female: 13.64%
Age Group
20-30 Yrs: 88.64%
31-40 Yrs: 6.82%
41-50 Yrs & Above: 4.55%
Native Country
India: 93.18%
United States: 2.27%
Sri Lanka: 2.27%
Australia: 2.27%
Most of the respondents of the survey are Male Young Adults from India. The generalizations that may arise as a result of subsequent data analysis may therefore represent that of the Male Young Adult from India. The survey however has equal content targeting the female respondents and this shall be taken into consideration while analyzing the data from those sections of the survey. No broader generalizations for the female respondents may be made owing to the small number of them participating in the survey. As for the data analysis part, the responses with relatively negligible  response count (very small as compared to the other responses) may be discarded. Also since the survey does not have detailed graded scale responses, deeper cross-tabulations on a response-to-response basis have not been executed. The overall objective of the data analysis would be to identify the trends captured and their comparative study.
Survey Section 1: Interest in Advertisements

Do You Like the TV Ads that You Watch?




What is Your Preferred Time for Ads?
 The survey data indicates that 62.5% of respondents feel that “Only a Few” of the television advertisements they watch are either interesting or appealing. On the question regarding the favored timing of advertisement (during their favorite TV Show), 38.57% of respondents indicated that they like to watch their favorite shows without advertisements, 22.86% of the respondents indicated that they like the advertising at the beginning of their favorite show and 20% of the respondents indicated that they like it in the middle of their favorite shows. Comparing the responses captured for the two questions above, we can arrive at a conclusion that while most of them feel positive about a small portion of television advertisements, there is a general expectation among the respondents to watch their favorite TV without any advertisements. The almost equal split of the beginning and middle parts of shows as preferred times for watching advertisements indicate the “Ad-watching Habit” that television has trained the respondents’ brains for.
Interpretation:
There is a predominant positive opinion for a small fraction of TV ads and there is an “Ad-Watching Habit” imprinted in the minds of the respondents. This indicates the opportunity for vicious TV ads to sneak under the Radars of Rationalism of the respondents. A safe interpretation would be that there is always a chance for unethical advertisements to connect with the audience’s brains and activate the sub-conscious bias part of them. The presence of sub-conscious bias is a very natural aspect for normal human beings but any part of it that may be associated with interpreting TV ads (creative content in general) makes the individual vulnerable. So watch out people.
Survey Section 2: Impact of Advertisements

Do TV Ads Improve Knowledge?

Do TV Ads Help in Purchase Decision?

 On the question of TV advertisements improving one’s knowledge, 62.30% of respondents have chosen “Sometimes.Yes.” and 31.15% have chosen “No.” There seems to be an overall opinion that TV ads do have the capacity of improving one’s knowledge but it lacks conviction. This is an indicator that most of the respondents have had experiences in the past with TV ads where they felt they might have gained some knowledge from the ads. The 31.15% of respondents choosing a clear “No” indicates their rather skeptic view of the TV ads which in my view is a positive thing.
A striking coincidence, as it may seem, but 62.30% of respondents have indicated that TV ads have helped them make purchase decisions and 31.15% of them have indicated that TV ads have not helped them in their purchase decisions. This is an indicator of the effectiveness of TV advertisements among the survey respondents, a fact that marketers would gladly agree and expect to be higher in terms of value. I am more interested in the 31.15% of a clear “No” that indicates that purchase decision was not helped by the TV ad. We cannot rule out the possibility of the ad influencing the decision but this indicates that there are factors other than the ad itself that need to be considered prior to finalizing on any purchase, especially those that are motivated by TV advertisements.
Interpretation:
Believing TV ads to be improving knowledge may put the consumer under an sub-conscious bias and subsequent risk of falling for any ad that may give similar feeling. All advertisements may not contain false or fabricated information but accepting them to be of intellectual nature may restrict our ability to differentiate a honest ad from a bunch of fantasy. Deciding on a purchase on the basis of the TV ad alone would be a dangerous move. The product or service may turn out to be as expected but it may not be the case every time. Other factors such as the current needs and the relevance of the product with the needs must be considered and also secondary information regarding the concerned product/service must be sought prior to finalizing the purchase decision. 
Survey Section 3: Handling Advertisements

Do You Change Channels During TV Ads?



 
What Do You Watch Without Changing Channels?

 On the topic of switching channels when ads begin, 53.33% of the respondents have chosen “Only when the advertisement is boring or irrelevant” and 41.67% have indicated that they change to other channels  by choosing “Yes.All the time.” The majority opinion here is relatively simple in terms of the choice but it is an indicator of something very peculiar about respondent behavior. More than half the respondents believe they change to other channels only when they consider the advertisement uninteresting or unrelated to. The other choice of changing channels all the time as soon as ads begin indicates the subliminal distaste for interruption of the respondents’ favorite shows.
On the choice of program which may be watched without changing channels during ads, 27.47% of respondents chose “Sports,” 19.78% chose “None.I always change channels during advertisements” and 18.68% of the respondents chose “Movies.” The major opinion captured here takes the side of sports programs where the respondents believe they would like to watch those type of programs without changing channels. This is an expected outcome as majority of the survey respondents are Male Young Adults and this demographic usually tends to be the major chunk of audience for sports programs on television. The second highest response of changing channels all the time is another indicator of the distaste among respondents for the interruption of their favorite type of programs. The other choices including “Reality/Music Shows,” “Drama/Series” seem to capture relatively closer amount of responses with “Movies” leading them at 18.68%. This is an indicator for an overall respondent behavior of choosing to watch the favorite programs without missing any parts of it. That is the primary reason why they have indicated that there is a preferred type of program that they would like to watch without changing channels during advertisements.
Interpretation:
Over half the respondents believe they change to other channels only when the ads are boring or irrelevant. This can only happen when the respondents watch the ads in part or full. Therefore this is a circumstantial indicator for the default attention that the respondents give to the ads during their favorite shows. The attention span may be very small and may vary from respondent to respondent but it does exist and therefore the respondents have a tendency to readily allot some of their attention to the ads during their favorite shows.
From the marketing standpoint, the first advertisement during an ad-break in a TV program is a crucial spot to catch for there is substantial information to believe that a section of the audience is willing to allot a small fraction of their attention to the ad soon after the ad-break begins. As long as the ad is relevant and interesting to the audience of the televised program, the first or let’s say the first few ads at the beginning of the ad-break have a higher probability of connecting with the audience. It is simple physics from here. The higher the audience, the higher the probability of the ad breaching the audience’s intellectual defense mechanisms.
An almost equal split among major program choices for continuous watching preference, indicates that for all major types of television programs, there is at least one section of the audience that would like to watch the programs without changing channels during advertisements. From the marketing standpoint, the avertisers need to analyze the program content and learn the corresponding audience profile in as much detail as possible so that they can choose the appropriate program types for each of their TV Ad-Campaign. 




Survey Section 4: Interpretation of Advertisement (Sample 1)
This section of the survey offered the respondents televised advertisement videos followed with a set of questions related to the videos.
Advertisement Profile
Product type
Soda/Carbonated drink
Ad featuring
Hrithik Roshan (an Indian movie celebrity) in an adventurous experience during vacation with friends
Basic Premise
Association of product with a situation where the user overcomes fear and achieves victory

Watch the ad below:

On the question of finding the ad interesting 44% of the respondents chose “No” while 28.89% of them chose “Neutral” and 26.67% of them chose “Yes.” For the question of liking the product advertised, there is an equal split of 33.33% respondents for “Yes,” “No” and “I don’t drink carbonated drinks and therefore I stay neutral” respectively. A large percent of the respondents did not find the ad interesting but the percent of respondents liking the product is greater than that of those liking the advertisement. This is a mild indicator pointing to the possibility that respondents need not like the product based on the opinion of one advertisement. Moreover, this product has been in the market for over a decade and therefore numerous ad campaigns for the same product have already been broadcasted on television. 
With respect to the most interesting element of the advertisement, 39.68% of the respondents chose “The Overall Visuals (Scenery),” 17.46% of the respondents chose “None,” 14.29% of respondents chose “The celebrity’s presence,” 14.29% of respondents chose “The extreme stunt (action sequence)” and 12.70% of the respondents chose “The story (events) involving the product.” Overall, 80.96% of the respondents have indicated that there is at least one element of the advertisement that they find as the most interesting element. This is almost twice the percentage of respondents who indicated they did not like the advertisement. This is an indicator that, even in an uninteresting advertisement, there may be one or more interesting elements that may catch the attention of the audience. Also there is an equal split among the celebrity’s presence and the extreme stunt featured in the advertisement. This indicates that the most special features of any advertisement will have their respective impacts on the audience, irrespective of the intensity of the impact.
91.11% of the respondents indicated that they identify the celebrity featured in the advertisement. This is an expected response because the celebrity featured in the ad is a famous bollywood actor who has been in the Hindi movie industry for over a decade and the majority of the survey respondents are Indian young adults. 97.78% of the respondents indicated that they do not believe that the advertised product can make someone overcome fear. The advertisement however depicts the product being involved with the celebrity right around the time he decides to overcome his fear and jump from a rock into the ocean. On the question of liking to be seen using the product by others, 44.44% of respondents chose “No” and an equal 44% of them chose “It doesn’t matter.” These pieces of statistics seem unrelated but looking closely, we can see a pattern that says, although, most of the respondents identify the celebrity and don’t believe in the “attitude” message in the ad, there is a rather equal split among the choice of being seen using the product, with one half indicating that they don’t have a need to be seen using the product. This indicates the possibility of at least half the respondents are potential audience for the advertisement by the virtue of being a possible consumer in the past. Now the sample size, though large from the statistics standpoint, is not large enough to narrow down to numbers but the trend is obvious that at least half of the respondents are potential consumers of the product, irrespective of their state of non-belief of the ad’s subliminal “attitude” message. Personally, I am interested to learn how teenagers (13 – 19 yrs) would react to this type of ad as I presume this product and the ad-campaign seems originally to have been targeting the teenage demographic.
Interpretation:
One need not be totally fond of any advertisement to believe in any idea expressed in the advertisement (in part or in full). As long as there is one aspect of the ad that catches the eye, a backdoor pass to the audience’s brain is granted to the ad. Depending on the ad’s capacity to treat a diverse set of audience, the ad may register its impact in the brains of the audience. So, if you find beautiful visuals in any ad, it only means that you like the ad and it need not necessarily be the reason for your belief in the message conveyed by the ad regarding the product attributes or consumer perception of the product. If you find a famous personality speaking in favor of the product, it only means that the personality supports the product. It does not guarantee the effectiveness of the product attributes.
From the marketing standpoint, the ads therefore need to be created with multiple elements that may reach many segments of the audience (based on their perceptive abilities). The ads need to have elements to match the diverse perceptive notions of the target audience so that every segment of the target audience has something to connect themselves with the ad and eventually with the product. The survey data indicate that there are elements other than celebrities that creates a positive impression in the minds of consumers. So instead of shouting out slogans and approval messages, marketers can narrate little stories with the events and the visuals carrying the message. The audience is always keen on knowing what type of people use the products being advertised. Based on detailed market research, marketers may include personality types very similar to that of the target audience in the ads so that there is ample opportunities for the audience to identify themselves with the story in the ad and live the 30 second open-eyed dream being offered to them.
Survey Section 4: Interpretation of Advertisement (Sample 2)
Advertisement Profile
Product type
Cosmetic skin enhancement cream
Ad featuring
A model using the cosmetic product and enjoying the benefits
Basic Premise
When the woman uses this product, she gains skin enhancement that makes her feel like the world around her has turned into a fashion show ramp.

Watch the ad below:



On the question of finding the ad interesting, 48.89% of the respondents chose “No,” 28.89% of the respondents chose “Neutral” and 22.22% of the respondents chose “Yes.” The choices “No” and “Neutral” just indicate the fact that majority of the survey respondents are males who happen to have less or limited interest in female beauty  enhancement products. However, 22.22% of the respondents have indicated that they find the ad interesting. This percentage is greater than the total percentage of females in the survey respondents group. Again this is a mild indicator that, even when the ad does not feature a product applicable for a specific group of the audience, there is always a chance that the ad seems interesting to that specific group.
In order to analyze this section’s data without the random gender bias imposed by the presence of higher number of males in the respondents group, I singled out the female responses to see if there is any visible pattern among the responses. Although the percentage of females are less, there is an evident response pattern that is worthy of analysis. Out of all the female respondents, 14% of the respondents indicated that they find the ad interesting. 57.14% of the female respondents indicated that their stance with respect to linking this ad is “Neutral”  and 28.57% of the female respondents indicated that they don’t find this ad interesting. About liking the product, 85.71% of the female respondents have indicated that their stance is “Neutral (I have never used it).” 71.42% of female respondents have indicated that they do not believe this product can enhance a woman’s beauty as claimed in the ad. 28.58% of the female respondents have indicated that, regarding believing the product, they cannot take a stand unless they have used it. So far the majority of the female respondents have taken a neutral stand in liking the ad, liking the product and a “No” in believing the ad’s claims. The interesting thing to note is the neutral stand where there is a reason of having not tried the product. Since this is a beauty enhancement product, it is natural for its potential users to expect to use the product before arriving at an opinion. A simple comparison points at the possibility of the idea that the female respondents who refuse to believe the message in the ad are on the other hand open to use the product before arriving at an opinion on it and also are neutral about the ad.
57.14% of the female respondents indicated that the product display was the interesting element of the ad. The next highest choice was “the attention that she gets from others.” The female respondents have thus indicated their interest in knowing the physical appearance of the product itself. This may be related to the popular habit of women who are interested in make-up, carrying the beauty enhancement products along with them. The size and the looks of the product therefore may be expected to play an important role in the purchase decision that the potential users may take.
85.71% of the female respondents have indicated that they would like people to know about them using the product provided they are asked about it. This indicates the potential possibility of word-of-mouth marketing or personal-recommendation pattern prevalent among the female respondents.
Interpretation:
Without the complete knowledge of the physical characteristics of the human skin, it would never be appropriate to expect to enhance, change or reverse any of its properties using externally applied cosmetic product. The popular belief that skin properties can be enhanced by using the cosmetic products is yet to be clearly substantiated with appropriate scientific evidence that approves the possibility of beauty enhancement and the safety of the user from any harmful side-effects. Treating skin ailments with creams and lotions is entirely different from enhancing skin properties by using beauty products because the former involves a licensed dermatologist who decides on the treatment procedure.  Since there has been a long history of humans wanting to enhance their skin’s appearance, it has to be given weightage by attempting to scientifically identify the different properties of the human skin and which properties have the inherent capacity to evolve or change without harming the human. These changeable properties alone can be expected to change on a temporary basis, provided the cosmetic product is cleared as safe for use. In spite of such efforts, it will still remain a risky proposition to enhance skin properties by using commercially available cosmetic products. We do not have sufficient information to comment on the idea of how many men and women realize this predicament. But we do have the survey data to make an educated guess that female respondents are open to use a cosmetic product even when they are not entirely happy about the ad and quite strangely, being neutral about the product’s effectiveness and more attracted towards the product display in the ad.
From the marketing stand-point, as long as the marketers get women talking about cosmetic products, they can get ample opportunity to influence their sale. All the ads need is a “Leadership Opinion” that the product works, along with a success story in the lines of freedom of women, where successful women  get over obstacles in life with confidence  they gain by enhancing their skin’s appearance, using the cosmetic product. We cannot expect the entire female audience to fall for this but the ad-campaign can always afford to start with an ad like this to get the wheels in motion. Again, the popular television advertising trend is to narrate stories that the target audience can relate to which would carry the product being advertised.


Circumstantial Reverse Mapping of Ideas
This section of our analysis would involve us looking into the content of television advertisement videos and subsequent reverse mapping of the possible intent behind inclusion of the element in the ad. This analysis is more inclined towards the premise “What could have possibly made them include this idea?” rather than “This is exactly why they did so.” We would go over a selected part of an ad-campaign spread over 6 years for a specific product and a few other individual ads in this analysis. The ad-campaign part is specifically included to give the consumers an opportunity to watch and learn that there is a predesignated pattern for the ads that they watch and they are specially crafted to play with the audience’s minds. I strongly believe this will take the message out to the consumers that the advertising community is filled with experts who can gauge human behavior and manipulate them at will, even by creating stupid television advertisements. Let’s go ahead and watch a few videos:
Sample 1: Ad-Campaign
This ad-campaign spans over a long period of time with numerous ads included for the same product. For this study I have selected the 2008 to 2013 period with one video from each year included in the analysis. The idea is to watch the pattern of yearly variation in the ad-content for this product.
a)      Ad from the Year 2008


The ad seems to be from the initial pitches made. It talks about women missing the first signs of aging and that the ad itself may be their first wake-up call. There is a mild scare element to create the first impact about aging and its symptoms going unnoticed. Watch the next one from 2009.
b)      Ad from the Year 2009
This ad is attempting to set the “popular opinion” effect by having women say they had to look the way they used to in the past and they used this product to bring back their past beauty. The ad does go into specifics of mentioning 7 signs of aging. It does not say how many signs aging has in all or if they are measurable. The ad just throws a random piece of information and the attempt is to give the product, a versatile character which makes it a wholesome product for multiple skin issues related to aging. The primary weapons of this ad are the “woman’s need to regain her past beauty” and “the product can work against 7 signs of aging.” Why 7 signs of aging? Not mentioned. How did they arrive at the seven signs of aging? Not mentioned. What is the source of information that supports the idea that the product fights against 7 signs of aging? Not mentioned. What is the nature of any action by the product against the 7 signs of aging? Not mentioned. Any disclosure of source of information that the audience can refer to later on to confirm the views expressed in this ad? Not mentioned. 
In spite of so many unsubstantiated claims, the ad has been included in the ad-campaign. What could be the reason? This ad attempts to take the baton from the ad from 2008 which revolves around the idea that the signs of aging can be missed and moves the message further forward by saying the product fights the seven signs of aging and that there is a need among women to maintain a set pattern of their external appearance. Watch further.
c)       Ad from the Year 2010
This ad throws an example of a woman, claiming that she has maintained the state of her skin for years by using the product. The “7” is still the part of the message, and the woman in the ad says the product “…promised to keep me looking young and improved it.” How are we supposed to understand this part of the statement made by the woman?   The product promised to keep her looking young and improved what? Not mentioned. The idea is to throw the concepts of “Looking Young” and “Improved” at the audience and let their brains make the connection themselves. Please note that these random pieces of keywords are included in the “dialogue” part of the ad. Any person will not remain alert and rationally conscious at all times and especially while watching entertainment content on TV, their state of mind remains calm unless the content is of intellectual/aggressive nature stimulating a rational response in the audience. The beginning of this ad is another interesting aspect to be analyzed. The ad begins with the display of two photographs of the same woman and asks the question “Can you believe these pictures were taken years apart?” And then it just proceeds further. Now this part of the ad is designed to look like it is opening a question to the audience but what it actually does is different. Looking closely, one can identify that it was merely a question whether the pictures were taken years apart and not an assertive conclusion or statement of fact that the pictures were actually taken years apart. The question was offered along with the display of the two images simultaneously and the message just skipped forward without declaring the fact, leaving it to be interpreted by the audience. This is a classic media tactic, most often practiced by news channels. Will the audience clearly figure this out and realize that a random question and two pictures are shown without confirming anything further?
Watch the video again and pause around the 18th second of the video. There is a watermarked text display at the right bottom edge of the screen that reads “With regular use.” Why is this text embedded right around the time when the ad speaks of the product’s effectiveness? A discreet guess would be that it might be a legal requirement in the country of broadcast to mention specifics of certain facts regarding product effectiveness. It may even be a conscious decision by the company that makes the product. Either ways, the fact established is that, any skin enhancement achieved by using this product is only temporary and for extended effectiveness, this product must be used regularly. Technically, this defeats the basic premise of the ad that the product works against “7 signs of aging.” A logical conclusion would be that this product only temporarily alters or covers the skin properties associated with aging. How many members of the target audience for this advertisement would have thought about this irony of facts while watching the ad? If such incomplete information is presented in an ad, what is the exact personality profile of the target audience do the advertiser/product manufacturer have? What gives the advertiser/product manufacturer the confidence to throw incomplete and unsubstantiated information?
Not all members of the target audience are rationally strong enough to identify the fallacy portrayed in this ad. What could be the possible motive behind such deceptive presentation of incomplete information? From the marketing standpoint, target audiences for this ad are women who tend to show interest in the topic of “Signs of Aging” and “Skin Enhancement.” Therefore, instead of letting the audience ask questions, it would be more beneficial when the possible preconceived notions among the audience is stimulated and substantiated by fragments of information, not necessarily fact-based and relevant. People have opinions and not all opinions are fact-based and rational. Instead of teaching something new to them, it is easy to pick an existing opinion and just build up to ideas that may reinforce the existing opinion. Including the product to be marketed along with the message will make it look appealing to the audience with the alleged preconceived notion. Scroll up and watch the video now again and you might identify the elements in their true sense.
d)      Ad from the Year 2011 (UK Market)
This ad has 3 women featured with the message that over 20 million women have used this product and that this is a fact that proves the product’s effectiveness. The two women who are displayed as women who have chosen the product represent different racial profiles. The ad also ends in a promotional gesture mentioning a retail pharmacy chain that offers a discount and a free gift box along with the product. The ad-campaign has slowly evolved from informing the benefits to reconfirming the attributes to declaring the successful establishment of the product among the users worldwide. Since this ad is a tailor-made one to suit the UK market during the Christmas season, the company’s partnership with a retail pharmacy chain is declared along with the promise of discounts/gifts. This indicates that the product has gradually moved into the rapid growth stage where there are a significant number of users in the market. The promotional aspects of marketing are usually a way of saying thank you to the users for purchasing the product by providing them with an incentive, in this case a discount and a gift from a specific store. The inclusion of the retail pharmacy chain is also an effort to educate the audience about a recognized spot where the product may be available for purchase, again calling for an action. The inclusion of women from multiple racial backgrounds is to engrave the idea that this product suits women from all races and skins of different natures. This is an attempt to diversify the target market and improve market penetration globally.
The text element of this ad has an interesting change of scheme in this ad. The previous ad had “7 Signs of Aging” as the primary ingredient but his ad has it as “With 7 age-defying effects in one.” Working against “7 signs of aging” is completely different from having “7 age-defying effects in one.” The previous ad did not mention about the number of effects the product had. All of a sudden, over 3 years into the ad-campaign, the company decides to mention that the product has “7 age-defying effects” while, for the past 3 years it only said, the product fights against “7 signs of aging.” What does this indicate? The first guess would be that the target audience has limited memory with an expiry date for such types of information. A more rational questioning will take us to the vantage point from where it is obviously visible that the “signs,” “aging” and “effects” are mere marketing tools used to position the product in the minds of the target audience. They do not carry any significant essence of truth or scientific fact except that women can easily be convinced with gimmicks such as these included in this ad-campaign. Only when the marketers have such an opinion of women audience, they would invest so much time money and efforts to create ads like these. Watch further.
e)      Ad from the Year 2012 (Target Market: Thailand)
This ad, made for the Thailand Market has a woman sharing her success story in life and how the product has helped her get to the position wherever she is right now by working against skin aging. The ad promotes the idea that the woman had gained by fighting against skin aging through her student, professional and personal lives. This is an attempt to sell the “Success Story of the Modern Woman” to the target audience with the product featured as a facilitator for the success. This can happen when there is access to enough information that modern women who might be potential users of this product have a liking to be independent and successful and so such content has been designed for this ad. From the ad-campaign perspective, it has maintained the underlying theme of relating “Success of Women” along with the product attributes.
The text aspects of the ad again have been used to gain the audience’s attention to the signs of aging by having the texts representing skin aging vanish from the skin (the home of the alleged aging issues) of the featured woman who happens to have a clear fair skin.
f)       Ad from Year 2013 (Target Market: India)
This ad features Kajol, an Indian movie celebrity, talking about her fast changing life with increasing challenges and how she needs a tough anti-aging solution and the ad proceeds to the voice over part where another woman talks about “New and Improved” version of the product, with increased abilities to fight against “7 signs of aging.” The “fight against 7 signs of aging” is still inherent in the ad and this ad uses a local celebrity to endorse the product in a very clever manner. The celebrity does not even mention that she uses the product. All she says is that life has changed and she needed a more powerful anti-aging solution. A female voice over takes charge of the remainder of the ad with the celebrity used in visuals alone. Looking closely, this ad resembles the one discussed above (the one for Thailand market). A very close look at the “7 signs of aging” reveals  the list as “fine lines & wrinkles, uneven tone, age spots, uneven texture, dryness, dullness, pores.” To being with, these seven mentions are not signs of aging at all. Pores is an integral part of the human skin and all humans have them on their skin. The sweat comes of these pores and they perform functions that are required by the skin to be live and working. There is no scientific data to support the idea that “Pores” are a sign of aging. “Dryness” and “Dullness” are temporary states of the human skin and they can never be the sole symptoms of aging. A ride on the bike without a jacket can render the skin dry and dull for some time. That doesn’t mean the skin has aged into weakness. “Uneven tone” refers to differential chromatic setup of the skin which again is a natural affair. Any unnatural patches or coloration may be a result of microbe infection, in which case the patient requires a visit to the dermatologist. This ad throws random data at the audience with great confidence and there is a celebrity backing its claim. What could be the reason. Again, it points to the possibility of the marketing team knowing the mental design of the Indian audience. Such scientifically untrue pieces of information cannot be publicly shown if they were not clearly informed that the target audience will go with the flow of the ad and the celebrity’s presence and in the process skip over minute details like these in an attempt to believe in the product. Also the product display in the ad features it in a new packaging with a mention of it having “Up to 2X Skin Renewal Power.” The term skin renewal power is not defined and the reason behind the two-fold increase is not substantiated either. This is an indicator that the product has reached its maturity stage since its launch and it requires a relaunch to keep up the sales.
g)      Ad from the year 2013 (Relaunch)
The first glance at the ad makes it clear that the relaunch has happened in multiple markets as the overall schematic of the ad is very similar to that discussed above in (f). This ad again has a woman speak about her increasingly stressful life and challenges and how she needs a powerful anti-aging solution. The product is displayed with its new packaging along with the claim of it gaining the “Up to 2X Skin Renewal Power.” 

When the ad is paused around the 23rd second of the video, the seven signs of aging is displayed in text with the number 7 and the list completely contradicts the 7 signs of aging as displayed in the Indian version of the ad. In this ad, the 7 signs of aging are “Lines, Dryness, Dull Skin, Dark Spots, Pores, Uneven tone and Roughness.” “Lines and Wrinkles” from the Indian ad has become “Lines.” “Age Spots” has become “Dark Spots.” “Uneven tone” from the Indian ad has been replaced with “Roughness.” The ad may be for the western market but why would the same product work against different sets of “Signs of Aging” when the product is used worldwide by women of multiple racial profiles and different skins? What could be the motive of the marketer/product manufacturer if the skin defects that the product fights against changes from country to country. The ad does not mention the product being custom made for each market in which case, ingredients for the product in India would be different from those for the western market. Why is the ad-campaign using multiple sets of contradicting information to sell the same product in multiple markets? Can there be a honest reason behind this act? If yes, why is it not declared in the advertisement. The answer is quite simple. What people watch in one country does not require to match with what people watch elsewhere. Unless the video is of viral nature involving something that may spread globally, the target audience in every market is not going to realize that the other markets are being bombarded with a different set of information regarding the same product. This really questions the credibility of this product but that is not our objective here. We are more concerned about the content and sequencing of the television advertisement to guide the sales through all stages of the product’s life cycle.
Having gone over the 7 advertisements for one product spread over 7 years, it ic clear that the content maintains an overall theme with the composition tending to change from time to time and according to the target market. Also the relaunch with new packaging correlates to the fact established by the survey data that the majority of the female respondents of the survey found the product display as the most interesting element of the advertisement. This analysis of the ad-campaign (spread between 2008 and 2013), reveals the circumstantial possibility that what we see in a television ad, however stupid it may seem, is there with a purpose and the execution of the purpose is through a series of ads to keep up with the product life cycle. This brand featured in the ad-campaign discussed above is one of the famous brands in the market and at lease two ads mention P&G, the company that is selling this product. Procter&Gamble, according to a Nielson report in 2012, ranked 1st among the top 20 global spenders in advertising. 
Sample 2: Ad (Specialty Toothpaste)
The ad begins with the message that the ad is designed for those who spit blood while brushing their teeth and goes on to the video capture of two spits into the sink with one having blood mixed with it, indicating bleeding gums. The ad then proceeds to mention that the specialty toothpaste has “75%  specialized ingredients,” which make the toothpaste capable of stopping bleeding gums. The ad ends with a warning message that bleeding gums is a sign of gum disease.
Spitting blood while brushing the teeth may indicate a multitude of causes including wrong brushing method, using toothbrush with rough bristles  and so on. The ad makes a confident claim the anyone spitting blood while brushing may have gum disease. The ad does not say anything specific about what that gum disease would be called or how they found out that spitting blood is the sure-shot indicator of such gum disease. The ad just throws the image of blood in the spit, mentions gum disease and proceeds to talk about the toothpaste that can stop bleeding gums. While mentioning the attributes of the toothpaste, the ad claims the product has “75% Specialized Ingredients”  without mentioning any of those ingredients or what the rest 25% of the toothpaste has. It does not mention the criteria based on which the ingredients are being classified as “Specialized.” 
Why would the advertising team use the mentions of blood, gum disease and the specialized ingredients without substantiating any of it? The ad does not talk about how the toothpaste would stop bleeding gums too. Why haven’t they mentioned the working method of the toothpaste, if it really had 75% specialized ingredients? The motive behind such deceptive ad is to play with the heuristics of the target audience. The brains behind this ad is well learned of the fact that the target audience just needs to learn unconnected fragments of the information so that the brain would use the mental short-cuts already engraved to connect the dots and create the fake picture as imagined by the manufacturer and the advertising agency. If this were not true, such ads would never be aired. Watch the ads closely and you will see that most ads tend to follow the trend of providing shock/awe with fragments of unconnected information and guide the audience to a state of mind that they think would make the audience go out and buy the product.
These acts of amplifying product features and attributes by using terms that are intangible and unverified by scientific methods is termed as Puffery. The companies are legally allowed to add elements of Puffery in their advertisements. I am not aware of a country that regulates the television ads strictly enough to protect consumers from Puffery. In the marketing domain, Puffery is a shady topic since it is not illegal but often considered unethical by many. The companies however, motivated to drive sales, allow the advertising agencies to employ such mind-game tactics to lure the target audience into belief over the pompous claims of the advertisement, leading them to purchase the product.

Limitations To be Considered
Any market research work will have its own constraints and limitations and so does this post. It is required to mention that the information provided here were collected under controlled circumstances based on the availability of resources and access to information amidst the constraints that are out of my control. Therefore this research work may not be entirely perfect and the information provided here will remain open to questioning at all time. The references to the information that were used for this work are provided below for the purpose. Feel free to click the reference listings to download the files.

Major Findings of this Study
Based on the discussions of survey data, information from secondary data from published research work and the review of samples of advertisements using the method of Circumstantial Reverse Mapping of Ideas, the major findings (including but not limited to) are given below:
1.      Consumers tend to show an element of emotional vulnerability to television advertisements.
2.   Television advertisements have multiple elements that catch the attention of the audience, irrespective the liking/aversion towards the ad as a whole.
3.      Television advertisements are tailor-made to match the heuristics of the target audience.
4.   Television advertisements are allowed to include information without substantiating part or whole of them with scientific explanation or reasoning.
5.      There is a consumer behavior pattern for every segment of the audience of television advertisements.
6.    Television advertisements are a result of detailed market research involving profiling of the target audience to identify the prejudices and preconceived notions they might have.
7.   Modern television advertising concentrates on selling ideas that involve the product/service rather than selling the product directly.
8.     Advertising industry is aware of the fact that the target audience has varied levels of social awareness and uses it to its benefit.

Regulatory Loopholes
Government regulation on television advertisement is not entirely absent in most countries but the strong implementation of the laws and verification of the same remain questionable. As per the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, advertisement in one clock hour of 60 minutes must not exceed 12 minutes but it is highly unlikely that this law is in place or being strictly followed. Every 30 minutes program tend to have close to 8 minutes of advertisement, considering the average episode video timing measuring up to 22 minutes. There is no regulation in India to mandate the time display for the advertisements (a countdown timer indicating the time left in the particular ad broadcast). International channels like Warner Brothers have implemented these practices, where the consumers get an opportunity to learn about the length of the ad-break, thereby enabling them to independently decide on whether to watch the ads or return after the displayed amount of time to continue watching their favorite program. The reason for allowing broadcasters to be secretive of their ad-broadcasting time has put the average Indian audience under the risk of extreme exposure to television advertisements, making them vulnerable to watching more ads than that as mandated by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). Chapter 2 of the same notification released by TRAI has a clause that restricts the broadcaster from using any part-screen and drop-down advertisements, allowing only full-screen ads for broadcast. But there are channels in India that use up about half the screen with banner and drop-down ads during broadcast of popular sporting events. This is because the TRAI has formally declared in its regulatory notification in 2012, that none of this sub-regulation applies to broadcast of live sporting events. This is a clear indicator of friendly favors extended by the regulatory authorities in India towards the broadcasters of live sporting events. The average Indian consumer is willingly left vulnerable during the broadcast of live sporting events in India by the very ministry controlled by the government that is elected by the Indian consumers (citizens) in the first place. 
There are various private organizations that attempt at regulating television advertisements but most of them exist to protect the interest of broadcasters and advertisers here in India. It is unclear about the state in other countries. The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has regulations and standards to be followed for advertising but there are no legal holds to ensure their strict implementation. The ASCI offers help to the advertisers on pre-production/release aspects of advertising but this procedure is an obligatory help extended to ethically governed advertisers who would genuinely seek help. Anything obligatory tends to be ignored or at least is vulnerable to be ignored in the long run. The ASCI has gone to the extent of releasing a Code for Self-Regulation in Advertising, mentioning the purpose and fundamental principles that may govern advertising content but for the most part, the content of the document has remained in the document without implementation. These codes have to be officially legalized and implemented in order to protect the rights of the consumers here in India.
Food Safety & Standards Authority of India, in my view has at least begun a fair attempt to regulate the advertisements here in India. Although the effects are yet to be realized, the attempt is worth appreciating. In its release of guidelines for code of self-regulation, the regulatory body has decided to look over prevalent food & beverages advertising regulations in other countries and include the value additions that may benefit the regulatory functions to be deigned for the Indian market. It also has mentioned a brief description of the current state of advertising in India. The implementation and the effectiveness is however wide open to questioning and the wait is on.

Overall Conclusion
There is information to believe that consumer behavior can be mapped and analyzed to identify the possible causes and their sources and using this information, tailor-made paid non-personal representations of ideas/products/services may be created and circulated by recognized and unrecognized sponsors through all types of media. The television advertisements especially are the largest of such messages viewed by the consumers on a daily basis. This little research, in its own way has gathered information to support the idea that consumers who are well-informed about the negative tactics of the advertising industry are vulnerable to the tricks of the trade. It is important to remind the consumer of the existence of unethical advertising and the advertising industry about the existence of malpractices that may not be necessarily illegal so that the consumer can stay aware and the industry can work towards controlling the misuse of the legal leniency offered to the field of advertising.

On my request, my buddy Dr. Vaibhav Joshi (Mississippi State University) has created an awesome cartoon summarizing the idea presented in this post. Thanks to him and this cartoon does give us a visual aid to understand the way television advertisements make us fantasize different images enabling us to buy a product or subscribe to a service.


Artist: Dr. Vaibhav Joshi

How Can One Survive These Television Ads?
To begin with, one can exercise their brain to be more rational and cultivate the habits of asking questions such as “Why?” “How?” “When?” “Where?” and “Which?” This may seem like the elementary school English class but these fundamental questions are the primary reason behind the progress of the human civilization so far. If we let our brains be lazy to believe anything thrown at us and only responded to tricky situations, our brains might become vulnerable to any intellectual hacking techniques that is being employed in advertisements these days. What we see and hear need not be entirely true. One can cultivate the habit of looking things up before confirming on views related to purchase decisions. Even while accepting to believe something without a reason, it would be better if we “tag” that decision with the mention that we chose to believe it without reason due to a pressing demand. This way, our brain would know not to repeat it again as a default process. What I am trying to say has a few elements of cognitive psychology I guess and I am not an expert in this. I would however advise to review your belief system from time to time to see if the way you believe things has any element of logical reasoning attached to it or not? We are humans and we are the symbol of imperfection of every kind. Therefore we need to keep re-assessing our intellectual trusting methods. This way we can ensure, when we see and hear something, we don’t believe it without a proper questioning of the message for credibility and scientific truth behind it.
Always look for source credibility and supporting information from the advertisement or outside resources before making the purchase decision for any product. You must always tell yourself that you need not believe in any product entirely based on the information given by the advertisement. Unless and until a specific professional designation of relevance is revealed, the “Expert” you see in any advertisement is just an upcoming actor who got the gig to do a role of a “Practicing Physician” who might say he believes in the special toothpaste for fighting dental complaints. All doctors you see in advertisements are not doctors and all doctors cannot comment on all products. Any rude shout-out’s from arrogant characters does not necessarily mean that it is the broad societal view. It is there to make the audience believe that anyone aggressive might have a valid point to believe in. 
Some consumers tend to believe the live demonstration of the product while some tend to believe widely accepted consumer notions (ratings/rankings by professional associations). Therefore the ad needs to be tailored to meet the type of audience that may watch it. A celebrity endorsing the product may put the product in positive light among the celebrity’s fans. The product’s review by a person of fame or social credibility may tend to persuade the audience to believe in the claims made by the advertisement.  Just because a lot of people believe something, the belief need not be true as it may sound. 
To protect yourself, I would suggest that you learn about advertisement regulation in your home country/state to stay aware of the malpractices in the industry that are targeted at you. Complaints won’t usually serve the purpose but being informed definitely puts us in a position to assess the scenario and safely distance ourselves from the evil forces. If you are in India and you come across an advertisement that seems offensive to you, feel free to visit the ASCI website link given below and lodge a complaint:
Don’t forget to make an effort to stay away from the products that seem dangerous to you because the safety isn’t complete if we continue to use something dangerous and still be informed of it simultaneously without a timely reaction.
I would like to end this post here by requesting you to use a questioning method acceptable to your mindset and make sure anything you believe always goes through it. In this modern time where we are bombarded with advertisements every second of our lives, it has now become crucial to stay away from vicious lies that may take away our money and in turn cause harm to us and our community. Marketing is a wonderful art that is based on a diverse set of scientific principles but it is as vulnerable as any other prominent art to exploitation. There are elements in the advertising industry that aim at fooling the consumers into buying things. I sincerely hope this post may serve as one of the Consumers’ Guide to Surviving Television Advertisements. 

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Additional Media Coverage:
The snapshots of this blog post have been featured in various online media including:
1. CNN iReport
Link: http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1005569
2. Activist Post
Link:http://activist-post-forum.947009.n3.nabble.com/Consumers-Guide-to-Surviving-Television-Advertisements-td4026458.html
3. MoonProject
Link: http://www.moonproject.co.uk/consumers-guide-to-surviving-television-advertisement/

Thanks to everyone for the fantastic support!!! Spread the word and who knows our little conversations may end up making things better for someone, somewhere.


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Picture Courtesy: Alain Thys, www.futurelab.net, www.alainthys.com.

Regards,

7 comments:

  1. hi Motts, i felt it to be an awesome effort to bring out all the possible answers which a company might think before launching an add. surprisingly you have more men who have voted for female ads. and some responses surprise me. :)
    Having said that, would really like to see a survey over use of smatphones by people in india.

    keep writing. well hope you are already consulting a company.. if not, start doing, companies would realy appreciate such info. all the best. :)

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    1. Thanks Sravanth!!! I was surprised to see the results too. I will think about the smartphone thing you mentioned. It should be interesting I guess.

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  2. Hey!
    I am making my graduation research paper on the consumer response to specific ads in india. Yours was the closest i have found to anything on this topic on the net. It seems pretty great. I cant access the survey and i was hoping i could take a look at what kind of questions you asked. any way you could give me access to that?

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    Replies
    1. Hi there, Sorry the link is dead and so is the survey there. I used the free version of the service and it eventually expired. Look for the title under each pie chart and you will know one question that I asked. I guess I have mentioned the questions in the description too. I basically asked the respondents general questions about TV advertisements, aiming to understand how they perceive the ads on TV. Then I showed them two TV-Ad videos and asked them questions pertaining to the video. I covered questions like, did they believe things shown in the video is possible in real life. I also asked them if they feel good about the ad and what is the reason. You can find the details here in my description. I hope my blog helped you someway. All the best!!!

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  3. This is the precise weblog for anybody UN agency must search out out concerning this subject. You notice such a lot its nearly arduous to argue with you. You completely place a spanking new spin on a topic that is been written concerning for years. Nice stuff, merely nice!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi, extremely nice effort. everybody should scan this text. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This is the precise weblog for anybody UN agency must search out out concerning this subject. You notice such a lot its nearly arduous to argue with you. You completely place a spanking new spin on a topic that is been written concerning for years. Nice stuff, merely nice!

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for the comment!!! Have a good one!!!!