Does Anyone Really Notice Ads Anymore?

It seemed that every commercial on TV recently has been either from Apple or an Apple competitor. Obviously I didn’t watch any of them. I watched my last TV commercial the day before I got my first TiVo box in 1998.

But I could see an iPhone 6 image -- or someone else’s phone that looked just like an iPhone 6 -- just as I was hitting the 30-second skip button on my DVR as many times as necessary to get past all the dumb ads and fast forward to the good parts.

That got me thinking: who watches commercials or reads ads anymore? Seriously? Certainly not me.

Granted, TiVo did make it so you can go to the bathroom or make a sandwich without ever having to ask, “What did I miss?” And it is pretty cool to watch a complete NFL game in 45 minutes without missing a play or yelling about all the dumb penalties. But the DVR’s real innovation was always the aforementioned “advance” button.

Truth is, I watch TV commercials exactly once a year. I mean, isn’t that what the Super Bowl is for? So we can all indulge our Budweiser, Pepsi, Doritos and Go Daddy fixes before getting back to 364 days of bingeing on House of Cards, Sons of Anarchy and Californication?

I’m not just talking about the big tube, either. I don’t think I’ve ever actually read an online ad, either. Maybe it’s that I grew up in the high-tech industry and can remember when there was no Internet and the only ad on your personal computer was that little Intel Inside swirly thing. Now that I think about it, I can remember when cable didn’t have commercials either. Wait, I can’t be that old. Never mind.

I may be the only person who has never, ever clicked on a banner ad except maybe by accident. I’ve never even looked at let alone read one of those things. Having spent nearly every waking minute of the last 30 years with my eyes glued to a screen of some sort, my brain has a built-in mechanism that just magically filters out all Web ads. I’m pretty sure I’ve never actually seen one. I’m completely ad proof.

Assuming I’m not really the only one who doesn’t need to know that ED “could be a question of blood flow” or that Coors is “The Banquet Beer” -- as if any of us have actually been to a banquet lately, let alone had a beer at one -- how can it be that companies keep spending more and more on advertising every year?

According to eMarketer, global ad spending actually broke half a trillion dollars in 2012 and is supposed to top $600 billion in 2016. Not to mention that mobile ad spending is supposed to hit a staggering $180 billion this year. Maybe I need new glasses but I have to ask, how much of an ad really catches your eye on one of those tiny little screens? I can’t imagine someone actually zooming in to read one, can you? I can see it now, “Wow, AT&T has an ad for me to read. How cool is that? Can’t wait to see what they’re selling today.”

In all honesty, I do get what this is about. For small businesses it’s about getting up there in Google’s ad results since the search giant keeps changing its algorithms in a never-ending attempt to thwart all the SEO tricksters.

For big companies it’s about branding. Creating awareness, consideration, loyalty and all that stuff. It’s especially important for undifferentiated commodity products like toothpaste and laundry detergent. All that Procter & Gamble stuff. I know. I used to be a CMO. I know all about it.

And I get that ads have a subliminal affect and we probably make more buying decisions subconsciously than we realize.

Nevertheless, some of the biggest advertisers on the planet actually sell high-value products like cars, smartphones and telecom services. So when it comes to differentiated goods and services, I have to ask: in an era where every bit of data about every single product is available literally at our fingertips any time of the day or night, are those buying decisions still influenced by ads? And even if they are, who sees them, anymore? I sure don’t. Do you?