Three Ways Advertising Companies Tempt You to Forsake Frugality

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Advertising Companies

The following is a post from my lovely wife, Mrs. Frugal Rules. Enjoy…

This is the fourth installment in an ongoing, special series featured on Frugal Rules about the realities of taking the plunge into self-employment.

Consumer Advice from an Ad Pro


I’ve been a copywriter in the financial services and advertising industries for nearly ten years. In that time, I’ve learned the ever evolving art of persuasion. I craft website content and marketing material copy for advertising companies with one purpose in mind – to present a problem that a product or service can solve. Metaphors, similes and all the power of language are harnessed with one intent – to get you to spend your hard-earned money on my client’s products and services.

Modern advertising has evolved beyond mere selling. To be effective, we must also entertain. Advertising companies have gotten so good at it that you may not always realize when you’re being sold to; or, when you do, you might enjoy it so much that your excitement translates into interest in a brand, which ultimately motivates you to buy our car instead of our competition’s, which is exactly what we want.

Advertising companies are good at what they do, which can make it difficult to stick to your budget and live frugally, especially when you are constantly reminded of what could be yours if you are just willing to spend your money or swipe your credit card. Understanding a few timeless tactics used by advertising companies use to generate sales may help you resist the urge to blow your budget on the latest, greatest techno gadget or hot new outfit.

#1 -Advertising Companies Entice You to Buy Happiness


If you are committed to living a frugal life, you’re going to find it difficult to resist the onslaught of targeted advertising aimed at you. The first and most fundamental aspect of advertising is to promise happiness with a product. Everywhere you go you’re sent messages by advertising companies telling you how to be smart, successful and happy. Professionals who work for advertising agencies are incredibly adept in the art of persuading people to believe that happiness can be found in material possessions. If you just buy this product or have this gadget or drink this beverage or wear this outfit or use this makeup, you’ll feel confident, satisfied, sexy, calm, smart, complete, etc.

Advertising and marketing is big business because it works. We’re all looking for happiness and even though deep down we know better, we keep thinking we can buy it. The first and most important weapon in your arsenal of frugality is reminding yourself daily that happiness isn’t found in material possessions, regardless of what advertising companies tell you. Never forget that there’s no lasting happiness at the end of a pile of Benjamins.

#2 – Advertising Companies Issue Calls to Action


A seasoned veteran of brand marketing told me early in my career to include at least one strong call to action in every piece of web content or marketing collateral copy I wrote. Any advertising and marketing professional worth his or her salt will include a directive to consumers in their pitches. Good billboard ads, website pages, print ads, flyers, and brochures should all have at least one command from advertising companies for you to follow – “Contact Us Today!” “Take a Test Drive Now” and “Try our Tasty New Sub” are all simple examples. Even Krispy Kreme’s glowing “Hot Now” sign has something to do with its success.

The best calls to action don’t seem like they’re telling you to do anything. Simple and succinct and offering both a promise as well as a command, Coke’s Open Happiness” advertising campaign is a thing of genius. Using localized images to convey happiness, Coke increased revenues by getting people all over the globe to crack open cans of its carbonated beverage. People drink Coke because they like the way it tastes but as someone who works closely with advertising companies, I bet some of them are also buying Coke because on some level they believe it will make them feel happy – at least ever so briefly.

#3 – Advertising Companies Disguise When They’re Selling to You


I wrote my master’s thesis on product placement nearly eight years ago. Since then, advertising companies have used the practice to blur the line between advertising and entertainment even further. Scenes are written into a number of my favorite network TV shows to compensate advertising companies for their sponsorship.

I am reminded of this every time I see Peter Bishop or Olivia Dunham use a Sprint smartphone to send a picture of a gruesome other-worldly crime scene to Astrid on Fringe. Or, when the History Channel’s American Pickers characters, Mike and Frank, use an entire episode to do something they’ve never done before – take a trip to Sturgis and sell a renovated Indian motorcycle. Both instances feature a contextualized example of product placement; both make sense with the flow of the narrative and the characters.

However, I realize that I am being sold to by advertising companies because I’ve studied product placement in detail. Maybe you would too. But if not, you might be tempted to buy a new smartphone and use the Sprint network or buy an Indian hat or something because your favorite characters were using those brands.

Advertising companies know you skip over the commercials so they are inserting their content into your shows, which may be more effective in the long run. Train yourself to separate fact from fiction and as Mr. Frugal Rules says, try to keep emotion out of your purchase decisions as much as possible. Make a habit out of enjoying advertising without acting on it and you’ll do just fine living frugally in today’s advertising-saturated climate.


Since we’re talking about advertising, let’s ask the always fun question – what’s the best or worst ad you’ve seen recently? (Include a link to the ad if it’s easier than describing it) 🙂


Photo courtesy of: Patrick Nijhuis

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John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.

Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.

Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.


  • DC @ Young Adult Money says:

    I am very intrigued by the entire advertising industry and hope to learn more about it in the future. I think Coke and Pepsi are the most interesting when it comes to advertising. They HAVE to spend tons on advertising or else everyone might catch on that they are selling very inexpensive carbonated water!

    Happy to see you posting again! My wife posted again on my site today as well.

    • Nicole@Frugal Rules says:

      After 10 years in it, D.C., I am still intrigued by it as well! I guess that means I’m in the right field. Oh, and I think Pepsi already tastes like overpriced carbonated water. πŸ™‚

  • Money Bulldog says:

    Excellent guest post! Quite a big deal was made over here in the UK about the amount of product placement in the latest James Bond movie ‘Skyfall’ and also the lack of subtlety in the way they did it. I personally don’t have a problem with it because I understand that people need to make money and I actually find it quite funny to watch.

    • Nicole@Frugal Rules says:

      I noticed that press about Skyfall and the abundant product placement tie-ins to it; I think Heineken was a major sponsor, if I remember right. So often, advertisers really are just trying to capitalize on the popularity of certain figures. Heineken, for example, is hoping that the “coolness” factor of Bond will rub off on their brand, making people choose a Heineken over another beer brand when they want to feel like James Bond. Much advertising is aspirational; meaning, we craft messages that we hope consumers will aspire to attain through purchasing the brands we’re advertising. Product placement, when it’s well-done and a good fit, doesn’t bother me either.

  • Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank says:

    My brother is a marketing executive and it is always interesting to watch the TV with him when the ads come on, he dissects every little bit of the ad and tells us all the tricks involved in getting you to buy.

    • Nicole@Frugal Rules says:

      How fun! Sounds like something I would enjoy. Sometimes I do the same thing, but I keep it a silent thought process and to myself; if I didn’t, I think I might drive Mr. Frugal Rules crazy. πŸ™‚

  • Greg@ClubThrifty says:

    Awesome job! Congrats on your guest post. Couples blogging really makes life easier πŸ™‚

    Advertising is such a tricksy gig! We are constantly being bombarded with ads, and we don’t even realize it. Just look at somebody’s clothing. We are walking billboards!

    • Nicole says:

      Too true. We are all being encouraged to “brand ourselves.” When are we going to see the connection to cattle πŸ™‚

  • Matt says:

    I thought I was quite switched on about this, (I know lots about point 1 & 2), but apparently not. I just don’t notice details like the product placement in Fringe, and now I wonder how much of an effect that had on me. I say had, as I haven’t put the telly back since carpeting the front room 2 months ago…lol
    The happiness thing though… I definitely feel it’s pull. My mobile phone contract is due up very shortly and I’m hankering after a galaxy note, but I’m trying out your 30 day rule, (I think I read about it here anyway!).

    • Nicole says:

      Ha ha! I think the fact that you just realized you’ve been without your tv for two months and are weighing your decision to get a Samsung Note shows you’re holding your own against the advertisers πŸ™‚

  • Laurie says:

    WOW, Nicole! I agree with Matt. I knew this, but I didn’t really know to what extent until your post opened my eyes. Thanks so much for this awakening to the true goals of the marketing and retail world. Excellent work!

    • Nicole says:

      Thanks Laurie! I take it for granted that everyone looks at ads the way I do and have to remember to stop and realize that not everyone works in the as industry! πŸ™‚

  • Jason @ WSL says:

    I always laugh when I see a particular soda or tech device used on TV shows because you know full-well that it’s staged and was paid advertising. lol. I’m glad I don’t watch much TV (commercials) or care much about what advertisers say – no offense to you guys of course. I believe the industry has created a lot of the issues in our culture with self-image and the constant desire for new things.

    • Nicole says:

      No offense taken, Jason. I agree with you that advertisers are partly responsible for the way we all feel we have to have the latest newest thing but I think they make the money they do because that desire to always have more stuff is innate to humanity; it’s in our hearts and advertisers are capitalizing on it – some better than others.

  • Jennifer Lynn @ Broke-Ass Mommy says:

    I believe we are seeing these practices used more in the blogging sphere as well. A few blogs that I’ve visited regularly for years are suspiciously using discrete product placement within their writing. It does make me wonder how heavily influenced their pieces are by advertisers.

    • Nicole@Frugal Rules says:

      There’s a right and wrong way to do product placement, Jennifer. And, there are some mediums where it is more accepted, and therefore expected, than others. My gut tells me the blogosphere isn’t the most receptive environment for product placement because personal opinion, experience, expert advice and honesty are expected here, unlike say movies or TV where the realm is entertainment.

  • Catherine says:

    Another great wife post! I’ve always been intrigued by advertising and how they mange to get people to do the things they do. I can’t think of any one ad off the top of my head but I’m probably going to be thinking about them all day now haha.

    • Nicole@Frugal Rules says:

      Well, if you think of any Catherine, please post back. I did a post recently on my blog of a few of my favorites – one for VW where it starts with a baby smiling and finishes with an older man laughing and then says simply “enjoy the ride.” is one of my recent favorites.

  • Lance at Money Life and More says:

    I will hold my judgment on best/worst ad until after the Superbowl! There should be some entertaining ones there!

    • Nicole@Frugal Rules says:

      I agree Lance. I just hope the ads this year are better than the last few. When advertisers skimp, the creativity just goes out the window and it shows in unappealing commercials.

  • Kim@Eyesonthedollar says:

    I think Disney is one of the best advertisers around. If you watch those commercials of the families going to Disney, especially the recent on where the boys grandparents have only been to the US three times, but two of them were at Disney. Makes me want to go! Another great post, Mrs FR!

    • Nicole@Frugal Rules says:

      Agreed, Kim. Disney himself was a master at captivating people with his creativity and imagination. I’ve always liked Disney. Plus, growing up in Southern California, we went to Disneyland multiple times a year. I always loved how you could walk through the gates and feel like you were transported to another land.

  • Budget & the Beach says:

    I can’t think of any right now. I’m particularly prone to fall prey to beauty ads, especially ones that promote looking younger. I’ve tried just about everything, and they all seem to work about the same not matter what the cost. What’s going to make me look “old” is the stress of worrying about money! lol! Great post! I do always look forward the super bowl ads though!

  • AverageJoe says:

    We always look for product placements in films. In fact, I’m wondering if the Tony Robbins reference in Zero Dark Thirty was even paid for…..

    • Nicole@Frugal Rules says:

      Hmmm. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I wonder. Sometimes, references are made in exchange for things other than monetary payment. I read an article recently about Flight starring Denzel Washington, which I also haven’t seen yet, where there is apparently a minifridge abnormally stocked with branded, labelled beer and wine. That was NOT paid for but which beer companies actually sued to get their brands removed from the DVD release because they didn’t like how their brands were cast in a negative light.

  • Pauline says:

    I am pretty sheltered from advertisement but can’t escape the product placements on TV shows and movies, and YES, I want it all! The penthouse in Manhattan, the expensive furniture, the tech gadgets… Really impressive how they can imply that one needs all that to be happy. I wonder how we would live in a world with zero advertisement. Sure, not naked in caves, but maybe closer to 1890 with computers and washing machines?

    • Nicole@Frugal Rules says:

      Interesting, Pauline. You’d think we’d learn after multiple experiences buying things and not getting the happiness we thought we would. And yet, advertising does drive spending which then fuels innovation so maybe we would be back burning candles instead of using iPhones for flashlights.

  • Kurt @ Money Counselor says:

    My favorite ad these days is one for a car, but it’s also a commentary on ‘the Facebook generation.’ Take a look:

    • Nicole@Frugal Rules says:

      Thanks for posting an ad, Kurt! I remember this one too. It was clever. I also liked the S3 ads ribbing Apple when they came out.

  • Boris says:

    This post reminds me of a Darren Brown video I saw a while back. I looked it up just to post here. It’s . It basically tells advertising marketing designers to come up with some concept for a Taxidermy Store. This is after a car ride where they are subliminally inundated with messages of how Derren Brown wants them to come up with their concept. Once they are in the drawing room and finish their concept, it matches up exactly with the one Darren Brown drew up before hand.

  • Edward Antrobus says:

    Fringe tends to go a little over the top with product placement. Remember when they were doing Ford? Every time a car stopped, they would zoom in on the Ford insignia on the grill.

    • Nicole@Frugal Rules says:

      I do! And all those scripted spots where Sprint made an appearance as a cast member πŸ™‚ It’s still one of my favorite all time TV shows…depending on how they end it this Friday πŸ™‚

  • Mackenzie says:

    Ads for make-up always get me, don’t know why! Supermodels and celebrities who promote the product are not the normal gal who purchases their product and yet… πŸ™‚

  • My Money Design says:

    You are absolutely correct here. I have read a lot of books on marketing, etc and they say the same thing. It’s all mostly psychological. You have to almost make people believe it was their idea to buy it, rather than be sold to.

    • Nicole@Frugal Rules says:

      You have to make people identify with your product and make them feel it, above all competitors adds benefit to their lives. There is definitely a psychological element.

  • The Happy Homeowner says:

    Great post! Everything I do at my full-time job revolves around the elusive CTA…oy! πŸ™‚

  • Midlife Finance says:

    I consider myself mostly immune to advertising, but it might just be wishful thinking. We don’t watch a lot of TV so we’re not constantly bombarded with brands. I don’t recall any interesting commercial lately. Good tip on the call to action.

  • TB at BluecollarWorkman says:

    “Entice you to buy happiness” — very very true. Yous ee people in ads super smiling and happy with lots of friends and chicks, and in their hand is an MGD or something. Or some ads flat-out say, “Open Happiness” (Coke), whcih isn’t even covering up that they think they’re selling you happinss. But man, you’re right. Happiness is not an object you can purchase with your plastic.

  • Grayson @ Debt Roundup says:

    Ah, advertising. When I studied this in college, I was always amazed on how they can create a need in your head for a product that you would have never used unless you saw the advertisement. Great article that hits the nail on the head.

  • Melissa says:

    Great post! Product placement in tv shows and movies drives me crazy, but sometimes I don’t even notice; my husband does. It is so important to educate kids about they way they are being marketed to and don’t even know!

  • Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter says:

    You are so right. They play on our emotions all of the time. I have seen a major increase in using nobel causes to get you to buy things. It isn’t right.

    • Nicole says:

      Some advertisers don’t respect any lines. But, for smaller, local or regional businesses and organizations, advertisers can really help craft and deliver a message or raise awareness about important causes/events.

  • Tackling Our Debt says:

    Infomercials really know how to get my attention!

    When we studied advertising in high school I remember the teacher telling us about the music that grocery stores and department stores play and how it plays on your subconscious to spend more. We also talked a lot about subliminal seduction and how women are used in advertising to get people to buy certain products like sports cars.

    • Nicole says:

      Women and sex. Sometimes I wonder what advertisers WON’T use sex to try to sell. And infomercials are like Jedi mind tricks…you NEED a 28th pair of jet black high heeled pleather walking boots. You can afford it. You will buy them now…. πŸ™‚

  • Jordann says:

    All of the things you’ve mentioned is why I’ve found it very hard to reconcile my frugal, minimalist tendencies with my career in marketing. It’s hard sometimes to work in a profession that encourages consumption. Fortunately, I’ve found a job at a company that sells some very ethical products, so I can have my minimalism and paycheque too.

    I don’t have cable, buy magazines, or go to the mall, so I’m not as inundated with advertising as most people are, I couldn’t even give you an example of a recent commercial! That’s the way I like it though.

    • Nicole says:

      I too have the privilege of working for agencies and businesses that are trying to help people or sell basic products/services that people need for a reasonable price.

  • Canadianbudgetbinder says:

    I always wondered about that when you see products in the tv shows whether it was a paid deal or not. I know when we watch the food network in Canada the blank out the names of products they use but sometimes you see the odd one. Now it all makes sense and you’re right, not many people watch adverts in fact I hate them. Coming from the UK we hardly if ever saw adverts. I don’t know what it’s like to day back home but it sure does my head in sometimes over here.

    • Nicole says:

      Thanks for commenting Mr. CBB. I’d sometimes like to subscribe via satellite to TV from other English-speaking countries just to see how the advertising is different. Our entertainment industry is so driven by it here.

  • Justin@TheFrugalPath says:

    I agree that advertising is a very interesting field. A great ad can sell a product without you ever realizing it. Although I think there are times when the commercial upstages the actual product. Right now my favorite commercial is the one where the father is teaching his son how to throw a baseball. He’s terrible at it, but it’s just a funny commercial. There is a car behind him and it’s supposed to show how durable the car is. However, the commercial is lost on me because I don’t remember the model of the car, just the dad being terrible at throwing a baseball.

    • Nicole says:

      I know exactly what you mean Justin, and I SHOULD know better! But, it’s not uncommon for me to remember a commercial that I liked and completely forget the brand. Ultimately, that may fall on the advertiser though…:)

  • Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies says:

    Love the post from the Mrs! While I certainly don’t think I’m immune to advertising, I do know that not owning a tv goes a long way since I don’t get exposed to nearly the same number of advertisements as a result.

  • Daisy @ Money Smart Guides says:

    Advertising companies are just in it to make money, just like we all are with our jobs and businesses. We don’t have cable, because with streaming and many online downloads, we’ve been able to get free or cheap television without the ads. A family member is paying for Sirius Radio so that he doesn’t have to hear commercials. Ads really draw out the consumerism in many of us.

    • Nicole says:

      Well said Daisy. You are able to escape many ads if you’re willing to jump through a few hoops to get your entertainment. Advertisers are good at what they do which is making us aware of things we might like to buy!:)

  • Paul @ The Frugal Toad says:

    I always have to laugh at most advertising as it is so obvious that advertisers are trying to play on your emotions in order to get you to buy their product.

  • Taylor @ says:

    Great post! As far as product placement, I feel like it’s becoming more and more blatant. We were watching that A&E show The Glades, and there was a virtually full-blown Kia Optima commercial right in the middle of the show. One of the characters extolled the virtues of the Optima. I think you’re right: this must be becoming more popular because so many of us now have DVRs that allow us to skip the traditional commercials. Any case, great post and very thought-provoking!

    • Nicole says:

      Hey Taylor – thanks for commenting on the recent example of product placement you noticed. That sounds blatant and not very well done. The best executions are those that you never notice.

  • Brick By Brick Investing | Marvin says:

    Great points! When I go out to shop I have to stop and remind myself that there are millions of dollars spent on how to manipulate my shopping experience.

  • Julie says:

    I love commercials! The Coca Cola ones are always good but the ones I thought were hilarious were Capital One Credit Card ones from a few years back…. about identity fraud.. hilarious!

  • My Financial Independence Journey says:

    You can’t escape advertising, but you can learn to recognize it for what it is. One of the best things I ever did was read a book called “Influence” by Chaldini. In it he goes though the six major techniques that markers use to persuade you to buy stuff. The best part about the book is that Chaldini is actually an academic psychologist who studies this sort of stuff professionally, so he even creates experiments to see how well various marketing techniques work in the field.

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