Skittles ads and social science

The other day my room-mate watched skittles ads for around fifteen minutes, then went and bought some skittles. Seriously. It was almost too perfect. It helps that we live right next to a 7/11, but it was still the most uncanny thing. Of course, I’m not implying that this is how advertising works, although it does lend favour to this recent article in Wired.

In the article, Rory Sutherland suggests that advertising operates as an ‘upfront expense’, working as social proof that the product being advertised is of high quality.

Since advertising is expensive — and difficult to do well — the cost of advertising is also a virtual engagement ring proffered to the potential consumer; the upfront expense entailed being proof of long-term commitment to the product, the brand and the relationship. Advertising sometimes conveys information, of course. But much of it ostensibly conveys really very little that is new or compelling. But the act of advertising, especially in expensive media, is a form of information in itself. Since it takes time to recoup the cost of an advertising campaign, it only pays to run one when the advertiser has reasonable expectations of the long-term, widespread popularity of the product being advertised.  The act of advertising your product is hence a valuable signal that the manufacturer has faith in its own product — equivalent to a racehorse owner betting heavily on his own horse. It is not irrational that we’re influenced by such as an action — on the contrary, it shows a high degree of instinctive social intelligence.

It touches on a thought I’ve had for quite a while, that perhaps people ‘reward’ advertising they like by buying the products which are advertised. Again, this is only an off-the-cuff thought — speculation. But I would argue it is certainly what my room-mate did after watching the skittles ads.

Whatever though, theory is boring… Skittles ads are fucking funny. Here are five of my favourites. (I might go get some skittles).

The beauty of Skittles ads is that they are inherently dark, if you really think about it, all the following ads are a bit sick and twisted. And that’s what makes them great.