Everything Is Advertising

Nov 26, 2007  |  Michael Wurzer

Advertising is “the action of calling something to the attention of the public especially by paid announcements.” A theme of the FBS Blog lately has been that advertising is bad, information is good. I’m learning, however, that this is not a very sophisticated analysis, or at least is too black and white and ignores the many shades of gray in between lies and truth.

One source of my learning is an article in the New York Times Magazine this weekend called “Dr. Drug Rep”, in which a psychiatrist outlines in amazing detail how he fooled himself into becoming a sales rep for a drug company. The easy response to the article is revulsion and that the doctor should have seen the conclusion coming from a mile away as only too obvious. The more difficult reality, however, is that we deal in a world of unknowns and that each day brings more complexity that makes it impossible for anyone to process all the details at a sufficient level to eliminate trust on every issue.

The reality is that we all need short-cuts to our decision-making and advertising (in all its various forms, from blogging to television) is one such short cut. We’re searching for a way to know who to trust, who to believe, so that we don’t have to become experts in every field. Real estate is no different. The media is rife today with articles about the “plunging” or “growing” or “shrinking” real estate market, many filled with numeric details that smack of authority. Yet, as Frank Llosa of Frankly Realty points out, all the data is easy to manipulate to reach the conclusion you want.

Two additional RE.net posts spring to mind as I write this. One from Ardell DellaLoggia outlining an excellent statistical argument for why sellers need to get real and another from Jonathan Dalton suggesting that the NAR’s economic analysis trying to persuade people to buy homes is overwraught. Both of these posts seem spot on to me, but that they are advertising is now without question in my mind, for they are trying to convince someone of something. So, is that wrong? No. Is there a better way? Probably not.

There is allure in thinking that all the “voting” and user-feedback features being added to web sites these days will expose some “truth” through statistics and the “wisdom of crowds“, but that assumes the individuals in the crowds are independent of each other and what’s scary is that we’re not. Rather, we’re influenced by each other in many subtle ways, such that even our varied and independent opinions harmonized through statistical analysis should come with a grain of salt.

So where does that leave us? Trust. To thrive in this world, we need to gather enough “facts” to trust our advisers so we don’t need to become experts in everything. Those who want to be experts need to provide those facts to us in a way that engenders our trust. That’s one reason blogging is successful, because the very format provides more information than we’re used to getting and that openness fosters trust. The posts from Frank, Ardell and Jonathan are all great examples of fostering trust. I’d hire these people any time. Was that advertising that brought me to that conclusion?

Update:  Jim Duncan also is spot on and someone I trust.

7 Responses to “Everything Is Advertising”

  1. Anything we write will be construed as advertising for the simple reason that the blogs exist as an extension of our business. Yes, I like to educate. Yes, I like to overwrite topics of interest. But at the end of the day real estate is my business.

    Blogging is the least-advertising-like form of advertising around, assuming you don’t turn it into blatant “I’m the greatest ever” advertising.

    Did advertising convince you that I’m trustworthy? I don’t think so, not unless you like the faithfulness in Tobey’s eyes. It’s the conversation and the fact we agree on some issues that lead to the perception of trust. If you disagreed with everything I wrote your feeling would be very different.

    The writing’s the same either way … it’s how that writing matches to our own views that makes the difference.

  2. David Harris says:

    I guess the main reason why we struggle with differentiating information from advertising is because they are inseparable. It’s all about perception. You can be 100% convinced that something is a fact and present it as information, until someone supplies something new that alters your perception. The glass half full AND half empty, equally true.

    We are constantly confronted with cases of media “bias”, but is there such a thing as unbiased media? In many ways agents “report” on the homes they are bringing to market, and have to make subjective statements that some will see as adverts, others as fact.

  3. Russell Shaw says:

    The significant factor is do I believe you are telling me the truth? Do I believe you believe what you are saying and do I believe what you are saying is factual. Anyone can make an error. Most of us tend to be quite forgiving of errors, as they were not intentional. The people we tend to not trust are those whose statements seem primarily self-serving or knowingly false.

    We all have bias on various issues. Those we trust the most are those who can rise above their own bias and see what is there to be seen and have the integrity to say what they saw.

  4. Those we trust the most are those who can rise above their own bias . . .

    There’s the rub and really the point of my post — rising above our own biases is often not possible. The article about the Dr. Drug Rep was a real eye opener. The guy writing it was obviously smart and conscientious, yet he fell into the trap of believing his own bias . . . for about a year. In fact, that’s the trickiest part. The “slick” sales people are easy to spot a mile away. The ones who are conscientious are often smart enough to fool themselves and others, because our world is so complex. Here was a doctor promoting a drug and related research based on his own experience, which is very powerful. Yet he was pitching.

    I just find that so fascinating, perhaps because I see the potential for myself falling into that trap. I’m smart and passionate and that’s a good combination, but it also can lead to “believers” and less challenge and dialog, which is what’s necessary to overcome bias and instead search for truth. That’s why I think blogging is a salve to the wound. We’re exposing our ideas in the hope that someone will prove us right or wrong.

    Another important issue here was raised recently by all the “sex sells” posts, which highlight the fact that “advertising” is regulated in ways that other speech is not. Yet the very definition of advertising is changing before our eyes. If I’m right and “everything is advertising,” then the basis for regulation will run square into the First Amendment and the fundamental principle that more speech is better (the clash of ideas) will become uneasy for many. A great example is Zillow’s zestimates, which are clearly “advertising” for Zillow and yet one piece of opinion (presented as fact) that is best confronted with more information. Will Realtors and MLSs rise to the challenge of providing that information? That’s a question I’m thinking about a lot.

  5. “Those we trust the most are those who can rise above their own bias and see what is there to be seen and have the integrity to say what they saw.”

    Bias is only part of it. Self-interest is the other half.

  6. Jim Duncan says:

    By putting your thoughts and opinions out there for review, you are bound to find those who disagree with you – and that can only strenghten your opinion/argument. If you are right, you will prove as much through the discussion, and if you’re proven to be wrong, the comments will show you to be stubborn, closed-minded and unwilling to alter your opinion or – even better – willing to admit the inaccuracies or errors.

    Look at the comments in this post where a commenter implies that my assessment of the market is exceedingly rosy. It was a good, statistical debate and one of uswill be proven wrong – and that will be reported on the blog for transparency’s sake.

    What is advertising? Who knows? Take your purchase on Amazon, which is then transmitted all over thanks to Facebook’s Beacon – is that advertising? Willingly or not, you are advertising your purchase to others.

    As a writer, you may be able to fool yourself, but you won’t be able to fool all of your readers. If you have a honest relationship with them, they’ll tell you.

    Now – how to integrate that effectively into the real estate/Realtor/MLS world … whew. I know that it’s about transparency, integrity and trust, but we’ve been struggling with those issues for longer than there has been an internet. At least now it’s a bit easier to discern.

  7. Russell Shaw says:

    Those we trust the most are those who can rise above their own bias . .

    >There’s the rub and really the point of my post — rising above our own biases is often not possible.

    I totally agree. I think we all have “blind spots”. The very thing that keeps someone from seeing what is there to be seen is their own fixed ideas. The person confronts his fixed idea instead of directly viewing what is there to be seen. Self interest can and does contribute greatly to one having the bias. Just to use the random statements from NAR as an example – is there ever anything they say that is just accepted by the general public or even the Realtor public? There are certain areas where I expect (and accept) the bias too. My dentist, for example: I already know he has a certain view of what should and should not be done with regard to my teeth. But I don’t ever feel that his recommendations are based on him just wanting the money. So, I trust him. Even in the example of the Dr. Carlat, he is obviously a man of integrity. He was taking money for being a drug rep but once he clearly saw that, he stopped. The people who can’t be trusted are those who will never even look at all at what they are themselves doing. This doesn’t mean I need to believe everything I hear or read because the speaker “seems honest” or sincere. Sometimes people are sincerely wrong. Completely. 🙂