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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.