Dodge the Ad Barrage

Did you know marketers have entire industries just to study your likes and dislikes? Did you know advertisers spend billions of dollars a year trying to sell you stuff?

Sounds like the advertising industry thinks you’re pretty valuable, doesn’t it? Well, you are. Teens as a group spend nearly $100 billion a year. Advertisers see you young guys as one huge wallet and you young women as one huge purse.

It’s the $300 billion advertising industry… against you.

That’s why advertisers put out an average of 4,500 advertising messages per teen, per day.

Think about that number for a minute.

And while we’re on the topic of minutes, think about this: There are only 1,440 minutes in a whole day. That means you’re hit with more than three advertisements per minute. And don’t forget, you sleep several hours a day, so the number is even higher than that.

will rogers money skill


Advertising is the art of convincing people to spend money they don’t have for something they don’t need.
-Will Rogers

Ads are everywhere

Consider all the types of advertising you see in a typical day:

  • Billboards
  • TV commercials
  • Radio commercials
  • Ad posters in fast-food places
  • Ads on buses
  • Ads at sporting events
  • Ads at the mall
  • Magazine ads
  • Previews before movies
  • Previews on your DVDs
  • Website popup ads
  • Website banner ads
  • Keyword ads on Google
  • Product placement ads

Why would advertisers spend so much money throwing ads at you everywhere you go, every minute of the day?

Because if advertisers reach you with their messages often enough, in different places, while you’re doing different things—eventually they can catch you in an emotional state where you’re open to their message, and you’ll buy whatever they’re selling. It’s not in advertisers’ best interest for you to spend even a minute thinking about what you’re spending your money on, or why.

The point to remember is this: Advertisers invent wants. And if you haven’t learned to spot their tricks to fill you with wants, advertisers can put you right in the path of a spending rip current.

pizza is common male teen purchase

He Spent, She Spent

The number one purchase for male teens is food.
The top purchase for female teens is clothing.


On the way to school you see a billboard for a new energy drink. No thanks. Then you see an NBA star drinking it during a game on TV. Nah. A few days later you hear a rapper mention it in a song. Still not interested. But the next week, you’re on a break at school and feeling thirsty, so you run to the local convenience store—and you’re really curious about this energy drink, so you buy it.

Think you made a spontaneous choice to try this new drink? Think you really got it just because you were thirsty?

Or was there something more powerful at work?

All dressed up

Have you ever heard of a “food stylist?”

That’s an advertising professional whose job is to “dress up” food—to make dishes look irresistible when they’re photographed for ads. Advertisers know that if they just tell you why you should buy their food, it won’t be nearly as powerful as if they put a mouth-watering picture of it right in front of you, so you can imagine how good it would taste right now.

Of course, a single energy drink isn’t going to bankrupt you. But you’d be surprised how quickly even small purchases like this can add up to big bucks.

How advertisers invent need

If advertisers wanted you to buy only things that you truly wanted or needed, then they wouldn’t have to spend so much money.

They certainly wouldn’t have to deliver you 4,500 ads every day.

But advertisers represent businesses that want to make money selling you all sorts of things—often things that you don’t really want or need. To do that, they have to constantly make you think there are important things missing in your life. So they spend that $300 billion on all sorts of clever strategies to pull this off.

Let’s look at some examples.

Ad Strategy 1: Get in your head

Advertisers pay psychologists and scientists to learn how to get marketing messages into the right parts of your brain—like your emotional centers and your subconscious. Experts show them how to bypass the alert parts of your brain that might block key points of their messages.

And they lump you into groups they call “psychographics”—categories of people who share a common set of attitudes, opinions and lifestyles. This makes it easier for an advertiser to know which emotional button to push to get you to buy their stuff.

Two common psychographics for your age group are early adopters and followers.

Ad Strategy 2: Get emotional

Advertisers then spend billions of dollars creating ads that appeal to your emotions—ads to scare you, ads to make you jealous, ads to make you feel embarrassed, ads to make you feel like you can belong, ads to make you feel like you can be cool, ads to make you feel…

They’ll tap into whatever emotions will make you feel like buying what they’re selling.

Ad Strategy 3: Glitz by association

Often when you see a celebrity wearing a brand of clothing—in a magazine photo, on a TV talk show, or at awards ceremonies—the celeb got those clothes for free from the designer or their advertisers. The idea is, lots of fans like you will see someone you admire wearing the designer’s stuff and want that same brand for yourself.

And advertisers spend billions slipping products right into the entertainment you enjoy. They put their clothes and jewelry on actors in movies and on TV. They pay musicians to sing about their cars and cosmetics and jewelry and restaurants. They slap their logos all over the videogames you play.

So what do you do?

Ask yourself, “Am I buying this because I decided I want it? Or because an advertiser decided for me?” Now that you understand that advertisers are always trying to get your money, they’ll have a much harder time getting you to make a purchase without thinking it through. A few tricks to keep in mind:
  • Look at any purchase you make in the larger context of how it relates to your Whole Money Picture.
  • Consider how the money you spend today will affect Monday Me—and Next Week Me, Grad Night Me, 20-Year-Old Me, and so on.
  • Stop for a second before you buy something to figure out if it’s Tomorrow’s Junk.

But always remember: Advertisers will never stop trying.


Mainstream. Someone who uses something once it’s more common.

Early Adopter

A trendsetter. Someone who uses something before it becomes popular.

Bottom line

If you “dodge the ad barrage,” you will…
  • Spare yourself a lot of the painful emotions that advertisers put teens through in trying to sell them products
  • Spend your money in your own best interest—not in the advertisers’ best interests

  • Buy less junk

  • Learn to be your own advocate when it comes to making buying decisions

One more takeaway

Whenever you go to buy something, it’s a good idea to think of yourself as half of a business deal (the buyer).

Look out for your own interests.

The other party in the deal (the seller, which includes the advertiser) is doing everything they can for their best interests. That means getting you to spend your money. You should be thinking the same way—not buying unless and until you’re convinced what you’re buying will give you more value than what you’re spending to get it.


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©2023 Money Savvy Teen

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