BYU AdLab tackles the ethical challenges of advertising

Student scrolls through instagram while on his way to class. BYU AdLab Manager Pat Doyle is working to inspire students to create meaningful content despite an oversaturated, sales-driven advertising industry. (Hannah LeSueur)

BYU AdLab Manager Pat Doyle is working to inspire students to create meaningful content despite an oversaturated, sales-driven advertising industry.

The BYU AdLab consists of 300 students and is ranked as one of the top undergraduate advertising programs in the nation, according to their website.

“Because there’s so much advertising out there today, you’ve got to do things that resonate with people or stand out to people,” Doyle said. “There are so many different elements to that, and creativity plays a lot in how we get that message out there.”

Allison Andrews, a senior studying editing and publishing, said she sees ads frequently throughout her day as she uses social media.

“I probably see about over a hundred ads a day,” Andrews said. “If I’m on Instagram, about every other post is an ad, so if you scroll for a couple hours, you’re seeing a lot of ads.”

Trent Barlow, a junior studying accounting also said he sees ads, but often does not realize that they are there.

“On a normal average day, I probably see around 10 or more,” Barlow said. “I don’t know — I just scroll past them usually, so I don’t even notice them.”

However, according to Siteefy, the average person encounters an average of 10,000 ads in a single day.

“I usually see ads on websites a lot on the sides and pretty much on all social media, but probably Instagram mostly I would say,” Andrews said.

Included is a graphic depicting the advertising revenue of Google from 2001 to 2021 in billion U.S. dollars. The industry is growing exponentially, generating more ads overall. (Made in Canva by Hannah LeSueur)

Barlow said he sees the highest amount of ads on his phone.

“That’s where I mostly see ads nowadays,” Barlow said. “They’re all over the internet on banners too.”

Data released by Statista shows that Google’s ad revenue has increased exponentially since 2001.

Instagram, Facebook, Google and Amazon ads take up nearly two thirds of the total net digital ad revenue in the United States, according to Statista.

Doyle said these major brands are continually adapting and adjusting to appeal to consumers.

“It’s constantly changing, and it’s always on the move,” Doyle said. “There’s always something new with all kinds of online [resources], social media, virtual reality and the metaverse.”

Andrews said it is easy to spend a lot of time using these online resources.

“I probably spend too much time on social media than I should,” Andrews said. “To be honest, I have no idea how much. I think that is kind of the point.”

Barlow said ads seem to “trick” consumers into buying products.

“The companies themselves always try to format their sponsored posts to look like regular posts,” Barlow said. “They use memes and other stuff like that, but then they trick you.”

Andrews also said she has observed the different algorithms that advertisers use to catch her attention.

Included is a graphic depicting the share of Amazon, Facebook and Google in net digital ad revenue in the United States. These media/selling platforms dominate the majority of the advertising market. (Made in Canva by Hannah LeSueur)

“It’s like a game,” Andrews said. “They’re posting them at the right times with the right things.”

Andrews said that social media companies do intensive research to figure out how to be effective and make a profit.

“It’s not so much based on the merits of the company, but it’s on the ability they have to catch people’s attention and convince them that they’re a good company,” Andrews said.

Doyle said that because advertising is a consumer-facing industry, there are always ethical dilemmas when it comes to using phones to gather data about where people are and what they are viewing.

“I get why they do it though, because if it was just a huge ad banner, then you would skip it,” Barlow said.

Doyle’s goal as the BYU AdLab manager is to help students overcome these ethical challenges by creating quality content. He said that there is a lot of bad advertising in the world, and creating good advertising can be very challenging.

“You have to find things that will actually strike a chord with people,” Doyle said. “Whether that’s with humor, a thoughtful feeling, you have to do something that will get through the clutter.”

Doyle also said he believes the world needs more moral, honest advertisers to create good content.

“We have an obligation as members of the Church to build positivity in the world and still be able to do what your job is — to sell product and service — and get people to understand and feel emotion about a brand,” Doyle said. “That’s what we do.”

Doyle said that one of the BYU AdLab’s mantras is to make messages that matter.

“We try to put a focus on that because there are so many messages out there that don’t,” Doyle said.

Learn more about all the meaningful content that BYU AdLab students are creating by visiting their website.

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