Agency Leadership Advertising Media

Getting my 10,000 ads a day: Insight, a bit of insanity, and ‘Homo Adverticus’

By James Croft, Senior brand strategist



The Drum Network article

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November 21, 2023 | 7 min read

A few months back, The Drum debunked the myth that we see 10,000 ads a day on average. But is it even possible for one person to hit 10,000? We recruited industry strategist James Croft to try.

A collage of ads one person saw in a day

Can one brand strategist get anywhere close to seeing 10,000 ads in a day? / Image courtesy of Jellyfish

There’s homo sapiens – that’s us. And economists sometimes use the idea of homo economicus: a made-up dream-person who is perfectly rational and self-interested. To get anywhere close to the mythical 10,000 ad exposures in a day, I’d have to become Homo Adverticus: the ultimate ad-consuming entity.

I’ve been known to run the odd ultramarathon. This would be a marathon of its own kind.

First, some simple rules to optimize the experiment (within in the realms of reality): a rational 16-hour ad-consuming window, actively avoiding ad-free havens like Spotify Premium, no shirking work, but embracing every ad opportunity that came my way.

The goal? To walk a mile in the shoes of those we vie for attention from. To understand the ad-weary psyche of the modern consumer.

We’ll get to my final tally in a minute. In the meantime, what insights did I take from the day?

Ad fatigue, indeed

Rules in hand, I started my test – but not before turning to trusty ChatGPT for counsel. “Keep in mind that exposure to excessive advertisements might lead to information overload, so consider taking breaks!” – so says my AI friend. Thanks, ChatGPT. I will keep that in mind.

As the test began, I started to realize just how passive we have become to ads. Consciously engaging with (and, for me, tallying) ads is mentally fatiguing. By the end of the day I felt saturated and found myself straying to ad-free platforms for a mental break.

I also started to question what I considered an ad. This speaks both to the vast quantity and the subtlety of many ads. I tried diligently to tally as I went – you can see my full taxonomy below – but my enthusiasm was waning in the afternoon.

A table of ads seen in a day

Questionable quality

It turns out it’s quite difficult to pay attention to in-app ads when you’re trying not to let a pile of blocks build up (I was playing Tetris). That stressful experience makes me question the effectiveness certain placements could have when your attention is consumed elsewhere.

Doubly so when you contrast this experience to my long-lingering thoughts of Leerdamer cheese after seeing an ad on the London underground – an experience I had plenty of time to contemplate.

Thus the role for a solid media strategy – vindication for some of my colleagues.

Brand recall: Surprisingly good

Maybe I have a good memory, or maybe it really was the power of advertising. Either way, I was surprised by what I could remember. Many of the ads I encountered on digital and social platforms were targeted to my interests and history, which made me noticeably more receptive.

But what wasn’t clear was the subject matter (so let’s hope there wasn’t anything important I was supposed to remember.) Plus, when asked what was the best ad I saw, I struggled to pinpoint one. This speaks volumes to the creative quality of the ads we often see.

We do have (some) control over how many ads we see

The experiment spotlighted the autonomy in the ad-viewing experience. My strategic choices – opting for my free SoundCloud over Spotify Premium, YouTube binges over Netflix – highlight our control and our willingness to pay for ad-free experiences.

Yet, even these havens are not always 100% ad-free (I still can't get the Maserati product placement in Top Boy out of my head!), showing just how pervasive and inescapable modern advertising is.

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So, did I hit 10,000?

Anyway, onto the tally. In a day where I tried, studiously, to see and record as many ads as I could; where I tried to become the perfect advertisee; where I tried dutifully to notch up my 10,000 ads like a healthy eater aiming for their five-a-day... Here’s the final tally:

Number of ads seen in a day: 512

512. Not even close. And I’m convinced neither advertisers nor consumers should aspire to that figure.

If I learned anything from the experiment, it’s that mediocrity doesn’t cut it.

Never more clearly have I appreciated that if you aren’t taking the time to understand your consumer; if you aren’t applying sound media strategy and delivering impactful creative, then how can you expect to engage a passive consciousness?

Among the many ads we may see every day, there are maybe 20 to 30 that leave a small but memorable impression. What, then, are you going to do to ensure you are part of this desirable shortlist each day?

Agency Leadership Advertising Media

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