I don’t think any of us are immune to advertising, or as at least not as immune as we might like to be. Ads are very carefully targeted and crafted to resonate in the most effective way possible. Some even play on the fact that we think we are immune and above the sales pitches of wily ad people. Of course, we’re not: we’re all prone to it.
Then there are the ads that do not look like ads – for example, sponsored articles on Buzzfeed that do not engage in hard sell. I think also there are brands that we grew up with and just trust, so sometimes we don’t even think about the brands we use; we just use them without questioning why, and there’s good reason for that: a great deal of effort goes into creating and maintaining loyalty.
We should remember too that it is not just brands that use advertising, but all sorts of organisations, e.g. not-for-profits, government departments, etc. In summary, advertising is just sponsored communication: some of it we easily ignore, others parts may capture attention for a moment, and on other occasions the message will resonate with us. Although there’s plenty of research data and evidence that says that we’re all prone to marketing messages, I wonder if the idea that we might be immune stems from ads that are not actually aimed at us? After all, advertising agencies and marketing strategists don’t target all of us with all of their goods as this would be a waste of money spent on media. Instead they segment their ads by behaviour, demographics, life stages, lifestyles and so on.
"If we really wanted to avoid advertising, we wouldn’t go out very often, we wouldn’t really communicate, and we wouldn’t keep up with our friends online."
So the idea that we’re going to be exposed to and potentially convinced by all ads makes no sense. In terms of actively avoiding advertising, I guess to an extent you could not go out in public to avoid billboards, and we could certainly switch off the television, but when you start to think about the bulk of advertising today in terms of where the money is actually spent, most of it is online. So, although in our own minds, particularly if you’re of a certain generation, you tend to think of advertising in terms of visuals, such as magazine, TV or billboard ads, what we really need to be looking at are those boring sponsored links on Google and display ads on Facebook, where a great deal of ad spend is going.
If we really wanted to avoid advertising, we wouldn’t go out very often, we wouldn’t really communicate, and we wouldn’t keep up with our friends online. So I think the idea that we could avoid advertising is definitely no.
Being aware of being manipulated through advertising is a first step to immune yourself. But, obviously, you'll never be 100% free of ad manipulation. It is well known that companies spend astronomical amounts of money in advertising and part of this is used for scientific experiences. When I say one can never fully distance themselves from the influence of advertising is because a lot of it happens subconsciously.
Take the packaging, for exemple: there's been some research where random people were hired to walk around a fake supermarket, with captors all over their head, and these are reading every stimulation of the brain. They have then studied which package had the most stimuli-triggered effect on the brain. This proves that, without even knowing, some colors, shapes or writing police catch your eyes instantly and therefore, make you attracted to the product - in a way that it is the one you see first.
There's also this famous Coca-Cola/Pepsi experience where they made people drink 3 different kinds of cola soda without labelling them. The participants had to taste a sample of Coca-Cola, Pepsi and a cheap brand of cola soda. When asked which one they had preferred the most, a good majority voted for the Pepsi sample; funny thing is, before this experience, most of them had said that Cola-Cola tasted the best. Again, without knowing, your "emotional tie" to the brand influences the quality or, in this case, the taste of a product. That is why image and trust, acquired through advertising, is crucial for a company.
On a more illegal note, rumor has it that an international fast food company - guess which one - have been using a sense that is fairly newly exploited : smell. There's been some research on what smell could possibly make the customer buy more. This firm, apparently, has been adding some triggering smells to their cleaning products (the one they use to wipe the floor or clean the tables) so that, when the customer enters the restaurant, their nose will be immediately bombarded with these wonderful scents that are said to influence the brain. Arguably (I'd even dare to say obviously), this method is beyond advertising since it touches a sense that can't be tempered by the human reason; if a smell is pleasant, it goes directly to your brain and your sensible self is not capable of saying "Oh this smell is manipulating me to buy more, let's just not". It smells good, you're triggered and there's nothing you can do about it.
So, I think we can say that nobody is as immune as they think they are, since the brain reacts to every single stimulus our senses can feel and a lot of it happens subconsciously. However, knowing that sly tricks are everywhere in advertising, you can still consult your right-thinking self and consider twice before purchasing anything. Do you really need it or are you just triggered? Because in the end, what you buy is up to you, not the companies.
(I don't claim myself as an expert in this field, this is just what I've learnt. Also, apologise my English mistakes if there's any, Swiss guy here!)