Here's one piece of qualitative evidence: a report from the field from one of my ex-staffers who recently moved to LA to join a creative hot-shop:
Spent the day watching football with some new, non-advertising friends.
A marketer’s dream: 25-34 year olds, single (thus, high income), always online.
My employment in the industry never came up, but throughout the afternoon, they:
went back on Tivo to re-watch 2 ads they thought were funny (FedEx and Miller High Life)
pulled up an ESPN ad online to watch for fun
would critique probably 1/3 of all ads (“hysterical”; “lame”; “creative”; “that Domino’s pizza looks horrible”)
They found out I was in advertising later in the evening, well-after all of the above had gone down. Learning this led to of course 10 to 15 questions about what I did, what campaigns my agency worked on, what it was like to be in the industry.
The old famous Gossage quote paraphrased a bunch of different ways ("People don't read advertising...They read what interests them. Sometimes it's an ad.") still holds true. And why not? Television ads are tailor-made for consumption in our contemporary era: at their best, they're short, entertaining and easy to understand.
In conversations with clients and critics who express doubt about the power of advertising, I usually express it this way: "People don't hate advertising. They love advertising. They wouldn't know what to do without advertising. They just hate bad advertising."