Advertising: Pay to Play
Advertising is any paid form of communication from an identified sponsor or source that draws attention to ideas, goods, services or the sponsor itself. Most advertising is directed toward groups rather than individuals, and advertising is usually delivered through media such as television, radio, newspapers and, increasingly, the Internet. Ads are often measured in impressions (the number of times a consumer is exposed to an advertisement).
Advertising is a very old form of promotion with roots that go back even to ancient times. In recent decades, the practices of advertising have changed enormously as new technology and media have allowed consumers to bypass traditional advertising venues. From the invention of the remote control, which allows people to ignore advertising on TV without leaving the couch, to recording devices that let people watch TV programs but skip the ads, conventional advertising is on the wane. Across the board, television viewership has fragmented, and ratings have fallen.
Print media are also in decline, with fewer people subscribing to newspapers and other print media and more people favoring digital sources for news and entertainment. Newspaper advertising revenue has declined steadily since 2000. Advertising revenue in television is also soft, and it is split across a growing number of broadcast and cable networks. Clearly companies need to move beyond traditional advertising channels to reach consumers. Digital media outlets have happily stepped in to fill this gap. Despite this changing landscape, for many companies advertising remains at the forefront of how they deliver the proper message to customers and prospective customers.
The Purpose of Advertising
Advertising has three primary objectives: to inform, to persuade, and to remind.
- Informative Advertising creates awareness of brands, products, services, and ideas. It announces new products and programs and can educate people about the attributes and benefits of new or established products.
- Persuasive Advertising tries to convince customers that a company’s services or products are the best, and it works to alter perceptions and enhance the image of a company or product. Its goal is to influence consumers to take action and switch brands, try a new product, or remain loyal to a current brand.
- Reminder Advertising reminds people about the need for a product or service, or the features and benefits it will provide when they purchase promptly.
When people think of advertising, often product-focused advertisements are top of mind—i.e., ads that promote an organization’s goods or services. Institutional advertising goes beyond products to promote organizations, issues, places, events, and political figures. Public service announcements (PSAs) are a category of institutional advertising focused on social-welfare issues such as drunk driving, drug use, and practicing a healthy lifestyle. Usually PSAs are sponsored by nonprofit organizations and government agencies with a vested interest in the causes they promote.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Advertising
As a method of marketing communication, advertising has both advantages and disadvantages. In terms of advantages, advertising creates a sense of credibility or legitimacy when an organization invests in presenting itself and its products in a public forum. Ads can convey a sense of quality and permanence, the idea that a company isn’t some fly-by-night venture. Advertising allows marketers to repeat a message at intervals selected strategically. Repetition makes it more likely that the target audience will see and recall a message, which improves awareness-building results. Advertising can generate drama and human interest by featuring people and situations that are exciting or engaging. It can introduce emotions, images, and symbols that stimulate desire, and it can show how a product or brand compares favorably to competitors. Finally, advertising is an excellent vehicle for brand building, as it can create rational and emotional connections with a company or offering that translate into goodwill. As advertising becomes more sophisticated with digital media, it is a powerful tool for tracking consumer behaviors, interests, and preferences, allowing advertisers to better tailor content and offers to individual consumers. Through the power of digital media, memorable or entertaining advertising can be shared between friends and go viral—and viewer impressions skyrocket.
The primary disadvantage of advertising is cost. Marketers question whether this communication method is really cost-effective at reaching large groups. Of course, costs vary depending on the medium, with television ads being very expensive to produce and place. In contrast, print and digital ads tend to be much less expensive. Along with cost is the question of how many people an advertisement actually reaches. Ads are easily tuned out in today’s crowded media marketplace. Even ads that initially grab attention can grow stale over time. While digital ads are clickable and interactive, traditional advertising media are not. In the bricks-and-mortar world, it is difficult for marketers to measure the success of advertising and link it directly to changes in consumer perceptions or behavior. Because advertising is a one-way medium, there is usually little direct opportunity for consumer feedback and interaction, particularly from consumers who often feel overwhelmed by competing market messages.
Developing Effective Ads: The Creative Strategy
Effective advertising starts with the same foundational components as any other IMC campaign: identifying the target audience and the objectives for the campaign. When advertising is part of a broader IMC effort, it is important to consider the strategic role advertising will play relative to other marketing communication tools. With clarity around the target audience, campaign strategy, and budget, the next step is to develop the creative strategy for developing compelling advertising. The creative strategy has two primary components: the message and the appeal.
The message comes from the messaging framework: What message elements should the advertising convey to consumers? What should the key message be? What is the call to action? How should the brand promise be manifested in the ad? How will it position and differentiate the offering? With advertising, it’s important to remember that the ad can communicate the message not only with words but also potentially with images, sound, tone, and style.
Marketers also need to consider existing public perceptions and other advertising and messages the company has placed in the market. Has the prior marketing activity resonated well with target audiences? Should the next round of advertising reinforce what went before, or is it time for a fresh new message, look, or tone?
Along with message, the creative strategy also identifies the appeal, or how the advertising will attract attention and influence a person’s perceptions or behavior. Advertising appeals can take many forms, but they tend to fall into one of two categories: informational appeal and emotional appeal.
The informational appeal offers facts and information to help the target audience make a purchasing decision. It tries to generate attention using rational arguments and evidence to convince consumers to select a product, service, or brand. For example:
- More or better product or service features: Ajax “Stronger Than Dirt”
- Cost savings: Wal-Mart “Always Low Prices”
- Quality: John Deere “Nothing runs like a Deere”
- Customer service: Holiday Inn “Pleasing people the world over”
- New, improved: Verizon “Can you hear me now? Good.”
The following Black+Decker commercial relies on an informational appeal to promote its product. (Note: There is no speech in this video; only instrumental music.)
The emotional appeal targets consumers’ emotional wants and needs rather than rational logic and facts. It plays on conscious or subconscious desires, beliefs, fears, and insecurities to persuade consumers and influence their behavior. The emotional appeal is linked to the features and benefits provided by the product, but it creates a connection with consumers at an emotional level rather than a rational level. Most marketers agree that emotional appeals are more powerful and differentiating than informational appeals. However, they must be executed well to seem authentic and credible to the the target audience. A poorly executed emotional appeal can come across as trite or manipulative. Examples of emotional appeals include:
- Self-esteem: L’Oreal “Because I’m worth it”
- Happiness: Coca-Cola “Open happiness”
- Anxiety and fear: World Health Organization “Smoking Kills”
- Achievement: Nike “Just Do It”
- Attitude: Apple “Think Different”
- Freedom: Southwest “You are now free to move about the country”
- Peace of Mind: Allstate “Are you in good hands?”
- Popularity: NBC “Must-see TV”
- Germophobia: Chlorox “For life’s bleachable moments, there’s Chlorox”
The following Heinz Ketchup commercial offers a humorous example of an ad based entirely on an emotional appeal: