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Advertising: Basic Concepts

"Mr. Fast and Friendly."
"Mr. Fast and Friendly." | Source

There are many tools available for marketers to use for the purpose of promoting a product or a service. Typically, these include:

  • Advertising
  • Public Relations/Publicity
  • Direct Marketing
  • Sales Promotion
  • Personal Selling

In this Hub, I'm taking a look at advertising as a method of promotional communication. In order for any business to succeed, a company (or an individual) will generally need to promote products or services to the same groups of buyers that competitors are targeting. Even if you own a small, one-of-a-kind business, you will still have a need to create awareness; to tell your target buyers that your business exists. Therefore, marketers and/or business owners need to use one or more methods of promotional communication in order to get the sales they need to stay in business.

Advertising is a very powerful business tool, when used effectively. It is also one of the areas of marketing that is "fun" to be involved in as a student, or as working professional. I have a doctorate in business with a specialization in marketing, and I completed a master's degree in advertising at the University of Illinois. In addition to having taught advertising courses for more than a decade as a college professor, I've also held a variety of positions at companies, large and small, where I was in charge of creating advertising communication.

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What is Advertising?

Advertising is a method of promotional communication that is available to any marketer with the funds to utilize it. Advertising has existed, in one form or another, for as long as mankind has communicated about the trading goods and services. Advertising:

  • Is "non-personal" communication (it's aimed at the masses)
  • Is "paid" communication
  • Is used to promote products/goods, services, and ideas
  • Identifies its sponsor in the message

Advertising's Objective

Advertising is planned based on a communication objectives. Although advertising is part of the marketing process, its objective is always one of communicating, whether the aim is to inform, to persuade, to remind, or to reinforce a message.

Advertising is categorized or classified based on objectives, and different advertisements or advertising campaigns can have different objectives. Informative advertising is that which seeks to create brand awareness and/or knowledge of new products or new features in existing products. Persuasive advertising has a goal of creating liking, preference, conviction, and/or purchase of a product or service. Reminder advertising works to stimulate repeat purchase of products and services, and reinforcement advertising tries to convince current purchasers that they made the right choice when they purchased a product/service.

Example of An Advertising Objective

Planners of advertising strategy and ad campaigns must know and understand the objective of advertising in order to create messages that have a chance to be effective at achieving their goals. For example, marketers of a new all-natural laundry detergent might have an advertising objective such as this:

To create brand awareness of Nature's Wash, within one year, among 50 million American homemakers who do their own laundry.

Advertising objectives must be measurable. In the example above, we know that if at least 50 million American homemakers are not aware of the Nature's Wash brand within one year's time, then the advertising will not have met its stated objective.

To be effective, advertising requires frequency and memorability. In order to achieve frequency and memorability, enough money must be spent to provide a media schedule for ad frequency. Frequency is the most important element for advertising memorability.

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Advertising can be used to build up a long-term image for a product or service (Coca-Cola), or it can be used to trigger a quick sale (grocery store ad featuring special prices on certain items). Certain forms of advertising require a large budget (television), whereas some other forms require only a modest budget (newspaper, Internet, cable television).

Just the presence (rather than the absence) of advertising can have an effect on sales, because consumers often believe that any advertised brand must offer “good value.” Because there are so many forms and uses of advertising, it is difficult to make generalizations about it (one size does not fit all). However, there are some qualities of advertising that can be noted:

Advertising is pervasive – It permits the seller to repeat a message many times, and it allows the buyer to receive and compare the messages of various competitors. Large-scale advertising says as much about the seller’s size, power, and success in business, as it does about a product or service.

Advertising is amplified expressiveness – It provides opportunities for dramatizing the company and its products through the creative and skillful use of print, sound, and color.

Advertising is impersonal – The audience does not have to feel obligated to respond, or to even pay attention to advertising. Most advertising is a monologue in front of an audience, not a dialogue with the audience, although interactive media can be used to create opportunities for dialogue between advertisers and consumers.

Advertising involves the purchase of media to be used as vehicles to carry the advertising message. Major media vehicles include: Television, radio, newspapers, magazines, postal mail, Internet, and outdoor billboards.

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Is "Word-of-Mouth" Advertising?

Media advertising strives to generate positive "word-of-mouth" because what customers say about products, when they like them, can result in increased sales. Successful advertising campaigns that generate a lot of talk and discussion will bring in more ad mentions through word-of-mouth than any advertising budget can bring in using paid media to present ad messages. And, even though some people mistakenly refer to word-of-mouth as advertising, in truth, word-of-mouth IS NOT advertising.

People who study advertising and marketing in academic settings learn that advertising is paid communication that is controlled by the advertiser. Word-of-mouth, since it is not paid and cannot be controlled, is not really advertising. Companies do pay people to go out into the marketplace to talk to consumers, and even to spread “buzz” about products and services. But, since the “buzz” that's created is paid for, and the messages contained in the “buzz” are controlled by a marketer, that "buzz" is not word-of-mouth: It is advertising.

Then what is word-of-mouth? Word-of-mouth is word-of-mouth, and it can be good or bad for a company, a product, or a service. Planners of advertising are never thrilled to hear some of the negatives that are uttered by people about their products or services in the regular course of the day. Word-of-mouth is considered by marketers/advertisers to be a great and effective tool when it is positive, but it can be an extremely destructive tool when it is negative. Social media outlets, such as Facebook and others, allow people to "Like" products and services as a way of utilizing the power of positive word-of-mouth communication.

Marketers are intrigued by the power of word-of-mouth. As a form of communication, it can have desired qualities that marketers covet, including strong credibility, high audience attention levels, and friendly audience reception. It features open-ended conversation with questions and answers about the product, psychological incentives to purchase, memorability, efficiency and frequency.

Product information can be spread quickly to many potential buyers (and can even include promotional trial demonstrations and free sampling), at no cost to the business. Whenever possible, owners of small businesses should work to build advertising programs that result in positive word-of-mouth. Not only because of the no-cost nature of positive word-of-mouth, but also because satisfied customers are the most effective advertising tool.

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Advertising and Product Positioning

Advertising needs to be built using a solid positioning strategy. What is positioning? Product positioning involves creating a position or place for a product/service, within the minds of consumers. Positioning is concerned with what consumers think about a product/service. The positioning strategy is a foundation that advertising is built upon, and it needs to be unique and consistent. It can be based on things such as product benefit, personality or attitude, use/application/user, quality or class, price, or some other element related to how a marketer wants the market to perceive the product/service.

The product's position must be credible (can be substantiated), believable (will ring true with consumers), meaningful (connects with consumer), and unique (differentiated from competition). For example, a communications company might claim to have the best customer service in the industry. This would be an attractive position, and the company would have to back up its claim by demonstrating to its customers unparalleled customer service.

A carefully crafted business positioning strategy can be used as a guideline for judging the appropriateness of all marketing programs, especially for creative approaches used in advertising, public relations, and sales promotion communications.

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Elements of Effective Advertising

Effective Advertising Should:

  • Be "on strategy" with its objective and its product positioning.

A good positioning strategy ensures identification of the correct target audience for your advertising, along with a listing of meaningful features and benefits. It can provide reasons why the product is superior and unique, along with offering an advertising tone or "personality."

  • Be concerned with communicating a simple, single message.

People have trouble remembering the names of their loved ones, let alone a complicated advertising message. Expert advertising copy writers use the "KISS" principle for ad messages: "Keep It Simple, Stupid." For print ads, the simpler the headline, the better. And every other ad element must support the headline message, whether the main message is "price," "selection," "quality," or any other single-minded concept.

  • Stick with a likable personality, attitude, and/or style.

Effective ads have personality and style. Once an advertiser finds a likable style and personality, they usually stay with it for at least a year or more. Changing style and personality often will confuse potential buyers and make efforts less memorable.

  • Be credible.

The quickest way to kill off a bad product is with good advertising. It is a mistake to make a claim that your product cannot support. If you say your quality or value is the "best," then it needs to be top quality. If it is not, advertising will hasten your product's demise, not increase your business.

Also, be careful about identifying and denigrating the competition. Why? Because it can lessen credibility, and has great potential for creating confusion. At times, it has been known to backfire, making buyers more loyal to competitive products, not less.

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  • Be competitive.

Advertising for products needs to stand out from competitive ads. The positioning strategy, the look, the personality/style, should make competitive products seem unique. How do you know if your ads are competitive? You can use personal judgment or test ad exposures to a small group of target buyers (i.e., qualitative research), or you can use more expensive, sophisticated quantitative testing methods. The goal is to compare with competitive ads for uniqueness, memorability, credibility, and incentive for the consumer to purchase.

  • Look professional.

Even in the day of hit-and-miss, sometimes successful do-it-yourself Internet videos and other messaging techniques, it is still best to hire talented professionals to create the look and feel of your advertising. Computer graphics, video editing software, and desktop publishing software can provide professional-looking templates to create good-looking print ads, but only those with professional knowledge and experience can give the finished results the professional quality it needs to have in order to be as effective as possible.

To look professional, marketers should consider obtaining writing, artistic, and graphics help from local advertising agencies or art studios with experienced professionals on staff, and with state-of-the-art computer software in-house. These professionals can save you time and money in the long run, with better results. Electronic ads (e.g., TV, radio, Internet) and outdoor ads are best left to professionals to write, produce, and buy for a fee or for a percentage of media dollars spent (i.e., generally 15 percent of gross media spending).

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  • Be truthful.

Whatever advertising medium you select, make sure your message is ethical and truthful. There are stringent laws regarding deceptive practices and false advertising.

  • Ask for the sale.

Invite potential buyers to come to your store, send for more information, or call for information and orders. Provide easily visible information in the ad for potential customers to buy: location, telephone number, store hours, charge cards accepted, etc.

In Conclusion . . .

Marketers, large and small, must be sure that the people they select to prepare and manage their advertising are knowledgeable. Since the practice of advertising does not normally require licensing or certification, anyone can hang out a shingle and say they are an advertising agency. This does not mean they know anything about what constitutes good advertising, or how to prepare effective advertising.

As with most things related to business, it is always a good idea to learn as much as you can about advertising, before hiring a professional. The more you know about it, the better equipped you will be to determine whether or not those you hire know what they are doing.

© 2012 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD

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