the role of advertising

shared understanding (2)

What makes an ‘effective’ advertisement?

That depends on what you expect advertising to do.

Some people believe it should drive sales; others think it must effect behaviour change.

But perhaps these expectations are too high; after all, advertising is just one element of the marketing mix, and each of the ‘Ps’ has a role to play in delivering overall success.

So, what’s advertising’s specific role within the mix?

I’d argue that it is to establish a shared understanding and / or feeling between brands and their audiences.

A highly focused role, but a very important one nonetheless.

Expecting communications to deliver anything more than this is misguided; advertising will never make up for poor marketing strategy.

Similarly, claiming it can deliver anything more is verging on arrogance; advertising will never be the sole reason why someone buys a product.

Following this rationale, the critical objective of all advertising is to effectively share a perspective that we believe will influence and motivate the audience.

So why don’t brands measure whether they achieve this?

Why do we continue to focus on metrics that explore misguided aspects of the communications process?

For example, ‘reach’ is a stalwart of advertising measurement, but it focuses on whether people heard the message, not whether they understood it.

Frequency doesn’t really help either, as we’ve seen before.

In fact, this recent article in the WARC exploring the “effectiveness of ‘commercial communications’” doesn’t even mention the level of audience understanding established by advertising.*

It leads with this finding:

“Some 53% of industry professionals argued that “ads that make
me stop and think” could be classed as being “very effective”

I recognise that ‘stopping to think’ can play a role en route to establishing a shared understanding, but as with reach, the metric focuses more on receiving than understanding.

Other dimensions explored in the research include:

Ads that give me new information
Ads that are entertaining
Ads that are informative
Ads that are funny
Executions featuring a product demonstration
Ads that reinforce a message I already know

Again, each of these can play a role in delivering the understanding or feeling that we want to share, but where is the analyis of whether we achieved that end result?

We seem to focus more on measuring the means, rather than identifying whether we’ve achieved our objective.

Measuring this doesn’t need to be difficult; it’s simply a case of asking people whether they’ve experienced the campaign, and what they thought or felt about the brand after experiencing it.

Or, if a brand prefers quantative findings, we could offer respondents a list of potential ‘understandings’ or ‘feelings’ for them to choose from, rather than asking open-ended questions.

But to my mind, what people understand and feel is all that really matters; all the other dimensions are simply ‘nice to know’.

*This is not intended as a criticism of the WARC article, as it merely shares some interesting research findings. Equally, the Harris Interactive study it references is, in context, very informative, but I believe that we need to expand our perspective if we are truly to understand if we are achieving what we’re really trying to do.

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