advertising and sales

advertising and sales

Last week’s measures of success piece inspired some lively discussion.

Amongst all the great points, one topic deserves a more thorough examination:

“Advertising’s job is to drive sales.”

Many marketers take this for granted.

However, there’s a slight problem.

Driving sales is not advertising’s job.

Driving sales is marketing’s job.

Advertising plays a part in this, but brand communications are only one aspect of the marketing mix, and that whole mix must work together if the brand is to achieve its objectives.

If we are to maximise advertising’s impact, we must understand what it can and cannot do.

Breaking it down

Advertising can’t do everything on its own:

It can’t make a bad product good;

It can’t drive sales if the brand isn’t available;

It won’t make an expensive brand more affordable.

However, it can help in each of the above situations:

It can focus people’s attention on the more attractive aspects of the product, or ‘re-frame’ the bad points;

It can drive desire that may translate into sales if and when the brand becomes available;

It can reposition an expensive brand’s value equation so that a high price seems more reasonable.

A team effort

It might help to think of the marketing mix in terms of a sports team, where the different elements of the mix (the 4Ps) perform the roles of different players or positions.

Winning is everyone’s objective, and everyone plays a part in achieving that.

However, no single player is solely responsible for winning; even if one player scores all the points, the other players will contribute to this, either by helping that player, or by impeding the opposition.

Soccer teams only win if they score more goals than the opposition, but coaches don’t evaluate goalkeepers based on how many goals they score, because the goalkeeper’s specific role is to ensure that the opposition scores fewer goals.

Advertising’s role

Marketing aims to change people’s behaviour in some way, even if it’s just encouraging what they do already.

Whilst there’s no doubt that advertising must contribute to this overall objective, it’s unrealistic to expect that advertising can achieve everything on its own.

It’s worth noting that advertising doesn’t just contribute to sales-related objectives: it can also be used for propaganda, or to promote the greater good.

So, rather than focusing on sales, I’d argue that a more relevant definition of advertising’s role is:

To help organisations achieve their overall objectives, by influencing the beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions that guide people’s actions.

I recognise that this presupposes the legitimacy of the reasoned response model that we explored a few days ago; however, I believe it’s safe to assume that people apply some form of cognitive processing to advertising messages before deciding how to act on them.

Implications

Within that broader aim, advertising’s specific role is to influence what people think, such that they will then modify their behaviour in the way we intend.

This final qualification is very important: all advertising must contribute to overall ‘team’ success; there’s no point in advertising just for the sake of it.

In light of this, when developing advertising, it’s best to start with the change in behaviour you want to effect, and work logically from there.

The following questions will help you to achieve that:

What do we want people to do?

What are they doing now?

Why are they behaving that way?

What do they think or feel that stops them behaving in the way we want them to?

What change in their attitudes, beliefs or feelings would encourage them to behave in the way we want?

What can we do or say that will help to influence these attitudes, beliefs and feelings in this way?

When and where are these things most relevant to the people we want to influence?

And when it comes to measurement, we need to understand:

Whether people witnessed any of our communications;

What they understood about what they saw;

Whether that understanding had any impact on their behaviour.

You can find a more detailed explanation of how to approach these steps in the ‘8 steps to strategic communications’ and ‘measures of success’ posts.

The next frontier

We spend a lot of time improving our performance in each element of the marketing mix – advertising, distribution,  pricing, etc.

However, borrowing from the analogy above, a team’s strength lies in its interrelationships: the best mix delivers far more than the mere sum of its parts.

If we are to radically improving our marketing, it’s those interrelationships that we need to improve.

You can find some initial ideas on that here.

But there’s much more to come…

UPDATE: if you’d like to know the consensus of opinion on whether we should look at sales when measuring ad effectiveness, take a look here.

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7 Responses to “advertising and sales”


  1. 1 Jon Chin October 7, 2009 at 18:18

    How true…but the reality (sadly) is would the client “appreciate”it – afterall the client has to answer (impress) to someone and sales figures helps (tremendously) in the corporate world we live in.

    • 2 eskimon October 7, 2009 at 18:33

      Thanks Jon! I think there’s two sides to that.

      Firstly, there’s little doubt that data showing how advertising boosts sales is powerful. However, it’s the reliability of that data that’s more worrying. It’s that old ceteris paribus issue again – it’s exceedingly difficult to prove the impact that one element of the marketing mix has on overall objectives (Phil, would be great to hear you’re thoughts on this too…), because all the elements are interwoven.

      Secondly, one of the main reasons why clients demand sales figures to support ad results is because none of the other metrics we’ve used up until now have been persuasive enough. We could rememdy that by moving to better metrics, such as those outlined in the measures of success post. However, I fear that the vested interests of a number of large names in the industry impede this becoming a reality any time soon.

      Any other suggestions for what we might do?

  2. 3 Neil Charles October 7, 2009 at 21:24

    Nice post! And overall I can’t disagree.

    The footballer analogy also works to show why the contribution of advertising to sales is hard to measure I think. If you put a better player in a team then it should win more games, but measuring exactly how many more points he was worth at the end of the season is very difficult (See C. Ronaldo or C. Tevez…)

    Really like your list

    - It can’t make a bad product good;
    - It can’t drive sales if the brand isn’t available;
    - It won’t make an expensive brand more affordable.

    And just to cause trouble…

    “To help organisations achieve their overall objectives, by influencing the beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions that guide people’s actions.”

    If the organisation makes products, isn’t their overall objective always to sell more of them? :oP

    • 4 eskimon October 8, 2009 at 12:24

      Hey Neil, welcome back!

      I can see this one going round and round… But really, we’re in ‘violent agreement’ – ultimately, advertising must play a part in driving sales, but it is not solely responsible for them. We have to see everything in the broader context.

      But do keep ‘causing trouble’ – these debates are all about developing a better understanding of the problems, rather than finding the ‘perfect’ answers; it’s the discussion that counts.

      Thanks again for sharing!

  3. 5 Dave Trott October 14, 2009 at 23:48

    Neil Charles,
    “The footballer analogy also works to show why the contribution of advertising to sales is hard to measure I think. If you put a better player in a team then it should win more games, but measuring exactly how many more points he was worth at the end of the season is very difficult (See C. Ronaldo or C. Tevez…)”

    There’s a really interesting book on using statistics to win in baseball.
    ‘Moneyball’ by Michael Lewis

    Check out the write up:

  4. 6 Mark Hancock February 14, 2012 at 00:48

    Good debate. 2 things worth noting:

    1) The role of advertising is not sales – it is to create saleability.
    2) Using these constructs for measurement:
    Whether people witnessed any of our communications;
    What they understood about what they saw;
    Whether that understanding had any impact on their behaviour may not explain the success of brands such as Heineken, Andrex or Guinness to name but 3 – or indeed much of John Webster’s canon. People do not dissect advertising in the way we do – or indeed process it in that way. Having said that – it’s worth again looking at some these things but in the light of advances in measuring the efficacy of highly emotional rather than rational advertising (Brainjuicer/Heath/Feldwick etc).

    Cheers

    M


  1. 1 advertising and sales « eskimon | Glenn Friesen Trackback on February 17, 2012 at 04:47

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