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.
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.
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.
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.
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.