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‘I have yet to see the evidence that advertising unsupported by product performance has ever had more than a temporary effect at persuading anyone to do anything against their own best interests.

This statement was made by a person in advertising. What do you think about it?

The function of advertising is to inform and/or influence people usually with regard to a provision. It is to help create a relationship between people and a product or service. The links between advertising and communication are obvious. But advertising is a special form of communication in that it is usually directed at changing the way we perceive something, changing our attitude and ultimately changing our behaviour. Changing the way we perceive a product is changing the image of a product.

Advertising is also used to promote ideas and view of the world. Political propaganda does this.

More directly put advertising is experiences created by others and intended to alter the way we perceive certain other experiences - i.e. a soap powder advertisement is an experience created by others and intended to alter the way we perceive the experience of using the soap powder in question. In this respect it is not just plain communication but communication directed at changing perception.
  • Perception: How people experience things within the context of their being and history. Perception is what we sense plus the thoughts or feelings that are invoked as a consequence. i.e. bats invoke horror in most people, they perceive bats as horrible.
  • Attitude: The perception of individuals towards other people, things or institutions which predispose them to a certain type of behaviour.
  • Behaviour: What we actually do.
How might advertising lead to perceiving things correctly that we used to perceive incorrectly, and how the reverse?

The Subjective Nature

In so far as people are objective advertising may inform and in so far as people are subjective it may influence. On vary few issues are people truly objective and so the majority of advertising is directed at peoples subjective nature, that part of their perception that is based on the associations that they make with what they see (or sense). Since few people are ever aware of all the facts of an issue it is quite easy to introduce a new fact and swing a ‘no' to a ‘yes' or visa versa. This is normal practice for biased persons to not put the case against themselves and most individuals are guilty of it.

An example of this occurred with Novell toilet paper that was recycled and thus claimed to be more ecologically sound then non-recycled paper. The impression was given in the advertising that forests were being saved as a consequence of using the recycled paper. But Novell's white toilet paper was high grade paper that could have been made into writing paper before it became toilet paper, so they weren't so green. The competition countered by saying that they did a better job for the environment because they actually planted trees to make their toilet paper from and so they were actually greener than Novell!

EXERCISE: What other issues, concerning the production and use of toilet paper, might have been considered in the advertising campaign but were not?

Advertising Objectives

For any advertising the objectives should be clear from the start. Typical advertising objectives might be to increase or change one of the following factors;

Awareness - If people don't know a provision exists they are in no position to choose whether to buy it or not, one function of advertising is to increase awareness.

Perception - Advertising can be used to change the perception of a product by changing the things that we associated with it. Cigarettes have been linked with style, the good life but are now becoming linked with bronchial problems and death. [p19 & p133 CGA]

Attitudes - "Would you be more careful if it was you that got pregnant?" with picture of a pregnant man. This is the first Saatchi & Saatchi advertisment for which they became known [p49 CGA]

Informing - "This is what happens when a fly lands on your food. Flies can't eat solid food, so to soften it up they vomit on it. Then they stamp the vomit in until its a liquid, usually stamping in a few germs for good measure. Then when it's good and runny they suck it all back up again, probably dropping some excrement at the same time. And when they've finished eating its your turn." - "Cover food. Cover eating and drinking utensils. Cover dustbins." [p128 CGA]

Understanding - To improve our understanding.

Desire - To increase our desire for the product or service,

Benefits - Informing people of the benefits of your product will be important. A series of railway posters did just this in 1908  in a rather interesting way.[p42 TAA] Also see [p213 TAA and p17 CGA]

Reminding - “Remember Marmite.” Many of the established brands are really advertising only to remind us and perhaps pull a few new customers.

Behavior - Usually the ultimate goal is to increase sales in the long run. Most big campaigns will do market research before and after advertising to see if they have achieved their advertising objectives be it sales or something more subtle.

Communicating The Message


May be gained through various ploys. Humour, Shock, Fear, etc. But getting attention is useless if you are getting the attention of the wrong people. Like the ad's in the paper ‘Make pots of money' and only after you respond do you find its insurance sales. They feel good because they had a big response but most people ran as soon as they knew what it was about. The objective is to make sure you attract the attention of the right people.


How will you keep up interest of the relevant audience so that they will see your advertisement through. Oogy (Oogy being baby rabbits and the like!), Demonstration, Testimonial, Comparison, Puzzle, Familiarity, etc. Again there really isn't any point in holding the interest of people to whom your provision is irrelevant. Try to focus on the people you really want to speak to.


After seeing your ad' do they really understand why they need your provision in their life? Try to make the benefits on offer and you the provision is for, clear in the ad'. People should say ‘Yeh that's me'.


Have you given them all the information they need to act. Is it clear what has to be done, will they remember it? If not will there be a reminder. Don't say ‘Ring 071 482 1398' say look up ‘Dongle' in the yellow pages, people will remember words better then numbers. People may take time to consider your offer and if they have forgotten the necessary action to be taken by the time they have decided ‘Yes' you have lost a customer. That is one reason why its usually not advised to run a single ad', a series is better.


Although we may be able to reach a large population through the media and our message may be effective, the effect will only be in proportion to the population we reached and the effect may well decrease with time. The message is not alive. It does not propagate itself. The message we want is a live message, one that reproduces itself, has babies, one people want to tell each other. If our advertisment is in the form of a joke or something that makes people want to tell others, then we have a live message. Say we hit 10,000 people with a dead message or 10 with a live message. Lets assume that a person tells two people a week then we are looking at 10,240 knowing the message in ten weeks. In fact it’s a bit more complicated than this because people may meet people who already know the message and the message may get distorted by the time it has been passed on ten times. But the principle is there. The propagation of a message may be by word of mouth or it may simply be that people see a behaviour and copy it.

Provision Presentation

Although perception, attitudes and behaviour can be influenced by good advertising the strongest influence will generally be the provision and its presentation. What actually surrounds the provision such as packaging or the sales environment, after sales service etc.
In designing your presentation how do you want to be perceived by the customer. Up market designer, fast and efficient, pretty, cool, reliable, or what? Customers will make decisions about your credibility on the bases of the presentation of your product.

The Life of a Behaviour

If we define the image of a behaviour, as the way we perceive it, then behaviours have a life cycle, they are born, they live and they die. It is precisely because of this that we have the dynamic world of fashion, be it cars, clothes or cookers. For a while people buy platform shoes and then they stop. Some behaviours last far longer and others seem immortal.

Advertising attempts to bring behaviours into fashion or keep them in fashion and on occasions make take them out of fashion. Smoking has been subjected to all three kinds of advertising. CGA 133.

A behaviour is born when it becomes linked in enough peoples minds with some desirable image like beauty, wealth or happiness. Once people actually bring the behaviour into everyday life the behaviour reaches maturity, its image changes to be linked with real qualities, that may not always be good ones. If the qualities it becomes linked to are bad qualities then the behaviour may well die.

Beautiful girls wear big black boots. Many girls including ugly ones wear big black boots. Nobody wears big black boots.

BMWs sell to top executives and are a mark of success. Top executives sell old BMWs and 'Ass holes' buy them. BMWs become a symbol of stupidity. Top executives think twice about buying new BMWs.
Exercise: What might BMW do to counter this problem with their image?

A behaviour life cycle may be simply modelled by assuming that there are two messages, the message that starts the behaviour and the message that ends it or starts some other behaviour. Such models are always gross simplifications but do show the sort of growth and decline curves that fit with what actually happens.

(C)2010 Tom de Havas. The information under this section is my own work it may be reproduced without modification but must include this notice.