Often when we think of advertising, we just think of great ads that make us laugh or engage us in some manner. We tend to judge ads by these simple criteria.
However, a far more powerful way to look at advertising is by understanding that advertising is a communication task, and therefore we need to understand how communication works.
Without going into the long history of communication, we will instead look at one simple but powerful way of viewing the communication process (in fact, there are several different communication process models). This process has several names, but is often referred to as the Hierarchy of Effects Model of the communication process.
THE HIERARCHY OF COMMUNICATION EFFECTS
Think of the several mental steps through which a product or brand must traverse in a consumer's mind before it gains acceptance.
In the first step, the brand must capture their attention. In a cluttered world or media context, this is difficult to do. You can read a excellent tutorial on all the issues involved in capturing attention.
In the second step, consumers must become aware of the brand. This isn't as straightforward as it seems. Capturing someone's attention doesn't mean they will notice the brand name. Thus, the brand name needs to be made focal to get consumers to become aware. Go through a magazine and you'll see lots of ads that will capture your attention, but you'll have trouble easily seeing the brand name.
The third step involves creating brand knowledge. This is where comprehension of the brand name and what it stands for become important. What are the brand's specific appeals, its benefits? In what way is it different than competitor's brands? Who is the target market? These are the types of questions that must be answered if consumers are to achieve the step of brand knowledge.
The fourth step is brand attitudes. This really has to do with persuasion and is a complicated subject. But, again, you can read a tutorial devoted to the subject of attitudes.
The fifth and final step is action. This is where consumers make a move to actually search out information or purchase.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHICH OBJECTIVE IS RIGHT?
Once again, this question can be answered by information you obtained while segmenting the market and describing customers in the targeted segment. It's for this reason the analysis stage is so important and with good information these types of tactics are easier to devise.
If you have a segment that is aware and has knowledge of your brand, but lacks a positive attitude, then an attitude campaign is appropriate. Alternatively, if the market doesn't know of your brand name, then an awareness campaign is more appropriate.
What is not appropriate is running an attitude campaign when nobody knows who you are.
A good advertising objective involves deciding on which step of the hierarchy of effects will the advertising campaign focus on. You might decide to focus on a combination of steps, but trying to achieve all steps in a single ad is difficult because the tactics that are typically successful for creating awareness, for example, are those that work against the creation of brand knowledge.
Firms often don't understand this simple process and importance of setting advertising objectives, and this is reflected in their advertising. A good example of this occurs every year during the Super Bowl. For example, all the dot.coms in the year 2000 Super Bowl were trying to look cool and outrageous, and pundits and observers evaluated them all based on these criteria. But this is not the way to critique advertisements since we really don't know the objectives of the ads (and probably the advertisers didn't think too much about the objectives either).
You can see a discussion of this example here.
So, the next time you're sitting in a meeting talking about an advertising or media campaign, be sure to ask for the objective of the campaign. Then see that it relates to attention, awareness, knowledge, attitudes, or action.