Today, more than ever before, academics and practitioners are coming to terms with the increasingly complex nature of marketing and advertising brought about by media fragmentation and varied viewing and purchasing habits across consumer groups (Soberman, 2005).
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Indeed, according to this author, media fragmentation has made it extremely hard to cost-effectively inform a mass audience about one’s products and services, not mentioning that consumers now have increasingly varied habits with regard to media.
This view is reinforced by Hackley & Kitchen (1999), who note that advertising and other forms of promotional activity have flourished to such a level that they may be viewed as constituting a form of social pollution, particularly in the developed world.
According to these authors, not only are marketing initiatives and advertising campaigns delivered in unparalleled quantities, but their tone is becoming increasingly complex to classify in the Postmodern Marketing era.
The fundamental question that arises is how firms can manage their marketing and advertising to guarantee that these activities are not lost in the ocean of messages and noise that confronts the contemporary consumer.
This question demands a careful analysis of the tenets of successful advertising, alongside a critical evaluation of the paradigm shifts that have been witnessed in this critical area as organizations align themselves to become more competitive. It is against this background that the present paper aims to critically evaluate the claim that ‘a good idea and a good creative department are all that are needed for a successful advertising campaign.’
The Old and the New: Toward a Paradigm Shift in Advertising Effectiveness
Earlier advertising studies focused on the central role played by the advertising message and the importance of the executional strategy adopted by marketers and practitioners. To achieve advertising effectiveness, therefore, earlier framers of advertising theory suggested that there is a particular order in which the targeted audience responds to advertisements (Aitken et al., 2008).
The argument projected by these theorists opinionated that advertisements must be developed to achieve particular responses from the intended audience according to the nature of the communications and marketing objectives preferred by the advertisers.
It was assumed that for advertisements to achieve success in influencing consumer behaviour, they must have the capacity to lead the intended audience through a sequence of reception stages described as cognitive, affective and conative, and which were perceived as “…essentially, and in some cases, entirely, hierarchical in nature” (Aitken et al., 2008 p. 280). This view has also been well documented by Shankar (1999).
As noted by Aitken et al. (2008), this line of thinking brought forth the information-processing model, which puts much focus on the advertisement message, the executional strategy and the significance to the targeted audience of the brands, products and services featured in the advertisement.
The basic assumption of most of the linear sequential models of advertising, such as the information-processing model, is that if the message is unambiguous and it is conveyed effectively, it will be construed effectively by the targeted audience.
It, therefore, follows that the role of the targeted audience in this arrangement is intrinsically dependent on explicit individual needs and particular responses to the advertisement (Aitken et al., 2008).
These models also “…rely on the assumption that an increase in awareness, for example, will predict purchasing behaviour and hence, sales, an assumption derived from the sequential, self-fulfilling nature of the theories” (Shankar, 1999 p. 2).
However, as noted by Aitken et al. (2008), these models are no longer tenable under the present market conditions as they view advertising as a process that is deliberate, conscious and, presumably, predictable while ignoring the obvious fact that meaning has to be negotiated.
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Indeed, the centrality of ‘meaning’ in advertising has triggered an upsurge of meaning-based models of advertising as witnessed in Mick & Buhl (1992) works on developing a meaning-based model of advertising.
The linear sequential models of advertising also draw substantial criticism from the fact that they negate the role of the receiver (targeted audience) in the communication process; that is, they view advertising as doing things to people rather than people doing things with advertising (Shankar, 1999).
In his study on ‘consumer initial processing in a difficult media environment’, Webb (1979) observed that studies on the response of consumers to television advertising traditionally concentrated deeply “…on characteristics of the message itself and of the message audience, but much less on the situational aspects of the message environment” (p. 225).
Due to the inadequacies of such advertisements, however, modern studies have demonstrated a mounting concern that the environment in which an advertisement is aired may be as important in the determining the response levels of the targeted audience to the advertisement as message or audience characteristics.
While the traditional hierarchical models of communication had the advantage of having the capacity to measure quantifiable intermediate variables with maximum logic and minimum ambiguity, it was obvious that the interests of consumers were not being put into consideration (Shankar, 1999).
Towards the shift from emphasizing the advertising message and execution strategy to a focus on the intended audience, Aitken et al. (2008) highlight the reader-response theory, which “…questions whether the meaning of an advertisement can be understood outside the interaction between that text (words and other images) and the individual” (p. 281).
As observed by Stern (1996b), this theory seeks to move away from the primacy traditionally accorded to formal analysis of textual properties and elements toward a more integrated and holistic approach of the interaction process that puts much focus on the targeted audience rather than the advertising message and/or execution strategy to coincide with mounting interest in consumer culture theory, brand communities, and the novel service-dominant logic of marketing.
This shift in advertising is effective for two important reasons. First, it locates the targeted audience at the core of the communication process rather than at the periphery as a receiver who is only dependent on the advertising message and the execution strategy (Aitken et al., 2008).
Indeed, Mick & Buhl (1992) posit that “…contemporary advertising is conceived of not as an occasional conduit of product information but rather as an omnipresent communication arena in which human reality is mediated” (p. 317).
Aitken et al. (2008) further note that it is not wrong for advertising firms to direct attention to concepts such as consumer involvement, motivation and intentionality; however, this line of thought should not cast the intended audience as ‘receivers’ of advertising information but as the fundamental actors in the communication process who co-create value, meaning and relationships to generate an enabling environment in which successful advertising campaign can occur.
The second reason why this paradigm shift to a more audience-centred approach in advertising is effective is that “…it stresses the interactive nature of the communication process and fundamentally takes issue with the notion that meaning can exist in an advertisement independent of the viewer or the reader” (Aitken et al, 2008 p. 281).
Hirschman & Thompson (1997) are categorical that consumers often process advertisements for implied meanings and do not necessary view advertisements as important sources of information. Stern (1996) observes that the popular view held by many advertisers that an advertising message can have a fixed meaning is impossible.
According to the advocates of deconstructive theory, there exists no possibility for advertisements to employ self-enclosed language that presumes an agreed-upon meaning.
This implies that the act of ‘reading’ and responding to an advertisement should never be simply viewed as a process of deciphering the clues to ascertain the preferred meaning contained in the advertisement message; rather, it should be acknowledged as a proactive engagement with both formal and the informal components of the advertisement and with the genus of advertising to generate a negotiated understanding.
More fundamentally, the perspective of targeted audience as active participants in and trendsetters of the communication process delinks itself from the popular view within behavioural psychology that underlines the importance of classical conditioning as an illustrative framework for human behaviour, and instead project the view that understanding, knowledge and behaviour are the outcome of negotiations between the targeted audience and the advertiser (Aitken et al., 2008).
Consecutive research studies, according to these authors, have demonstrated that responses to advertisements demonstrated by the targeted audience are also ingeniously conditioned by culture, context and experience.
Indeed, Lannon and Cooper (1983) cited in Shankar (1999) argued for the adoption of a ‘holistic cultural approach’ to advertising; that is, the creation of advertising should take into consideration the symbolic meanings that individuals attach to products, the language individuals use to describe their experiences of brands, and the social implication of product usage or non-usage.
In developing the theoretical foundations for their study on advertising experiences, Mick & Buhl (1992) adopted the symbolic and interpretive interactionism and existential phenomenology to project the assertion that each individual perceives the world differentially to a considerable degree, and that human experiences should be studied and assessed as they are subjectively lived and experienced.
These assertions underscore the importance for practitioners and marketers to develop and evaluate advertisement campaigns through the lens of the consumers. In other words, the targeted audience must exercise substantially more independence in determining the response to a particular advertisement for it to be considered successful (Aitken et al., 2008).
Hackley (1999) views the symbolic and interpretive nature of consumers from a social constructionist perspective, which takes consumers of advertising messages as the locus for a sequence of social engagements that together constitute unique individual identities, but which are dependent on the social context of being.
This view also receives support from Hackley & Kitchen (1999), who argue that “…the source of ideas is the self and the subjectivity of experience leaves us alone in the universe to construct meanings through our interpretations of our own sense experience” (p. 18).
Successful advertising campaigns, according to Hackley (1999), should never perceive consumers as introverted subjects, without desires or identities, and who only reacts to advertisements through linear phases or limited persuasion trajectories for the principal purpose of judging.
This assertion is reinforced by Shankar (1999), who observes that advertisers fail to capture the targeted audience in their advertising campaigns because they don’t include consumers in determining the meaning of the advertising message.
The implication of this assertion is that the meaning of any advertising message should not originate wholly from the source of the message; rather, the desires and identities of the targeted audience must be considered for any advertising campaign to be successful.
Hackley & Kitchen (1999) introduce another dimension by suggesting that a successful advertising campaign should not be perceived as constituting a form of social pollution.
In their research, these authors introduce an emergent perspective of “…Communications Leviathan, an entity of colossal size made up of a multiplicity of marketing communications messages and which may constitute a form of social pollution through the potentially damaging and unintended effects it may have on consumer decision making” (p. 15).
These multiple marketing communications are not only intrusive to consumers, but the high level of exposure is perceived to contribute towards circumscribing their moral development. Kotler (1988) cited in Hackley & Kitchen (1999) argued that consumers in the developed world may be exposed to an estimated 2000 advertising messages in a day.
As a direct consequence of the high-level exposure to these messages, consumers are increasingly facing demands on their decision making faculties, which may ultimately have a damaging effect on their ability to make rational and morally coherent purchasing decisions.
This view is consistent with Hackley (1999) assertion the advertising culture continues to be perceived as a metaphor for a general moral dilapidation in the post-modern era.
The Interplay between Good Idea, Creativity & Successful Advertising
Lannon & Cooper (1983) cited in Shankar (1999) observed that “…advertising operates more effectively at the symbolic, intuitive level of consciousness…To design such advertising and to check on its effectiveness in the marketplace requires methods for opening up the inner world of what consumers do to advertising” (p. 4).
Since such symbolism cannot be evaluated quantitatively to determine the effectiveness of a particular advertising campaign, it requires that both advertising agencies and practitioners to have good ideas and be creative enough if they are to design advertising that is able to arouse the consumers’ symbolic, intuitive level of consciousness.
Indeed, the attribute of having a good well-processed idea resonates well with the Post-modern theories of language, which underscores the importance of text production and how such text is used and situated within our cultural practices to generate meanings (Proctor et al., 2002).
A good idea and creative minds on the part of advertisers will certainly enable consumers to process advertisements for implied meanings (Hirschman & Thompson, 1997).
This paper has underscored the fact that the targeted audience in any advertising campaign should not be viewed as passive receivers but as active participants in the communication process. The meanings that any form of advertising is capable of eliciting are constructed in communication, not supplied as pre-packaged or predetermined reality in the content of advertising (Aitken et al., 2008).
This perspective demands good ideas and a good creative department to be able to develop humanistic advertising capable of delivering qualities of openness, acceptance and critique, which facilitate creativity, innovation and new ways of thinking (Shankar, 1999).
To design advertising that is able to catapult consumers’ interactive and interpretive processes demands creativity on the part of the advertisers rather than relying on quantitative benchmarks, which only demonstrate a biased approach to advertising effectiveness.
Soberman (2005) posits that it is important for marketers and advertisers to collect valuable market information on the behaviour patterns and consumption habits of consumers if their advertising campaigns are to have an impact under the prevailing market conditions. According to this author, “…this information can be used to form groups of high potential buyers for targeted marketing efforts” (p. 421).
But as noted by Shankar (1999), the collection of such valuable information requires creative and innovative ways of thinking due to its qualitative nature. Creative ways of advertising, such as the employment of targeted advertising, are indeed important if organizations are to substantially reduce their price competition (Soberman, 2005).
Targeted advertising, however, cannot become a reality if firms fail to capitalize on the use of qualitative market information, thus the interplay between creativity and successful advertising campaigns.
Consequently, an organization must find creative ways to target heavier advertising to consumers who are traditionally oriented towards buying their products as opposed to targeting advertising to consumers who are less oriented towards the organizations’ brand preferences.
Webb’s (1979) research on the environmental influences of advertising demonstrated that advertising effectiveness significantly decreases with too many placements of a particular commercial or non-program material to be aired alongside prime-time programs.
This finding runs against the popular view held by many advertising agencies, which suggests that buying time in higher clutter environments enhance the likelihood of receiving a good advertising position on television. An innovative and creative department is all that is needed to dissect the fact that buying commercial time in high clutter environments only increases the probability of receiving a poor position (Webb, 1979).
It requires a good idea and creative minds to be able to deconstruct words and imply meanings that would appeal to the targeted audience for any advertising campaign to be successful. Stern (1996a) observes that “…paradox is rooted in the multiple and contradictory meanings of words” (p. 137).
A creative advertising department would, according to this particular author, untangle moments in a text that demonstrate a space between what is articulated by the advertiser in an advertisement (the signifier) and what is actually mentally construed by the target audience (the signified).
The post-modern insights of deconstruction, according to Stern (1996b), have assisted to redefine textual meaning as open to continual changes. Proctor et al. (2002) argue that many advertisements fail to achieve a sustainable level of effectiveness because the meaning of words and the structure are not easily discernable.
Consequently, a good idea and creativity are fundamentally important for advertisers if they are to design advertisements using words which the target audience can readily identify with, particularly after the realization through research that the text used in advertising is treated as unfixed, unstable, and undefined, ultimately incapable of accounting for its usage because the perceptions of stability, immovability, and duration are too lax and open to every significant investiture (Stern, 1996a).
There exists a popular saying that ‘creativity is the mother of all innovations.’ It, therefore, requires a good idea and creative minds to design advertisements that will infer causal relations from temporal and fixed juxtapositions of advertising images, thereby assisting consumers to make the ideas contained in the advertisement meaningful through reference to the consumers’ sense experience (Hackley & Kitchen, 1999).
This way, the huge quantities of advertisements and other promotional activities exposed to consumers on a daily basis will cease to be perceived as a source of social pollution because consumers will start to view advertising as meaningful to their own buying behaviours.
Indeed, a good idea and creativity may provide the foundation for the development of the ethical facet of advertising management based on a sounder understanding of the possible damaging effects that unregulated marketing communications is bound to have on the intended audience.
Hackley (1999) is of the opinion that understanding something of the complexity of human meaning rather than assuming a hierarchical approach to advertising messages might provide useful insights which could be used by advertisers and consumers to inform ethical judgments.
Such an understanding, it is believed, can only add value to advertising campaigns by assisting consumers to understand the meaning behind each advertising campaign.
This evaluation has effectively brought into the limelight the tenets that differentiate successful advertising campaigns from unsuccessful ones. The critical role played by a sound idea and creative minds in creating successful marketing campaigns have been well documented. The central role of consumers in developing advertising strategies has also been well established.
One particularly important facet that has been emphasized by a number of researchers is the fact that people should not be perceived as passive receivers of advertising information but as fundamental actors in the communication process who have the capacity to co-create value, meaning and relationships with the view to generate an enabling environment in which successful advertising can take place.
Overall, the tenets of successful marketing campaign discussed in this paper can be used to develop what Kliatchko (2008) refers to as integrated marketing communications, which is basically “…the concept and process of strategically managing audience-focused, channel-centred, and results-driven brand communication programs over time” (p. 140).
Of importance, however, is the finding that a good idea and creative minds are central pillars through which the tenets of successful advertising campaign can flourish.
List of References
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