Advertising strategy is the set of decisions an organization takes with respect to the employment of advertising to reach one or more objectives among a specific target group. Each advertising strategy is based on the marketing strategy that encompasses the strategic decisions regarding all marketing activities, such as packaging, price, distribution, and promotion. Within this set of marketing activities, advertising is part of the promotion strategy. Besides defining target group and communication objectives, main parts of the advertising strategy are message strategy and media planning strategy.
A further difference can be made between message strategy and creative execution strategy. The message strategy is defined by the communication objective that is addressed by an advertisement; the creative execution defines how this objective is addressed. Though the ultimate goal of advertising is to maintain and increase the level of brand sales, most often advertising is employed to reach intermediate goals. Most important of these is communicating how a brand is positioned among its competitors. Other often employed intermediate goals are brand awareness and generating a general positive feeling toward the brand.
Typologies of Advertising Strategies
Many overviews of message strategies have been published and there is no generally agreed-upon typology. Nevertheless, a central element of most typologies is the difference between informational advertising that appeals to the rational mind and emotional advertising that appeals to the feelings of consumers. Instead of the term “emotional strategies,” often the term “transformational strategies” is used. Informational strategies include factual, more or less objective, information, whereas transformational strategies aim at relating the advertised brand to more subjective characteristics such as emotions, personal values, or group symbols. Transformational strategies transform the experience of using or owing the brand by adding a psychological dimension to the objective utility of the product.
One of the best-known advertising typologies is the “FCB-grid” by Vaughn (1980; the grid is named after the author’s company, Foote, Cone & Belding), which consists of four quadrants, defined by two dimensions: level of involvement and a thinking–feeling dimension. In the high-involvement/thinking quadrant of the FCB-grid, the consumer is highly involved with the purchase decision and makes a rational decision based on functional information. Therefore, in this situation an informative strategy should be used. In the low-involvement/thinking quadrant, involvement is low and buying behavior is habitual because the consumer wants to spend as little time and brain activity as possible on buying products. In this quadrant, the habit formation strategy is advised.
The primary aim of advertising is to remind consumers of the existence of the brand. In addition, coupons and free samples can be used to stimulate trial behavior. In the two feeling quadrants, three purchase motives are relevant: ego gratification, sensory gratification, and social acceptance. In the high-involvement/feeling quadrant, the consumer seeks ego gratification, that is, the need to defend, enhance, and express one’s basic personality. For this quadrant, the advice is to apply the affective strategy that aims at relating the brand to the personality of the consumer. The low-involvement/feeling quadrant is reserved for products where involvement is low and the purchase decision is based on sensory gratification, that is, the desire to please one or more of the five senses. The satisfaction strategy stresses how the brand stimulates personal satisfaction, and induces product trial so people can experience the brand. Finally, social acceptance can be relevant in situations of both low and high involvement. Advertising can address the need to be viewed favorably in the eyes of other.
The Rossiter and Percy Typology
Another well-known typology, which is closely related to the FCB-grid, is the Rossiter and Percy (RP) grid. The RP-grid also has four quadrants, but these are defined in a different way. A first important difference between the RP-grid and the FCB-grid is that in the former, brand awareness is a necessary condition before any of the strategies defined by the grid can be effective. If brand awareness is low, the advertising strategy should primarily aim at increasing brand recall and/or brand recognition. A second important difference is that in the RP-grid feelings are relevant in all quadrants.
A distinction is made between negative motivation that is mainly relevant in the thinking quadrants and positive motivation that is mainly relevant in the feeling quadrants (called transformational quadrants in the RP-grid). A negative motivation occurs if people are motivated to avoid negative emotions that, for example, are evoked by unwanted situations. Informational advertising strategies should convince consumers that the brand can help to avoid or to solve problems. Positive motivation is related to positive emotions that occur in the case of social approval, sensory gratification, or intellectual stimulation (i.e., the possibility to explore and acquire new information and expertise). People are positively motivated to experience these emotions, and transformational advertising strategies should address these emotions.
In the 1980s and 1990s, several other less well known typologies were published. The advertising strategies that are outlined in these typologies largely overlap, though the terminology might differ slightly. One of the most cited of these typologies is the “brand concept management framework” of Park et al. (1986), in which three main brand concepts are discerned: functional, symbolic, and experiential. A “functional brand concept” is appropriate for brands that fulfill functional needs, such as problem-solving products. The “symbolic brand concept” can be used if brands have a symbolic function with respect to communicating to other people what kind of person the user is, or communicating to other people to what group(s) the user belongs. The symbolic brand concept is also useful if consumers use a brand because it matches their own personality and if consumers feel that they can realize who they are by using this particular brand. Finally, the “experiential brand concept” can be used for products that provide variety or sensory pleasure (e.g., food). A good strategy for this type of brand is communicating what people experience when they use the product.
Behavioral Determinant Models
To examine what the most important consumer motives are, often social-psychological behavioral determinant models are used. However, these models do not correspond well to most advertising typologies, either because in a typology two or more behavioral determinants are addressed by the same message strategy, or because two or more strategies are formulated that aim at the same behavioral determinant. Therefore, Van den Putte formulated an integrative framework for effective communication (IFEC) that integrates the main characteristics of many of the above typologies with social psychological theories (Van den Putte & Dhondt 2005). The IFEC stipulates that there are three conditions that every successful advertising campaign must fulfill: (1) people should be aware of the brand, (2) people must have a general positive feeling about the brand, and (3) the campaign should make clear what consumer motive or consumer need the brand fulfills. Social-psychological behavioral determinant models can be used to find the most important behavioral determinant(s) in order to select the potentially most effective advertising strategy.
In the IFEC, nine advertising strategies are discerned. The awareness strategy aims at establishing top-of-mind brand awareness by using novel or unusual formats. The likeability strategy aims at entertaining consumers in order to achieve appreciation of the advertisement. In the long run, this is meant to lead to a positive general feeling toward the brand. The information strategy aims at convincing consumers that the advertised brand offers them relevant, preferably new or improved, instrumental advantages. The emotions strategy aims at associating the brand with specific feelings, often by showing people who experience certain emotions in a product usage situation. The identity strategy aims at convincing consumers that the identity of the brand matches their private self-identity or self-image. Within this strategy, the brand is seen as a person, having its own personality. This strategy is focused on the consumer as an individual.
The social strategy aims at convincing consumers that the brand can be used to communicate their social identity to others or to seek approval by others. This strategy is focused on consumers as members of a social environment with which they interact. The self-efficacy strategy aims at convincing consumers that a brand can help them to make difficult behaviors more easy to perform. The sales response strategy aims at bringing about an immediate consumers’ response, often by communicating a temporary special offer. The variation strategy aims at appealing to consumers who seek variety in their life, either to discover new possibilities or to prevent boredom with daily routines.
With respect to all of the above-mentioned typologies, scientific empirical research is scarce. Whether the formulated advertising strategies succeed in attaining their objectives has hardly been studied. Insofar as research is published, it is almost always performed by the developers of the typology or grid.
Choosing an Advertising Strategy
An important question is how the most effective possible advertising strategy can be chosen. Generally it is advised, besides maintaining and increasing brand awareness, that the advertising strategy should match the main purchase motives of consumers. For instance, if brand choice behavior is most strongly influenced by the opinion of others, the social strategy is the preferred option. This matching hypothesis has hardly been studied in the context of the above typologies, but there is some indirect support from studies that examine the role of attitude function. In these, it is found that if for consumers the function of their attitude is to evaluate how brand use can maximize instrumental advantages, they are more influenced by an informative strategy that communicates brand characteristics than by a social strategy that communicates how other people evaluate the brand user.
Some doubt about the validity of the matching hypothesis is found in studies that apply attitude base theory. Whereas attitude function theory concentrates on the function that an attitude has for a consumer, attitude base theory concentrates on how the attitude is formed. The attitude base is cognitive if it is primarily formed by cognitions, and affective if it is primarily formed by affect. It is found that if consumers have little experience and weak cognitions or weak feelings, a matching strategy should be used.
For example, an informational strategy should be used if the attitude base is cognitive. However, if consumers have much experience and strong cognitions or strong feelings, a mismatching strategy should be used. In this latter situation, an emotional strategy should be used if the attitude base is cognitive, and an informative strategy if the attitude base is affective. So far, mismatching effects have only been found in tests of attitude base theory. The mismatching hypothesis has never been tested in the context of other theories. Though in most theories and advertising typologies, the assumption is that the advertising strategy should match the motives of the consumer, it might be that this only holds for consumers who have weak cognitions and feelings toward the brand. Of course, this last situation is often the case because consumers generally are weakly involved with the brand.
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