How Advertisers Think It Works Vs. How It Really Works

Blueprints and hands

How advertisers and planners think it works?

Hall and Maclay (1991) conducted a study amongst advertisers‟ marketing and research staff and advertising agency account directors and planners. The finding suggests five main conceptual „models‟ for how advertising works.

  • The sales response model: This model suggests that sales are the only indicator of the campaign effectiveness.
  • The persuasion model: This model suggests that a linear sequence from awareness to understanding to choice is an indicator and measurement of how advertising is working.
  • The involvement model: This model suggests that advertising works when a relationship is built by talking to them intelligently and entertainingly.
  • The salience model: This model suggests that advertising works when it differentiates a product and makes it look unique.
  • The Commodity model: This is not really a model and suggests that advertising is entirely a function.

Two basic views of advertising – Sequential and necessary conditions (McDonald, 1992: 94)

It can be argued that there are two important functions of advertising.

First, it is intended to make the consumers aware of the product or the function by communicating it to them and secondly and more importantly, persuade them to get the desired action from them. McDonald (1998) suggests a number of forms explaining the above mentioned idea. These models are called a ‘hierarchy of effects’ or ‘linear sequential’ models. (Joyce, 1967). They are also called as ‘necessary conditions’ model and they only flow in one direction because it is further argued that one must be aware of something in order to want it and one must want it to buy it. This logic does not word the other way around and hence the models are called linear unidirectional models.

There are number of linear models suggested by various authors and organisations and some of them are listed below.

Starch (1925): an advertisement must be seen – read – believed – remembered – acted upon

DAGMAR: (Colley, 1961): This is said to be the best known linear sequence to achieve communication and persuasion. Awareness – Comprehension – Conviction – Action.

AIDA (McDonald, 1992): Attention – interest – Desire – Action.

AIETA (McDonald, 1992): Awareness – Interest – Evaluation – Trial – Adoption.


Active consumers vs. passive consumers

Cioffi and Garner (1996) pointed out that the main distinction between active and passive consumers is that active customers search for information in order to be able to make a deliberate and conscious decision. Although such a search process takes time, the result of the process is an ability to cite more conscious reasons for the deliberate decision. In contrast, a passive customer is one who has not searched for information and therefore has fewer conscious reasons for his or decision.

Direct and indirect responses (McDonald, 1992:110): Once the advertisement is communicated, it fetches different types of desired responses. These responses can be classified as direct or indirect responses.

Direct responses: Take action: If an advertisement asks to fill in the form then under this type it is responded with by the filled form. This response is typically for low involvement (discussed in the next section) and infrequent products. Seek information: In this type the advertising aims to get people to responds with inquisitiveness so that they try to find more about the message conveyed in the advertisement. This response is typically for infrequent but expensive goods. Relate to needs, wants and desires: In this type the advertising the aim is not to get people to respond immediately but to link the message conveyed with their needs and desires. The action is the result of the long-term effect of the advertisement where one remembers the product as a result of continued advertising. This is aimed by trial of a new brand or something that is only occasionally used, like a proprietary drug or cosmetic. Bring to the top of mind, recall previous satisfaction: In this type the advertising aims to get people to remember the product over its other competitor and usually aimed for the repeat purchases of habit dominated products.

Modify attitudes:

In this type the advertising aims to get people to change their attitude towards a brand and make even take years at times. This is aim by the brands that are in an attempt to give them a new personality. E.g.: Levi’s tried to get cool (Jobber, 2003).

Indirect response: Reinforce attitudes: In this type the advertising aims to get people to feel that they have made a right decision by buying the product or service advertised. This adds value to the brand and is communicated further by the buyer.

High and low involvement in advertising: Thinking and feeling The FCB Grid developed at Foote, Cone & Belding indicated that Advertising agencies make use of psychological and neurological theories, such as function of left brain, which is responsible for feelings like Conscious, Analytic and verbal Vs Right Brain, which is responsible for feeling such as unconsciousness, intuitive and symbolic (Berger, 1986). It was further argued that people spend less time thinking about which brand product they should buy is termed at ‘low interest product’, for instance, toothpaste or dog food (Vaughn, 1980). However, it does not mean that ‘low interest product’ does not need advertising. ‘Low interest products’ are not inferior products. If the product is inferior that it will not sell irrespective of the kind on advertising (Vaughn, 1980). The FCB Grid has 4 quadrants. Vertical columns consist of attributes like ‘Think’ and ‘Feel’, horizontal rows consists of ‘High’ and ‘Low’ involvement. The FCB is as represented below.


(McDonald, 1992)


Involvement: Brown (1991) argues that advertising does not influence repeat purchase. He also pointed out that brand linked buying involvement remains low and it depends on events such as seeing the brand on the shelves of the store where consumers shop. Long term branding creates long term impact on memory.

‘Emotional involvement’ does not means high intensity of feeling and very less impression of advertising, like a glimpse of a print ad even un-remembered does its job, but TV commercial creates much impact than print ad, irrespective of the length of the commercial (Krugman, 1965). Brown (1991) stated that when audiences are seeing the advertising they don’t decide to buy the product, they are in evaluating or experimenting mode, but when they are actually shopping they are in decision making mode.

While actual shopping they are back in evaluating or experimenting mode, as they would like to try other brands and other alternative. Now the ad of other brands makes a recall and helps them in making decision (Brown, 1991). Thus, repeated and creative ad plays important role in repeated buying and that is why adverts of newly launched product does not has immediate impact on the short term sales, and cannot justify the expenses on further advertising.

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I'm an eCommerce Project Director at an agency in London and a consultant for a number of eCommerce start-ups. I founded Think etc 9 years ago which now lets me share my research and experience with all the interesting brands, people, places and projects that I have been privileged to work with. My work on crowdsourcing was published by Oxford as part of a journal article and I have been obsessing over eCommerce and Magento over the past several years.