What is your advertising really for?

Advertising is but one of several options brands have for creating distinctiveness by. Yet it is the most scrutinized & debated, as it consumes most of a brand’s discretionary money.

But advertising is so subjective that everyone has an opinion. That is often a problem, as marketers constantly need to navigate the murky waters of internal opinion to get their ads approved. And especially in more sales-driven cultures, marketers end up ‘toeing the sales line’, relegating advertising to being nothing more than sales support.

What is the ad for anyway?

Most internal opinions to ads are gut reactions, guided by whether people like an ad, or not. While these are important, they don’t answer more fundamental questions. What was the objective? What was the brief? What is the desired response? Will the ad work as intended? Gut feel shouldn’t substitute a more objective assessment.

Taking a step back, we suggest considering the question “What is the advertising for?” from 2 perspectives:

  • What kind of message are we seeking to convey?
  • What frame of mind is our target consumer likely to be in?

In line with these 2 perspectives, ad objectives can broadly be classified as falling into one of six main types, each with a different type of desired consumer reaction as shown in the table below:

So how do we use this?

The following examples from Vodafone India show how a single brand adapted its approach, depending on the objectives & desired response.

First of all, there are three examples that work at the more implicit level to build and/or reinforce brand perceptions:

SEED new perceptions/beliefs: when Vodafone launched M–pesaTM, a simple tool to help consumers transfer money from phone to phone, trying to get consumers to think of Vodafone as being more than just a network operator.

AUGMENT consumer belief/trust: after rival networks like Airtel had stolen a march on network speeds, Vodafone did the work as below to reassure people about Vodadone’s capability, referring to the company’s global strength and local presence (Kochi is a city in India)

REINFORCE: when Vodafone needed to continually reinforce brand perceptions in a hyper-competitive market, they created charming work that kept the brand to top-of-mind.

In addition, there are three examples that work at the more explicit level to deliver specific messages to trigger behaviour change:

TRIGGER specific behaviours: giving consumers a little nudge to try something new, such as when mobile internet penetration was still very low.

IMPACT: pushing the brand into the consideration set in a price-competitive market with explicit work calling out specific benefits, such as the work below on international business calls

ACTIVATE: driving specific behaviours in the short run with tactical work, like the one below to encourage existing data users to surf the internet more often

Summing up

As Julie Andrews sings in The Sound of Music, “When you know the notes to sing, you can sing (al)most anything”. The simple framework presented allows advertisers to ‘know which notes to sing’, and can enable several benefits:

  1. Keep discussions about advertising more objective
  2. Engender the right conversations between client & agency
  3. Ensure that marketplace results match expectations
  4. Enable teams to get better each time they practice thinking like this


Find out which of the global brands thebrandgym have worked with closely, read our latest brand positioning case studies.