Analyzing the role of advertising – the effective use of the agency

What is advertising? We see advertising as mass communication as well as salesmanship. As marketers, I know you would like to see it more as salesmanship, but it is worth seeing it as both. Perhaps, we should compromise and define advertising as mass communication the aim of which is to sell or win patronage for goods, services or ideas. I like to stress that advertising is a selling effort. It is not meant to just inform or entertain. Its paramount aim is to sell. What is the role of advertising in marketing? Simply put, it is to promote the sales of products and services. In essence, however, the role of advertising is much more detailed – it is to communicate product values in such a way that the customer becomes aware, knows, likes, prefers and is convinced before he takes a purchase decision. In other words, the role of advertising is to inform, to explain and to motivate. It has also been found that effective advertising not only promotes product knowledge but is also exciting, intriguing and amusing. Consumers like to laugh. Consumers like to be happy. Consumers like to feel fine. Moreover, the latest discovery about the role of advertising is in the compound word – brand-differentiation. This is because advertising has been found to be the greatest item in the marketing mix for setting a brand apart from others. Hence, we now go for distinct brand properties like brightness for Star beer, goodness for Guinness stout, cowboy for Marlboro cigarettes, comparative brightness for Omo, captain Birds Eye for Birds Eye Peas, etc. What to do to get best results from your advertising agency Have a good ad agency Just look around you. The brands of detergents, telecoms, toothpastes or toilet soaps you see are alike in many respects – pricing, packaging, distribution, merchandising and level of advertising expenditure. Where they usually differ is in the quality of their advertising. And those essentially responsible for the quality of advertising are the specialists who work in the advertising agency – the copywriters, artists and producers. Hence, choosing an agency should never be taken lightly. It requires great thought, study and effort. Now to the million dollar question. Which factor would you consider paramount were you lumbered with the task of choosing an agency for your organization? (i) is it the ability of the agency to place your advertisement in the most advantageous position in the appropriate medium? (ii) Is it because you can get on well with the agency executives that work on the account? (iii) Is it because the agency is prepared to give you special discounts/commissions/considerations? (iv) Is it because of the proven creative ability of the agency? As for me, I would go for the agency with a proven record of creativity. Yes, I would go for one that produces ads or commercials that people love to see or hear. Yes, I would go for one whose ad will win the most patronage for my goods and services. How about you? How to brief an agency If you want your advertising agency to produce effective advertising you must learn to give it a good advertising brief. Like lawyers or doctors, advertising practitioners can best treat or handle your product’s case if you can give them some key facts about the product. The key facts can be obtained from answers to the following six questions: 1. Who normally buys or prefers the product? 2. What is special about the product? 3. When does the product sell the most? 4. Where does the product sell the most? 5. How is the product used or consumed? 6. How much are you prepared to spend to advertise the product? In answering question Number one, you must not be tempted to say everybody buys your product. There is no product that is bought by everybody. You have some that are bought more by housewives or spinsters or bachelors or undergraduates or old men or old women. Suits for instance are bought more by men between the ages of 25 and 65 than by children or by men after the retirement age of 65. And essential commodities such as toilet soaps, toothpastes, detergents, bar soaps and food items are bought more by housewives of between 21 and 45 years than by children or women over 50. So should be able to identify those who buy your product most. And if you can, you should also let your agency know the income group to which they belong as well as whether they are literate, semi-literate or illiterate. You may want to know why your agency requires this information. If so, you should please remember that advertising is information and for it to be well-received, you must know the receiver and tailor the information to suit him or her. On what is special about your product, you should note that your customers don’t like your product as much as they like the satisfaction it gives to them. Hence, the bread hawker says hers is “fine butter bread”. And hence the tailor you currently use is likely to be the one whose signboard proclaims that he is “London-trained”. You should therefore be prepared to say whatever you consider to be special about your product. It can be in the ingredients or buyers or the place of manufacture or the sales outlet or the experience of the makers. And if you don’t have anything special, then advice your agency to invent something special. If you don’t know, Marlboro Country for Marlboro cigarettes is an invention of an advertising agency and so is GOODNESS for GUINNESS STOUT and HAPPINESS for HARP LAGER BEER. Answers to “where and when” your product sells most are necessary because you may not have enough money to advertise the product all over the country all the year round. And you may want to advertise “where and when” you sell least rather than “where and when” you sell most. With regard to how the product is used or consumed, it is hard to see an advertisement that does not show the product in use. That’s because the product’s superior performance can best be demonstrated through its use or consumption. As regards how much you wish to spend on advertising, there is the very common method of keeping to a percentage of your expected turnover for the year. Depending on the prevailing circumstances, the percentage can be anything from 2% to 10% of the expected annual turnover. Some more sophisticated advertisers however work out their advertising budget after a consideration of their marketing and advertising objectives, the advertising activities of competitors and the prevailing media and production costs. Called the task-ahead method, it is considered the best approach to deciding how much to spend on advertising. The six questions already discussed are the key ones you need to answer. Your agency will however have a better opinion about you if you can also give answers to the following eight questions: 1. How is your product manufactured? 2. Where is it sold – open market, shop or supermarket? 3. How is the product used or consumed? 4. What impressions do your loyal and disloyal customers have about the product? 5. What are the strengths and weaknesses of competitors? 6. What are the marketing objectives for the year? 7. What are the advertising objectives for the year? 8. What are the advertising activities/slogans of your competitors? Now to a final point of the advertising brief. Should it be written or oral? Feel free to adopt any style though the written form is highly recommended so as to avoid the incidence of “THIS-IS-NOT-EXACTLY-WHAT-I-WANT.” But, should you decide on an oral brief, you should request your advertising agency to confirm it in writing for your approval before going ahead with the proposals. Besides, you should feel free to request your agency to produce their interpretation of your brief before they embark on the preparation of proposals. With such a document from the agency, you can be assured that the subsequent proposals will be in the right direction. Using the agency It is very important to know how to use an agency because agencies, like human beings, react to how they are treated. They give you the very best results when you treat them well, while they give you shoddy results when you treat them shabbily. In agency circles, we say clients get the advertising they deserve. As to how to use an agency, the following points are worth noting: Brief early It is generally believed that great inventions require a long period of preparation. So are great advertisements. Give your agency enough time to digest your problems before coming up with solutions. Do not brief them today for what you require yesterday! Very few great advertisements have ever been produced in a hurry. Yours might not be fortunate to be one of them. Be generous with information Effective advertising proposals can hardly be ever produced without information. The agency must have information about your product and your organization. The information includes the product formulation, performance, benefits or advantages, share of market, sales trend, target groups, distribution, price, problems and competition. And the information must be updated from time to time. Know and involve creative and media personnel Let your acquaintanceship of the agency not end with the client service group. Know the creative and media executives who work on your account. And involve them. Let them try your product. Invite them to visit your factory. Show them your outlets. Allow them to mix with your sales force. That way you get them to know your problems at first hand. And you get their commitment. Seek advice on the total marketing mix Your agency may know more about marketing than you can ever imagine. Their knowledge is as a result of their contact and acquaintanceship with various marketing organizations. So, do not hesitate to seek their advice on the brand name, packaging, distribution, price, and even formulation. If they are competent, they will give you such invaluable advice that you may not readily get elsewhere. Tap their wealth of experience This is near to but not the same as seeking advice on the total marketing mix. If your agency is not new, then they must have had some experience on effective promotions, the launching of new products, and budgeting for advertising. They may also have their own points of view on how to advertise food, drinks, travel, industrial goods, children’s product and even how to handle institutional advertising. They will not charge you a kobo for sharing their experiences with you. Learn to recognize a great new idea At the initial stage, each advertisement is called a creative proposal. It is not called so for nothing. To be creative, it has to be new, different, unique – if you like call it an innovation. We find that innovations sometimes shock us; sometimes, they merely surprise us. But generally, we resist them in the same way we resist change. Your advertisements will not have any impact if you cannot recognize and accept an innovation – a great new idea. Learn how to say “No” Agency personnel are not unused to “yes” or “no” from their clients to the “great” proposals they present. But while a “yes” can always enthuse them, a “no” can frustrate them. Let yours not be a “no” that frustrates. Such a “no” is “I don’t like it” without a good reason. A better “no” is “I like some aspects of your proposals, but you may want to review the other aspects …” Be acquainted with media It is the agency’s role to recommend media; it is your role to accept or reject their recommendation. Therefore, you must be acquainted with media as much as your agency. There is nothing wrong with having your own views about media selection. What is wrong is insisting that your selection is the best without a good reason or rationale. However, whether acquainted or unacquainted with media, you should as of right demand a media rationale from your agency. You must know the reasons for the selection recommended. Monitor your advertising When will your advertising appear in newspapers? What date and time will your commercial be transmitted on radio/television? When will your outdoor poster be up or changed? You must know these dates and check that insertions or transmissions take place as scheduled, but if not, you must draw your agency’s attention to any faults. Demand quotations If you value every kobo you spend on advertising, then you must ensure that it is well-spent. A good way of doing this is by asking for quotations for all production – be it artwork, colour separation, poster, radio recording or film. Keep yourself up-to-date Keep yourself up-to-date with current trends. Advertising is communication and effective communication must take note of the society’s customs and cultural values. So you must be acquainted with what is current in the world communication and culture. Go to the cinema. Watch television. Listen to radio. Attend parties, seminars and public lectures. Visit the market. Try your competitors’ products. Find time to talk to teenagers. Play with kids. Read newspapers, magazines, novels – both the serious and the not-so-serious. Praise and criticize Some advertising managers can only criticize; they never praise the agency for good work. Being human, agency personnel like to be praised for work well-done. Remarks such as “keep it up” and “That’s good, really good” can stimulate enthusiasm. Once in a while, praise can also be in writing. Agency people like to flatter themselves with such testimonials, too! Keep the approval simple In some big manufacturing companies, the agency is usually briefed by individual brand managers without any consultation with their colleagues working on other brands. But when it comes to the approval of proposals from the agency, you will find some brand managers consulting with their colleagues on other brands who have had no idea whatsoever of the brief that was given to the agency. Consequently such other brand managers sometimes pass comments which can lead to a complete revision of the proposals. That’s a most unfair way of approving proposals. Besides, there are some companies where the approval moves from the local office in Nigeria to the regional office in Europe or Middle East and from the regional office to the headquarters in the U.S. Such approvals are usually over-delayed. No agency enjoys such delayed decisions nor really likes the advertiser who does so. Pay your agency well and promptly An agency that cannot pay its bills or has no profit for the shareholders cannot help you as much as you want. It is no use insisting on paying the lowest fee when your demands on the agency are very great. Great demands require great rewards. So your agency should be well remunerated. At present, the standard remuneration is fast becoming gross media/production charges plus a five to ten per cent supplementary fee. How to assess advertising – general assessment On general principles, it is worth noting, first, that good advertising must attract or grab attention. You may wish to call this, initial impact. It may be in the text or copy. Or it may be in the layout or style. But your advertising must have it so as to arrest people’s attention from their various normal and enjoyable activities – such as reading a newspaper for news or watching a television programme for education or entertainment. Second, good advertising should be interesting. The interest could be in the headline; and it could be in the bodycopy. Too often, our ads are jam-packed with words and illustrations. We don’t think of good order or rhythm or story-appeal or human interest. Third, good advertising should make the prospect or intended customer desire the brand. Towards this end, if it is a food advertisement, the presentation should make the mouth water or make one’s Adam apple dance jitterbug! Promise is the essence of the fourth general principle. Good advertising should promise the consumer something. And that something should be unique and competitive. To quote David Ogilvy “a promise is not a claim, or a theme or a slogan. It is a benefit for the consumer.” And it should be meaningful to her. Fifth, good advertising should invite the prospect to take action. That action is the purchase-action. It need not be a direct invitation, but it has to be there. Sixth, good advertising must be decent or acceptable as decent by the generality of the public. There is no compromise on this issue. If your advertisement is considered offensive, then it cannot win your prospects. The seventh general principle has to do with what you say. What you say should be what your prospect wants to hear. And if it is that, it would take note of the four basic wants of man – to be loved, to live forever, to have an identity, and to have variety. Health, success, wealth, security, recognition, adventure, popularity, protection, and other human desires all derive from the four basic wants mentioned above. These constitute the basic solutions to the problems of your prospects. And these are what they want to hear about. The eight general principle relates to the style of the presentation. It must be contemporary or modern. And it should be such that is meaningful to the form one pupil in the secondary school. Anything else may be pompous or clever, but it may not be meaningful, relevant or convincing. The ninth principle stipulates that good advertising must be credible and sincere. No lies. No half-truths. If you lie, you may succeed to win the prospect once, not twice. The tenth general principle relates to the prospect or target consumer. You should first ensure that you know her identity or profile. Second, you should identify or involve her with the advertising. It is not helpful to feature a Dutch housewife in your milk advertisement if you want the milk to be bought by Nigerian housewives. Ideally, it is the target consumer you should feature, not the seller or the manufacturer. Still talking about general appraisal principle reminds me of the current very simple appraisal principle used by some Nigerian advertisers and advertising agencies. I call it the COMPETITIVE EDGE principle and all it means is your checking whether the proposal before you is better or has a competitive edge over that for a similar brand. If you are in charge of Milo advertising, for example, you will have to check whether the new film proposal being presented to you is better than the current Bournvita or Ovaltine commercial. And if it is beer you are selling, you might want to check whether the film proposal for your brand is better than the current Star or Harp or Gulder commercial. I like to recommend the competitive edge principles to all advertisers because its adoption will lead to the emergence of more brilliant and unique advertising than is currently the case. At the moment, we have too much of what I like to call pedestrian or monotonous advertising for beer, toothpastes, toilet soaps, food beverages and vitamins or pain relieving tablets. As marketing and advertising practitioners, perhaps the next most important consideration is whether our advertising is on strategy. We don’t want advertising just for the sake of advertising, we don’t want clever advertising. We want advertising that meets our objectives or expectations or goals. Talking about goals reminds me of the principle that definite advertising goals make for definite advertising results. That is the same as saying that you must know where you are going with your advertising before you can tell whether you have arrived there or not. The next principle is called the quality image or a first-class ticket. David Ogilvy says “It pays to give your products an image of quality – a first-class ticket.” Who does not want to fly first-class? And whoever likes to be associated with a product is not seen as having a quality image? Let’s now consider an appraisal principle that is dear to my heart. It is dear to my heart because I find it lacking in most of our advertising. It is the BIG IDEA principle. David Ogilvy believes that it takes a BIG IDEA to jolt the consumer out of his indifference – to make him notice your advertising, remember it and take action. But, I think, we should look at the BIG IDEA from the angle of YOUNG & RUBICAM, a top American agency. At Y & R, the BIG IDEA principle is equated with IMPACT. And that is because their definition of IMPACT goes like this: “That quality in an advertisement which strikes suddenly against the reader’s indifference and enlivens his mind to receive a sales message.” Perhaps it was the BIG IDEA principle that Frank Devito of SSC&B New York was referring to when he observed that the best campaigns are those that are so imaginative, so audacious, so provocative, so good they make you scratch and twitch. Put briefly, a campaign based on a BIG IDEA makes people sit up and wonder why they have never tried the brand. Conclusion Having been acquainted with the general criteria for assessing advertising, I am sure you will give a pass mark to most Nigerian advertising. That to me is somewhat generous. You can give a pass mark to some, not most. This is because most of our advertisements are not adequately striking or interesting or memorable. Good advertising must stand out; it must also be interesting and memorable. Above all, it must make you want to try the product or service. But most of what we see can only be described as drab, insipid, or at best merely competent or adequate to move the brand in the marketplace.