Definitions of advertising sometimes reflect the functions that it serves a person in their professional life. Journalists, for ex- ample, might define it as a communication, public relations, or persuasion process; businesspeople see it as a marketing process; economists and sociologists tend to focus on its economic, soci- etal, or ethical significance. And some consumers might define it simply as a nuisance. Interestingly, scholars and professionals also disagree somewhat about how to define advertising, as scholars Jeff Richards and Catharine Curran discovered in a research study intended to build consensus for a definition. Their multi-wave panel study suggested the following definition comes closest to a consensus of experts:
Advertising is a paid, mediated form of communication from an identifiable source, designed to persuade the receiver to take some action, now or in the future.
Let’s take a closer look at this definition. Advertising is, first of all, a type of communication, which is commonly defined as the process through which meaning or information is exchanged between individuals using some system of symbols, signs, or behav- ior. It is actually a very structured form of applied communication, employing both verbal and nonverbal elements that are composed to fill specific space and time formats determined by the sponsor.
Second, advertising is directed to message receivers, or groups of people, usually referred to as audiences, rather than to individuals. These people could be consumers, who buy prod- ucts like cars, deodorant, or food for their personal use. Or they might be businesspeople, who buy fleets of cars for commercial or government use. The messages are delivered via media, such as television or the Internet, rather than through direct, personal contact be- tween a seller and a buyer. Advertising is, therefore, a kind of nonpersonal, or mass, communication.
Most advertising is paid for by sponsors. GM, Walmart, the Obama campaign, and your local fitness salon pay the newspaper or the radio or TV station to carry the ads you read, see, and hear. But some sponsors don’t have to pay for their ads. The American Red Cross, United Way, and American Cancer Society are among the many organizations whose public service messages are carried at no charge because of their nonprofit status.
Of course, most advertising is intended to be persuasive—to make audiences more favor- ably disposed toward a product, service, or idea. Some ads, such as legal announcements, are intended merely to inform, not to persuade. But they are still ads because they satisfy all the other requirements of the definition.
In addition to promoting tangible goods such as oranges, oatmeal, and olive oil, adver- tising helps publicize the intangible services of bankers, beauticians, bike repair shops, and bill collectors. Advertising is also used to advocate a wide variety of ideas, whether economic, political, religious, or social. In this book, the term product encompasses goods, services, and ideas.
An ad identifies its sponsor. This seems obvious. Typically the sponsor wants to be iden- tified, or why pay to advertise? One of the basic differences between advertising and public relations is that many PR activities (for example, publicity) aren’t openly sponsored. We’ll discuss the differences between advertising and other forms of marketing communications later in this chapter.
Finally, advertising reaches us through a channel of communication referred to as a medium. An advertising medium is any nonpersonal means used to present an ad to a large audience. Thus, we have radio advertising, television advertising, newspaper ads, Google ads, and so on. When you tell somebody how much you like a product, that’s sometimes called word-of-mouth (WOM) advertising. Although WOM is a communication medium, it has not generally been considered an advertising medium. However, the popularity of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, is forcing advertisers to reconsider this belief. Histori- cally, advertisers have used the traditional mass media (the plural of medium) to deliver their messages. But today technology enables advertising to reach us efficiently through a variety of addressable media (for example, direct mail) and digital media (like the Web). Advertisers also use an increasing variety of nontraditional media such as shopping carts, blimps, and DVDs to find their audience. A thorough understanding of the strengths, weaknesses, and capabilities of different media is important and we devote several chapters to the subject.
Now that you better understand the types of messages do and do not qualify as advertis- ing, let’s focus a bit more deeply on the concept as it is practiced today. You will first learn that modern advertising, at least as used by the world’s biggest brands, focuses less on making a single sale, and more on helping companies develop relationships with their customers and other stakeholders. We also show that for advertising to work best, it must be thoroughly integrated into the marketing communications efforts of a business.
Looking ahead to the other chapters in Part One, we will trace the evolution of IMC from its earliest practice, delve more deeply into the role of marketing messages in a free economy, review the most important regulatory and legal considerations practitioners must keep in mind, and consider the scope of advertising from local to global. Finally, we will consider the audiences for advertising messages.