What is the role of advertising in marketing?
It’s a deceptively simple question with enormous consequences that go far beyond mere terminology.
In this guide, we’ll break down where advertising fits into marketing, what the five pillars of “good” advertising are, and how to approach advertising for ecommerce growth in 2020.
We’ll also include metrics and 15 examples — both classic and modern — along the way to bring it to tactical life.
Here’s the path before us …
Advertising is the act of paying money for attention. Marketing is the larger process of connecting potential and existing customers to your brand.
With advertising, you have the product. Someone else has the audience. So, you pay them for the opportunity to place your message in front of their audience.
Marketing, on the other hand, encompasses everything from the market research involved in understanding your target market — i.e., target audience or ideal customer — to the actual marketing campaigns (your ads themselves) to public relations to aesthetics to … the list goes on.
In other words, advertising is a form of marketing: a tactical subset of a broader framework.
Naturally, as you put together your marketing plan and move your advertising strategy into action complexities emerge.
For instance, types of advertising typically fall along two marketing-channel divisions defined by where ad space is purchased. One, physical manifestations — like print advertising, direct mail, out-of-home (OOH), and television. Two, digital advertising that appears online via social media platforms, search engines, marketplaces (e.g., Amazon), email marketing, etc.
In addition, marketing itself has been divided into five Ps:
Despite that complexity, don’t miss the forest for the trees …
Thankfully, there are only two sides to the role of advertising in marketing — your customer and your brand.
And there’s only one thing that unites them: action.
As David Ogilvy, the “Father of Advertising,” said:
“I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information. When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’
“I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.”
On the customer side, advertising’s role is to drive action.
That’s it. That’s all you should care about. Are people purchasing after seeing your ads? Are those ads stimulating the right emotion and enough emotion to get customers to move?
For your brand, it’s identical. The only difference is perspective.
Whether you’re a small business owner or directing the marketing efforts at an enterprise, you have the added lens of (1) breaking that action into measurable units and (2) doing so profitably.
United by a relentless focus on action, advertising is the fastest and most straightforward way to drive sales at scale.
At least, if your advertising is actually ... good.
When contemplating what makes an ad good, it’s common to focus on methods and platforms.
After all, we have more options, channels, methods, and technologies available to advertisers than at any other time in history.
But the truth is that “good” advertising has a timeless quality to it.
While methods and platforms change, people do not. As renowned advertiser Bill Bernbach explains:
“It took millions of years for man’s instincts to develop. It will take millions more for them to even vary. It is fashionable to talk about changing man.
“A communicator must be concerned with unchanging man, with his obsessive drive to survive, to be admired, to succeed, to love, to take care of his own.”
Our goal in advertising is first to understand human behavior. We want to identify that core, unchangeable aspect of who people are and speak directly to it.
Then, to exert influence and change the course of history.
That may sound grandiose but much of our world today was scripted by advertisers.
Whether we talk about the De Beers’ advertisers who made diamond engagement rings a virtually unquestioned staple of modern society ...
Or innovators like Dollar Shave Club who catapulted DTC shaving into public consciousness, changed the narrative on consumer-packaged goods, and paved the way for brands like Supply to bring a well-received premium version to market.
While not every ad will transform the world, it can and must transform the world of your customers.
In fact, we’ve turned the lessons from transformative ads into five pillars of advertising:
We’ll spend the rest of this article diving into each of these pillars. The first is the simplest.
Think of your offer as an ad’s center of gravity around which all else turns.
Be careful though: offer doesn’t mean discount; neither does promotion in the five Ps. That’s a truncated way of thinking about it.
An offer — the almighty offer — is the sum total of your product(s), price, and positioning.
Gravity may be too weak of a word. In Breakthrough Advertising, Eugene Schwartz’s went so far as to write:
“Five to ten words will make up about 90% of the value of your ad.
“If you are right, they may start a new industry. If you are wrong, nothing you write after them will save your ad.”
Schwartz’s point wasn’t that every ad has to be less than five-to-ten words. Rather, it was that if your ad doesn’t connect a new product people want at a price they can justify — i.e., positioning the benefits as far outweighs the costs (monetary and otherwise) — then the whole thing is doomed to failure.
The degree to which your product satisfies market demand is referred to as “product-market fit.”
The more people want your offer the less work you have to do to persuade them via your advertising.
The less they want it — the less aware they are of the problem it solves or the benefits it bestows — the more creative and persuasive you need to be to drive purchasing.
Ultimately, it’s possible for your offer to be so unwanted that no amount of advertising can sell it.
That harsh reality demands product-market fit before anything else.
If you already know people want the offer, you can focus on the other aspects of your ads. If you don’t, it makes it difficult to diagnose problems in your ads:
If you can eliminate that big variable right from the beginning, it will make the rest of the process much quicker and smoother.
The second pillar of advertising deals with the framework through which you convert your target audience.
AIDA is the oldest model in the world that covers the series of effects an ad should have on a consumer: i.e., the funnel. First formulated in 1898, by ad executive E. St. Elmo Lewis, it’s the backbone of all advertising theory and practice.
Far from an archaic and out-dated framework …
AIDA should be used to create, measure, and optimize your advertising.
As we move through each part of the funnel, we’ll show you exactly how to do that and include both classic and modern examples.
If advertising is the act of paying money for attention (and it is), then the headline and visual — the ad creative — are your best tools for getting that attention.
Starting with a classic example, Gillette’s advertisers used this headline and image to create a powerful curiosity hook.
What on Earth does a picture of eggs in a pan have to do with razor blades?
You really want to know.
You’re probably less interested in shaving technology, and that’s why focusing on the content of the ad from the beginning wasn’t the choice of Gillette’s advertisers in this campaign.
How does that apply today?
Will this stop my audience in their social-media-scrolling tracks?
Three-second video views divided by impressions equals the percentage of people that engage; +25-30% is a solid benchmark
If your headline or first image really stops people in their tracks, the rest of your shopping flow must pay off that attention by developing interest.
These Avis ads take the reins from the headline and accelerate to a gallop, providing an interesting case for why being second equates to better customer service and playing into the enthusiastic underdog archetype that people love so much.
Once you’ve grabbed the reader’s attention, give them something worth reading.
Will this capture the audience’s interest from beginning to end?
Video average watch times above three seconds on Facebook and Instagram or above 30 seconds on YouTube
Advertising is the art of leveraging desires.
But, of course, it’s not necessarily that easy to define what that desire might be or how to speak to it.
In most cases though, it’s a lot simpler than we think.
There’s nothing sexy about stains or the cleaning of stains.
But for thousands of housewives — at the time this ad was released — cleaning out stains was a daily challenge, and coming up with a better solution for cleaning those stains was a real, tangible desire.
In this ad, Ogilvy uses one of the first applications of content marketing within the advertisement itself and connects the product to the desire in the process.
In today’s landscape, where content and advertising frequently intermix, applying this same concept has never been easier.
Will this create a tangible desire for the product being sold?
Average outbound click-through rates (CTRs) above 1% mean the ad — its content plus its call-to-action (CTA) — was compelling
At the end of every ad is a distinct, measurable outcome: purchase. This is the action.
And yet, despite its chronological location, action must be kept at the forefront of your mind throughout the creation process.
It’s the only metric by which the ad will ultimately be evaluated.
Newer advertisers often wonder why old ads and advertisers are so heavily scrutinized by today’s advertisers and used so frequently in guides just like this. The answer to that question becomes apparent when you look at the ad below and ask yourself, “What is the desired action from this ad?”
For this ad to be a success, it requires the reader to get up, get their family dressed, and physically transport their family down to Ohrbach’s department store.
That’s a tall order.
The ad needs to be really good to prompt that level of action. If you scroll up through the previous ads we’ve featured, you’ll see a similar theme. Responding to these ads required some work on the part of the reader.
Things are a bit different today.
In most cases, you only need a few clicks.
With today’s technologies, it’s never been easier to drive purchasing action, and you have a wealth of analytics capabilities at your disposal to help you along the way.
Will this motivate the audience to take action?
At the bottom of the creative funnel, cost per purchase and purchases themselves — return on ad spend (ROAS)
The third pillar of advertising is research.
While all of marketing deals with the dichotomy of creativity and science, nowhere is it more profoundly felt than in the world of advertising.
Big ideas come from the unconscious side of our psychology.
This is true in art, in science, and in advertising.
But if we want our unconscious side to generate ideas with any real legs, we need our conscious side to be well informed.
When our conscious self has done the research, our unconscious creativity can be unleashed on-target.
So, how do we do this?
How do we make our unconscious self well informed?
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
As we discussed earlier, human behavior is timeless, and understanding it is critical to advertising. Advertiser and behavioral scientist Richard Shotton puts it this way:
“Just as you would never go see a doctor who has no knowledge of physiology or an engineer ignorant of physics, it is foolhardy to work with an advertiser with no knowledge of behavioral science”.
If you want to sell things, you need to understand how people think. You need to understand what drives them, what influences them, how they interact, their biases, and more.
Behavioral psychology is the starting point, but it’s not enough by itself. You need to understand the specific audience that you want to sell to.
We have two categories of insights that can help us here.
The first comes from quantitative data. This is the hard data that gives us an unbiased, scientific look into customer activity.
Sources of quantitative data include:
Quantitative data deals only in measurable activity that can be easily defined, classified, filtered, and applied. The insights it produces are more objective and reliable.
At the same time, it struggles to understand or explain the underlying reasons behind measured activity.
The second type of insight comes from qualitative data. Qualitative data is feedback collected from real people in a variety of ways.
Sources of qualitative data include:
Qualitative data is more subjective and, thus, qualitative insights can be less reliable. At the same time, the flexibility and depth of qualitative data allows for much deeper and more actionable insights to be discovered
Good advertising always built on a combination of both quantitative and qualitative insights
The fourth pillar of advertising is context.
Your ad will never be viewed on an island. There is both a before and an after that needs to be integral to the creation of the ad.
Understanding the “before” is about understanding the medium on which the ad exists.
These days, that means understanding the social platform on which your ad exists. If you’re an ecommerce brand, that means understanding Facebook.
Understanding this type of information can be powerful when applied correctly to advertising.
For example, Blossom used insights just like these to turn video ads into viral content, generating 6x the average share rate on their videos and creating 3 of the 5 most shared videos in Facebook history.
However, this doesn’t simply mean measuring results.
The AIDA metrics outlined above give you an analytical framework for evaluating creative performance step-by-step and stage-by-stage.
It also gives you something to do with that data: iterate.
The Internet didn’t fundamentally change advertising’s role in marketing. Nor did it change marketing itself. At least not at the human, psychological level.
What it did was unlock our ability to quantify the moment during and immediately after someone experiences an ad.
With that qualification, it simultaneously unlocked our ability to tweak, edit, re-cut, and re-create an ad instead of constantly starting from scratch.
For example, that Miracle ad with the shouting queen from the Attention “hall of fame,” didn’t emerge into the world as a top-performer. It began its life like this:
Not particularly impressive, right?
So back to the drawing board? Wrong.
Rather than chalk the creative up an outright failure, our team took the existing assets and re-created this:
It’s easy to just focus on the bottom of the funnel: action (ROAS). But that would completely miss the point.
Instead, notice how the results stack on top of each other.
Only by breaking down an ad — stage by stage, metric by metric — can you transform middling creative into good … into exceptional.
The final piece of the puzzle is putting everything together into the creative.
As we mentioned earlier, creativity comes from our unconscious mind, so how do we go about coaxing out creative ideas?
This is where a disciplined process comes in handy.
Ultimately, creativity is simply drawing a new connection between pre-existing things.
Your back hurts. We are selling a chair. We connect your back pain to your current chair, and then we connect the idea of alleviated back pain to our chair.
But what’s the best way to make that connection?
Here’s the process we use at Common Thread Collective:
When most people think of great creative, they imagine a master sitting down and crafting a work of genius.
In reality, many of the best performing ads today are created as one in a large volume of ideas and iterations, and the most successful advertisers on platforms like Facebook today are creating and running 11x the number of ads as their competitors.
So our goal isn’t to get it right on any given creative. Our goal is to get it right across the entire campaign.
The better we understand the customer, the more efficient we’ll be, but trial and error will always be baked in the advertising process.
Advertising is a specific tool in your broader marketing toolbox that allows you to pay money for attention … with the singular goal of driving action.
Advertising is uniquely beneficial to ecommerce owners and operators in that it’s the only channel where you can get attention immediately and at scale.
To advertise effectively, incorporate five pillars:
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Aaron is the VP of Marketing at CTC. Previously the Editor in Chief of Shopify Plus, his content has appeared on Forbes, Mashable, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, The New York Times, and more. Connect with Aaron on Twitter or LinkedIn (especially if you want to talk about bunnies or #LetsGetRejected).