184.108.40.206 Advertising as Creative Publicity
While the ideas of Feldwick and Heath “offer a more plausible explanation of how 30 seconds of apparent nonsense, watched through half-closed eyes, can affect brand preference and buying behaviour, than the old idea of the ‘selling proposition’” (Heath & Feldwick 2008, p.51) there is another perspective that, while agreeing in the rejection of persuasion and the rational message, instead sees the role of advertising in “creative publicity”, as marketing science’s sage Ehrenberg (2002, p.7) labeled it.
Ehrenberg concluded early that advertising “is not as powerful as is sometimes thought, nor is there any evidence that it actually works by any strong form of persuasion or manipulation” (Ehrenberg 1974, p.25 qtd. in Heath & Feldwick 2008, p.40). In fact, in an article published in 2002 he listed brand differentiation and persuasive advertising as some of the marketing’s most persistent “romantic fantasies” (Ehrenberg 2002, p.1).
According to his decade-long research into buying behaviour “[p]eople don’t differentiate in that way among most brands. It has been shown repeatedly that users of brand A feel about brand A much as users of brand B feel about brand B” (Ehrenberg 2002, p.2). Consumers are then not loyal in the strictest sense but really polygamous buyers of a set of habitual brands:
This means that advertising for an established brand can hardly persuade people into a differentiating attitude change nor can it persuade them to more loyalty, as those things hardly vary from brand to brand within a category (Ehrenberg et al. 2002, p.9). What advertising can do however, is create publicity for the brand, i.e. present it to the public and remind it that it exists.
Ehrenberg argues that advertisements usually don’t feature persuasive content and that it consequently doesn’t change people’s opinions (Ehrenberg et al. 2002, p.7). This is also coherent with what communication researchers have long argued for regarding the agenda setting function of mass media, i.e. that media does not tell people what to think, but more what to think about (McCombs & Shaw 1972).
What advertising does by creating creative publicity is affecting the brand’s salience, which – according to Ehrenberg is the best measure of a brands’ success.
As there is usually a long time-lag between an advertising exposure and the actual act of purchase, effective advertising requires long-term memory (Ehrenberg et al. 1997, p.9). This associations in long-term memory are built on the one hand by repetition and on the other hand through all kinds of other brand exposures, such as WOM, brand usage, POS or even recalling memories. Once associations are stored in the long-term memory, they are hardly ever completely forgotten. As people build highly individualized memory-structures, “[p]ublicizing a brand is [.] about what consumers do with the advertising rather than what advertisements do to consumers […]” (Ehrenberg et al. 1997, p.10). So with long-term memory in mind, advertising’s task is then to find creative ways to publicise the brand, refresh and build new memory traces and “to make the brand distinctive rather than differentiated” (Sharp 2010a, p.353).
Ehrenberg argues that this ‘mere publicity’ perspective might actually be liberating for creatives, as advertising then becomes “making distinctive and memorable publicity for the brand out of next to nothing” (Ehrenberg 2002, p.16) and communication being less inhibited by the self-replication of one single minded proposition (ibid.)
This point of view on advertising leaves the very individualized perspective of hierarchy of effects models behind, in that it focuses on making the brand salient for the public. It states that the more people view a brand as salient, the more buy it and the bigger the brand will become. Thinking about publishing, however, always implies thinking of a public, which is usually comprised by more than one person. Therefore, criticising advertising’s and brand management’s individualistic view of consumers, Mark Earls argues that human behaviour and advertising might actually be better understood from a herd perspective.
Advertising then, is viewed as something that “[...] sometimes at least, works in the context of groups rather than individuals” (Earls 2003, p.327) and creativity’s role is to make something salient in the context of social networks, not of isolated consumers.
Ehrenberg, A., Bloom, H., Barnard, N. & Kennedy, R., 2002. Brand advertising as creative publicity. Journal of Advertising Research, 42(4), S. 7–18.
Ehrenberg, A., 2002. Marketing: Are you really a realist? strategy + business, 27(Second Quarter 2002), S. 22–25.
Ehrenberg, A., 1974. Repetitive Advertising and the Consumer. Journal of Advertising Research, 14(2), S. 24–34.
Ehrenberg, A., Barnard, N. & Scriven, J., 1997. Differentiation or salience. Journal of Advertising Research, 37(6), S. 7–14.
Heath, R. & Feldwick, P., 2008. Fifty years using the wrong model of advertising. International Journal of Market Research, 50(1), S. 29.
McCombs, M.E. & Shaw, D.L., 1972. The agenda-setting function of mass media. Public Opinion Quarterly, 36(2), S. 176.
Sharp, B., 2010. Ehrenberg’s View of Advertising. Journal of Advertising Research, 50(4), S. 352–353. Available at: [Zugegriffen März 8, 2011].
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