Advertising - Strong vs. Weak


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Advertising - Strong vs. Weak

  1. 1. 7BSP1015 - Strategic Branding and Marketing Communications (Semester B 2010/11) Strong vs. Weak Theory of Advertising Debate Deniz Kurugollu 10283502 MSc Marketing 10th March 2011 Word count: 2608
  2. 2. „How advertising works‟ has been discussed for long times. What it is meant by „howadvertising works‟ is the impact an advertisement has on receivers, in particular, howconsumers react to the communication message which carries the advertiser‟s desiredresponse (Moriatry et al, 2009). It appears that the debate is mainly gathered into twogroups; whether advertising is a strong or weak force. Fundamentally, strong forceproponents suggest that advertising is strong enough to add to consumers‟ knowledge andchange their attitudes toward a brand, and consequently is able to convert people from non-buyers to become buyers by persuading them, eventually generate sales (Jobber, 2010). Onthe other hand, weak theory proponents advocate that advertising has only a limited effect onconsumers; hence it is not strong enough to convert people, who hold different beliefs fromthose in advertisement, and overcome their resistance. Therefore, advertising is mainly usedto reinforce existing brand perceptions rather than change attitudes (Moriatry et al, 2009). Inthis respect, the weak theory of advertising is also called as „reinforcement‟ or publicitymodel, whereas the strong theory is referred to „persuasion‟ model (Ehrenberg et al, 1998;Ambler, 2000). The aim of this paper is to critically evaluate both schools of advertising. Inthis competitive vein, firstly, AIDA model (Strong, 1925), Lavidge and Steiner model (1961),DAGMAR (Colley, 1961) and the Elaboration Likelihood Model ( Petty and Cacioppo, 1983)will be touched on as the models of the strong theory, whereas ATR-N (Ehrenberg, 1998) asthe single manifestation of the weak theory. Then, the both schools of advertising as aphilosophy will be discussed. Finally, a clear conclusion with recommendations will follow.The most frequently referred persuasion model to explain how advertising works is AIDA,originally invented by E. St Elmo Lewis, a salesman (Ambler, 2000). Later on, this model isadopted by advertising practitioners in a similar way to explain the communication process inadvertising (see appendix 1). The model implies that advertising communication is a linearmodel. However, recent studies show that human brain does not process information basedon the linear route (Heath and Feldwick, 2008). This model also indicates two roles for allads. First one is the „informational role‟ - making people aware of the offering; and secondone is the „persuasive role‟ - making people convince about the offering (Yeshin, 2006).Again, it might be argued that the first role is not always the case, for example, when thebrand is already known by the customer. Likewise, the second role may not be achievedwhere there are small, or no differences to sell between competing brands, for instance,most „fast moving consumer markets‟ (Ehrenberg, 1998).Another mostly cited hierarchy model from the strong school is put forward by Lavidge andSteiner (1961). Similarly, the model offers several stages that consumers need to go throughfrom awareness of the product or service being advertised up to purchase stage (seeappendix 2). All stages until the purchase should be followed step by step, otherwise thedesired outcome will not be accomplished (Yeshin, 2006). However, these steps do not needto take equal time – that is; consumers may experience several steps at once, or theinteraction between stages may occur in the long-term (Barry and Howard, 1990). In thisrespect, this model recognizes the longer term effect of advertising. Yet, the main aim is stillregarded as „purchase‟. 1
  3. 3. The next hierarchy model from the strong school is DAGMAR, which stands for DefiningAdvertising Goals for Measured Advertising Results (Colley, 1961). As understood from itsname, this model suggests a method to measure advertising impacts unlike its predecessorsfocusing on sales alone (Barry and Howard, 1990). In addition, Colley (in Yeshin, 2006)indicates to several concepts such as specific timescale, benchmarking, precise targetaudience so that advertising effectiveness can be measured accurately. It can therefore beconcluded that DAGMAR model contributes to the understanding of overall process ofmarketing communication planning and measurement, instead of the selling process alone.But, still the ultimate goal is seen as „purchase‟ (see appendix 3).Above mentioned models from the strong school so far is dependent on hierarchy of effects,namely cognition (attention, awareness), affect (interest, desire) and conation (action, i.e.purchase). In other words, the hierarchy is based on „think – feel – do‟. It seems that there isan agreement on these three stages; however, the order of them is the subject of mostdebate. From the various combinations of these three elements, researchers indicate to sixalternative sequences (Kiesler, 1971; Kelly, 1973; Zajonc, 1980). However, Barry andHoward (1990) conclude that only four of them are empirically achieved. The appendix 4illustrates these four models, integrated with so-called FCB matrix which considers low andhigh involvement situations in advertising communication process (Vaughn 1986). Eachsequence therefore may explain how consumers react upon advertising to some extent.These hierarchy models (based on cognition, affect, conation) are long times used as aconceptual tool which provides with information on where advertising strategies should focus(Yeshin, 2006). They are regarded as a heuristic tool in the minds of practitioners for helpingthem to organize, planning, training, etc (Barry and Howard, 1990). However, Vakratsas andAmbler (1999) point out that the persuasive hierarchy models are flawed because the modelsassume that the brain works through a series of stages; also, they ignore the consumer‟sexperience of previous product usage. They regard consumers as passive in thecommunication process, but as White (2000: 46) states “it is not what the advertiser puts intothe ad that ultimately matters; it is what consumer takes out of the ad.” Furthermore,neuroscience reveals that the sequential nature of these models, no matter whethercognition precedes affect or other way around, is not the case because these brain functionsare simultaneous and interactive (Ambler, 2000).The last model from the strong school that is touched on in this paper is the ElaborationLikelihood Model (see appendix 5). As its predecessors, ELM is a model of informationprocessing and persuasion (Lien, 2001). However, it should be noted that unlike the abovementioned models which are very simplistic in their portrayal of human behaviour andresponse, and regard consumer as passive whose decision to buy are influenced by onlyadvertising; ELM takes into consideration of several factors such as consumers‟ prioropinion, personal relevance, expertise, need for cognition, message repetition, and so on(Lien, 2001; Weilbacher, 2001, Vakratsas and Ambler, 1999). 2
  4. 4. Finally, before starting the discussion on the philosophies of both schools, the mechanism ofthe ATR-N model, single manifestation of the weak theory, is explained now. The appendix 6represents the model. The model explains that advertising can initially arouse someawareness and interests (for a new brand) by announcing information which hopefully leadscustomers towards trial purchases, and then (for brands that have already been bought)provides reinforcement. During this process, some consumers may be nudged into buyingthe brand more often or to choose it over the competitive brands in their evoked sets. In thissense, it appears that, unlike the aggressive nature of the strong theory, the weak theory ismore defensive in its spirit, yet still effective force (Ehrenberg, 1998).In light of the above stated persuasion models, it can be concluded that the ultimate aim ofadvertising communication is to close the sales (i.e. purchase). The strong view, therefore,advocates that advertising is such a powerful force that makes consumers buy a product,which they have never previously purchased, by affecting their knowledge, attitudes, andbeliefs. It aims at persuasion and growth. In this respect, advertising is able to build brands,generates extra sales in the short-term, and creates long-run purchasing behaviour, henceconstant growth (White, 2000; Fill, 2009).On the other hand, the weak view proposes that the main aim of advertising is to providebrand salience (being in one‟s consideration set) by keeping consumers aware of the brand.This is achieved through repetition in order to strengthen the memory (Ehrenberg et al,1998). In this sense, advertising is believed to work in the longer term. Moreover, Ehrenbergclaims that attitude change is not a compulsory predecessor to purchase (Heath andFeldwick, 2008). Such that, Millward Brown (in Ambler, 2000: 2) reveals that unlike what isbelieved in the persuasion models, consumer attitudes do not precede brand behaviour, butvice versa. This finding, therefore, supports the weak theory. In this context, Ambler (1998:501) notes that “when you get marketing and advertising research showing that logicalpersuasion (cognition) is important; probably the reason is that they did not measureanything else”.Since the AIDA model comes originally from the personal selling perspective, it is notsurprising to understand the „short-term sales growth‟ penchant of the strong theoryproponents. Jones (1997: 6) states: “ the short term, advertising is demonstrably capable of generating a powerful effect on consumer purchasing...effective advertising sells. Advertising is indeed salesmanship.”This shows the notion of strong theory clearly. Because of the personal selling analogy, itcan be inferred that advertising is regarded as a tool to close sales. In the same vein, it isseen as short-term, i.e. „see ad, buy now‟. Hereupon, Ehrenberg et al (1998: 11) ask that“what would the world look like if many or most people were to respond directly to most adsthey see?” As a matter of fact, most advertised brands cannot all grow. 3
  5. 5. From this discussion, considering today‟s marketing communication approach where eachelements of communication mix (in fact, marketing mix) are suggested to be integrated, onemay find the above statement hard to believe, at least to prove its validity (Kotler, 2005).Sales might be driven by various factors such as positive word of mouth, interaction withsalesman, current mood of the customer and so on as well as advertising. Thus, justbecause it has been advertising, and sales increase, it is not safe to assume that only theadvertising is responsible since isolating advertising from all other factors is difficult (White,2000, Colley, 1961). Besides, regarding the other side of the coin where sales dramaticallydecrease after an advertising campaign, it would not be fair to charge only the advertisingwith the bad result. Therefore, it is evident that sales are the result of a combination ofmarketing factors, not only advertising (Weilbacher, 2001). In this respect, advertising alonedoes not seem to work as the persuasion models indicate – to close the sale by persuadingconsumers and changing their attitudes, moreover, in the short term (Ehrenberg, 1998;Ambler, 2000). However, some exceptions may be argued.The persuasion models move all consumers from „awareness‟ to „purchase‟ stage in theshort term. However, advertising generally is doomed to „delay effect‟ (Yeshin, 2006). White(2000) states that people rarely take any instant action on seeing an ad, except for directresponse ads. In this context, one may argue that direct response advertising tends tobehave more like a promotional approach. Thus, Ehrenberg et al. (1998: 15) indicate that“informing consumers about this week‟s price cut or the existence of a new brand is not„persuasive advertising” (see appendix 7 for examples). Furthermore, interactive TV adswhere viewers press the button on the remote control and purchase a given offering can beproposed within the strong theory. However, at the time, it is expected viewers to know thebrand beforehand [as the weak theory suggest “advertising works with experiencedconsumers for an already known brand” (Ehrenberg, 1998: 2)], or the product must beconsidered as low-involvement – i.e. low risk, low cost [again, this may already apply on „trial‟stage in the weak theory]. As a result, even in direct response ads, what the persuasionmodels assert is dubious. It might be suggested that if the „action‟ stage in the strong theorymodels is defined such as click on a web-site, call a toll-free number; or integrated with salespromotions such as return an inquiry card, coupons and so on, instead of „purchase‟, thenadvertising might apply on strong theory (see appendix 8 for examples).The strong theory models regard consumers as rational, active purchasers in a way that theyare actively seeking information to purchase a product. However, Moriatry et al (2009) statethat consumers are not very interested in advertising. Also, the amount of informationcommunicated is limited. Therefore, advertising is more effective at retaining customersrather than converting new ones. Likewise, Fill (2009) maintain that the time available in TVad is not enough to bring about conversion, coupled with people‟s ability to stop theircognitive involvement; there may be no effective communication. 4
  6. 6. There seems to be a consensus on the notion that strong theory may apply more on highinvolvement purchases – where there is high cost and risk such as car, education or newproduct purchases (Ewing and Jones, 2000; Ambler, 2000; Jobber, 2010). it might be difficultto understand this view; namely expecting consumers to buy a car based on merelyadvertising without talking to his friends, going test-drive, consulting with the salesperson;similarly, expecting the purchase of a new brand to be driven by only advertising without anyeffect of the brand assets such as packaging, price, design, and without any help of othercommunication mix elements, especially sale promotions.The purpose of this essay was to evaluate the strong and weak theory of advertising debateand relevant models attached to each school. To conclude, it appears that the strong andweak theory discussion stem from the positioning of advertising. In this sense, the strongtheory view could be regarded as „over-positioning‟, i.e. advertising is able to close to sales,convert people from non-buyers to buyers, change their attitudes; in fact, does all of them inthe short term; whereas the weak theory as „under-positioning‟, i.e. advertising only refreshesbrand awareness, maintain salience, and hopefully nudges some consumers. In this respect,both of them are far from qualifying advertising role accurately. This might be because bothviews, one way or another, are dependent on sales-orientation (i.e. „trial‟ = first purchase bythe weak theory; „action‟ = purchase by the strong theories). Nevertheless, considering thenature of the discussion, one may find the weak theory more reasonable in the real life,especially in fmcg markets, habitual purchases where there are few differences betweenproducts. The strong theory, in a way that the models suggest, seems able to work in directresponse ads, albeit arguable.To refer to the image on the cover page, both the pawn (advertising based on weak theory)and the king (advertising based on strong theory) have their unique powers and abilities. Inthis sense, they are both effective and have the same importance in the game. The case is toappreciate that they (i.e. advertising) are just one of the players on the chessboard whichrefers to „marketing communication‟ where all players are integrated.It can be suggested that the role of advertising should be looked for beyond its ability togenerate sales. In particular, it is dependent on a range of communication objectives such ascreate awareness, stimulate trial, position products, create image, correct misconceptions,remind and reinforce, provide support for sales force, and so on (Jobber, 2010). It cantherefore be noted that advertising works better regarding different objectives and responses.In this context, the „Frameworks‟ model by Hall and Maclay (in White, 2000: 47), the„Strategic Experiential Modules‟ (Schmitt, 1999), the „Facet Model‟ (Moriatry et al, 2009)could be recommended to evaluate advertising effectiveness. A full discussion of thesemodels is not within the bounds of this essay. However, further research to focus on them inregards to „how ads work‟ may be a worthwhile area of study. 5
  7. 7. ReferencesAmbler, T. (1998) „Myths about the mind: time to end some popular beliefs about how advertisingworks‟. International Journal of Advertising. 17 (4), pp. 501–509.Ambler, T. (2000) „Persuasion, pride, prejudice: how ads work‟. International Journal of Advertising. 19(3) [Downloaded from WARC].Barry, E.T. and Howard, J.D. (1990) „A review and critique of the hierarchy of effects in advertising‟.International Journal of Advertising. 9 (2), pp. 121-135.Colley, R. (1961) Defining Advertising Goals for Measured Advertising Result. Association of NationalAdvertisers: New York.Ehrenberg, A.S.C., Bernard, N., Scriven, J. (1998) „Justifying our advertising budgets: an overview‟.WARC. Conference Papers. March. thFill, C. (2009) Marketing Communications: interactivity, communities and content. 5 ed. Essex:Pearson Education Limited.Gold, H. (2010) „Interactive TV ads: real life examples‟. Available at: [Accessed 5thMarch 2011]Heath, R. and Feldwick, P. (2008) „Fifty years using the wrong model of advertising‟. InternationalJournal of Market Research. 50 (1) [Downloaded from WARC]. thJobber, D. (2010) Principles and Practice of Marketing. 6 ed. Berkshire: McGraw HillJones, J.P. (1990) „Advertising: Strong Force or Weak Force? Two Views an Ocean Apart‟.International Journal of Advertising. 9 (July-September), pp 233-46.Jones, J.P. (1997) „Is advertising still salesmanship?‟ Journal of Advertising Research. 37 (3)[Downloaded from WARC].Jones, J.P. and Ewing, M.T. (2000) „Agency beliefs in the power of advertising‟. International Journalof Advertising. 19 (3) [Downloaded from WARC].Kelley, C. A. (1973) „The process of causal attribution‟. American Psychologist. 28, pp. 107-128.Kiesler, C. A. (1971) The Psychology of Commitment: Experiments Linking Behavior to Belief. NewYork: Academic Press. thKotler, P. (2005) Principles of Marketing. 4 ed. Essex: Pearson Education Limited.Lavidge, R. J., & Steiner, G. A. (1961) „A model for predictive measurements of advertisingeffectiveness‟. Journal of Marketing. 25, pp. 59-62.Lien, N.H. (2001) „Elaboration likelihood model in consumer research: a review‟. Proc. Natl. Sci.Counc. ROC (C). 11 (4), pp.301- 310. thMoriatry, S., Mitchell, N., Wells, W. (2009) Advertising: principles and practice. 8 ed. New Jersey:Pearson Prentice Hall.Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1983) „Central and peripheral routes to advertising effectiveness: Themoderating role of involvement‟. Journal of Consumer Research. 10, pp. 134-148.Schmitt, H. B. (1999) Experiential marketing: how to get customers to sense, fell, think, act, and relateto your company and brands. New York: The Free Press 6
  8. 8. Strong, Jr., E. K. (1925) „Theories of selling‟. The Journal of Applied Psychology. 9 pp. 75-86.Vakratsas, D. and Ambler, T. (1999) „How Advertising Works: What Do We Really Know?‟Journal of Marketing. 63 (1), pp. 26-43.Vaughn, R. (1986) „How advertising works: a planning model revisited‟. Journal of AdvertisingResearch. 26, pp 57-66.Weilbacher, W.M. (2001) „Does advertising cause a hierarchy of effects?‟ Journal of AdvertisingResearch. 41 (6), pp 19-26. thWhite, R. (2000) Advertising. 4 ed. Berkshire: McGraw-Hill.Yeshin, T. (2006) Advertising. London: Thomson Learning.Zajonc, R. B. (1980) „Feeling and thinking: preferences need no inferences‟. American Psychologist.35, pp.151-175. 7
  9. 9. Appendix 1: AIDA Model Desire Action Attention Interest (Convinction) (purchase)This formula is proposed as an effective way to follow for personal selling. It suggests that asalesperson should first get customer‟s attention, provoke interest, create desire for theproduct, and then get action by closing the sale (Heath and Feldwick, 2008). Therefore, AIDAmodel suggests that the first task of any campaign is to cut through the mess and get theattention of the consumer. The next stage is the prompt of an interest for the proposition.Then, the advertising needs to create a desire for the offering, and also to convict thepotential consumer to buy the offering. Eventually, the consumer acts upon the advertising,namely, buys the product (Howard and Barry, 1990).Adapted from; Jobber, 2010 Appendix 2: Lavidge & Steiner Model Awareness Knowledge Liking Preference Convinction PurchaseFollowing awareness, consumers need to be informed about the product‟s features andbenefits, then they need to develop a liking towards it, then they need to prefer the givenproduct over the similar ones, finally before the actual purchase occurs, consumers need tobe persuaded by the offering and form a purchase intention.Adapted from: Yeshin, 2006 Appendix 3: DAGMAR Model Action Awareness Comprehension Convinction (purchase)Adapted from: Yeshin, 2006 8
  10. 10. Appendix 4: The FCB MatrixFCB model recognizes two dimensions in advertising communication mechanism. First oneis the involvement level of purchase situations while the second dimension is about whetherthinking precedes feeling, or vice versa. Low involvement situations refer to those thatconsumers do not spent much time to make purchase decision, where the cost is low, whichinvolve less risk such as frequently purchased food items, cheap products, and so on. On theother hand, high involvement situations relate to those where there is high cost and risk suchas car, education or new product purchases (Jobber, 2010). The second dimension refers towhether the product is selected primarily in terms of its functional benefits or emotionalfactors (White, 2000).Adapted from: Yeshin, 2006; Barry and Howard, 1990 9
  11. 11. Appendix 5: The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM)As seen in the figure, this model recognizes the consumer‟s ability and motivation to processinformation. After considering these antecedents, the model states that consumers followone of the routes based on their elaboration likelihood. If the elaboration likelihood high – thatis, when the consumer is highly involved in the message content - then he follows the centralroute to persuasion. On the other hand, if the elaboration likelihood is low – that is, when theconsumer are not interested in the message content – then he follows peripheral cues (, pictures, attractiveness, likability of ad) for attitude change (Lien, 2001). Thedifference could be seen between „hard-sell‟ advertising (central route) and „soft- sell‟advertising (peripheral route).Source: Fill (2009: 239) Appendix 6: The ATR-N Model Awareness Trial Reinforcement NudgingSource: Yeshin, 2006 10
  12. 12. Appendix 7: Persuasive ad examplesThe following ads might lead consumers to immediate purchase, to switch brand, andtherefore they can generate short term sales growth as the strong theory suggests. However,it is open to question whether the outcome is the result of advertising or the nature of theinformation given in the ads. Consequently, the ad makes consumer aware of the offeringand the brand itself as the weak theory suggests.Source: tellyAds(2011) „Tesco - Get Set, Go Free!‟. Available at: th [Accessed 5 March 2011]Source: tellyAds (2011) „Tesco - Half Price Christmas Specials‟. Available at: th [Accessed 5 March 2011]Source: tellyAds (2011) „Tesco - Price Check Asda’. Available at: th [Accessed 5 March 2011] 11
  13. 13. Appendix 8: Interactive TV ad / promotion examples1) “When the ad appears, a greenthumb appears in the right corner ofthe screen that reads, „Apply now for avaluable coupon from Charmin.‟ Whenviewers click the thumb using theirremote control, they are taken to acoupon request screen. The couponsare sent by mail.” (Gold, 2010) 2) “By clicking on „Order Your Pizza‟ viewers can log-in with a simple account number, build their pizza order right from the television and get the pizza delivered by their local Dominos Pizza." (Gold, 2010)3) “With the help of link available on video,consumers obtain additional informationabout the specific items (e.g. jacket in thisvideo) and to make a purchase” (Gold,2010) 12