When we think of advertising today, we think “Brands”, we think hoardings of scantily dressed sensuous women. Some of us even think of a bunch of people jumping up and down- making a fuss over a small little bar of soap. But is that all that advertising is about? If not, then what is it really? What does make advertising tick? What keeps it going?
By definition, advertising is a paid, non-personal, persuasive means of communicating messages or delivering information to the audience, and an integral part of Marketing. But this definitive definition doesn’t really answer our questions as we still don’t know ‘why’ it works! So, let’s try unravelling the mystery of what makes advertising work. To begin with let us start from the beginning:
• The need is an age old one. Ancient Egyptians made sales messages and wall posters out of papyrus. Commercial messages and political campaigns were displayed in ancient cities of Pompeii and Arabia. Even the wall paintings of ancient India dating back to 4000 B.C are now considered to be some form of advertising. But there were no brands there, and no advertising agencies, no billboards and no T.V channels. Then why did people advertise, for whom, and what for? Answering this is both simple and complicated. For though there was no organised form of advertising happening there, and there was no advertising industry etc. yet advertising had become a very relevant part of mans’ life long before he realised it. The need arose as, with settlement and evolution of civilizations there grew a need for guilds and villages of artist and craftsmen etc., to simply create a unique identity for their work. So it is fairly safe to conclude that advertising arose out of a need for a product or a service to own an identity.
• However, with time, the sole aim for advertising could not be just the creation of an identity. Also, as Europe, followed by Britain, was engulfed by the Renaissance and knowledge engulfed mankind, different ideologies began to spring up. Philosophies of ‘symbolism’, ‘existentialism’ etc. created a new wave of thinking and man became more self aware. Individualism crept in and the ‘self’ became the centre of one’s Universe. The new wave of thought affected all aspects of life- and the still maturing field of advertising was no exception. So, as and when more and more players became part of the market, it became a necessity for producers and manufacturers of goods and services not just to have an identity, but to have an identity that set a player apart from the other players. Thus, the market became a war zone for the various competitors and advertising became their weapon.
• Later still, as the world market economy evolved with the onslaught of the mechanization following the industrial revolution, advertising slowly grew to the stature of an industry and thereby became an integral part or the marketing strategy of organizations the world over. The television only reinforced its growing importance as the customer was completely overtaken by the whole phenomenon of advertising. Little stories that sang songs of these (apparently) wonderful products ‘just for them’, etc. were appealing to them for a long time. Ergo, the world of advertising continued to grow in leaps and bounds. Till this time the focus was still on ‘selling’!
• Then things changed. The consumer smartened up. You could no lo0nger sell anything to the customer as he realised the difference between publicity and propaganda. Also, he became aware of his importance in the whole game. He realised that everything was indeed about him! Consequently the industry had to grow accordingly. The focus shifted from ‘selling’ to persuading. Words like ‘target audience’, ‘advertising strategy’, ‘positioning’ slowly crept into the vocabulary of the advertisers and the advertising agencies. T.V channels helped advertising agencies woo and persuade their audience still, but he focus shifted from ‘selling’ to building awareness and persuading the customer into recognizing and even desiring their products. Research agencies conducted sophisticated researches and market analysis etc. to work out the details of what the audience needs and wants- in short, the ABC of what would make a saleable product for particular target groups. Consequently the advertising, as part of the marketing communication industry had had to evolve into a rather sophisticated business. Advertising agencies became even more important to the advertisers/industry. Hence both promoted each other as advertisements continued to work even as the mechanics behind them evolved.
• Today, as a result, advertising has evolved to the level of becoming a science. This it has done by involving in its fold aspects of ‘Brand Image’ formation, ‘Brand Loyalty’ etc. now it’s no longer just about brand differentiation or competing for a market space. Now the competition is for the ‘Mind Space’ of the target audience. The ‘top-of-the-mind-recall’ is what every FMCG, durables, services company wants. The fight is no longer for profitability, but for customer retention, customer loyalty.
Through all these evolutions, however, one thing that has remained constant is the need to please the customer. And if nothing else, then perhaps this will be the one force that will keep the advertising world up and running for as long as this world can learn to evolve according to customer demands. Perhaps that is the reason why advertising is crossing barriers for the sake of evolution once again. For as the new age customer changes his lifestyle according to the technological developments of the time, advertising too has entered into the realm of ‘New Age Media’ and ‘Digital Marketing’, never leaving sight of what catches his customers’ eye. Perhaps this is also an indication of the road that lies ahead… at least so far as ‘advertising’ is concerned!