Historically, the role of advertising has been to communicate the offer of a service or product in order to inform audiences about the details of place and price. In turn, the viewers, listeners and readers who need the product or service are motivated to act on the offer. By eliciting this consumer behavior, advertising has accomplished its goal of driving selective demand for a particular brand, product or service.
Today, with the rise of competition from national and international brands causing market saturation, and with the proliferation of communication channels that compete for the attention of each audience, advertising has become more than a message about the details of the offer. The role of advertising has expanded from (just) a means to get attention to an attempt to shape and manage perceptions.
What forces have influenced this transition? What has made many advertising messages separate and distinctly independent marketing messages, messages that are not at all holistic components of the brand?
The increasing number of informational messages we are exposed to on a daily basis has been a main driver of the change. Agencies that track exposure to advertising messages report numbers that vary from hundreds of messages a day to thousands a day, depending both on what types of advertising is counted – billboards, television, print and/or Web ads – and on who is tracked – the average adult American or the American professional. Regardless of the specific numbers, the fact remains that every consumer comes into daily contact with a plethora of competing advertising messages.
The fact that this overabundance of market information causes advertising messages to compete constantly for audience attention is a key factor that leads advertisers to change the ways they approach consumers. Another leading causal factor for change, according to advertising professionals, is the declining attention span of audiences. The length of a person’s attention span depends on what a person is focused on and on what their level of interest is in a certain topic. Therefore, the normal period of focused attention fluctuates somewhere between seconds and minutes. In fact, studies, polls and data-gathering agencies report a downward trend for all types of attention spans – whether the activity is listening to a lecture, viewing a slide presentation, reading or Web browsing.
With these declining attention spans, and in an effort to maintain the effectiveness of the advertising, many advertisers have chosen to create messages that appeal to simple human emotions such as fear and greed. They argue that, by sheer time constraint, advertising cannot develop a strong cognitive/rational argument and must, instead, present a “slice of life”; therefore, the message cannot be anything but an unbalanced representation. However, some feel that this reliance on primal emotions has made advertising, in general, unethical. They say such messages have no transparency, lack depth and clarity and are thus completely disassociated from the brand, product and service values.
Have you given in to time and emotion in your messaging? How can you once again match your message to your brand?
Key Point – When emotional appeal is used in advertising, it is much too easy for audiences with different value orientations to perceive messages as more or less skewed or unethical. When that happens, your advertising message may become subject to a higher level of controversy and may even be considered a misrepresentation of stakeholder interest.