A Definition of Advertising I

A Definition of Advertising I

How advertising works requires a definition of what advertising is.

One definition of advertising is: "Advertising is the nonpersonal communication of information usually paid for and usually persuasive in nature about products, services or ideas by identified sponsors through the various media."(Bovee, 1992, p. 7) So much for academic doubletalk. Now let's take this statement apart and see what it means.


First, what is "nonpersonal"? There are two basic ways to sell anything: personally and nonpersonally. Personal selling requires the seller and the buyer to get together. There are advantages and disadvantages to this. The first advantage is time: the seller has time to discuss in detail everything about the product. The buyer has time to ask questions, get answers, examine evidence for or against purchase.

A second advantage of personal selling is that the seller can see you. The person rhe's selling to. Rhe can see your face, see how the sales message is getting across. If you yawn or your eyes shift away, you're obviously bored, and the seller can change approach. Rhe can also see if you're hooked, see what features or benefits have your attention, and emphasize them to close the sale.

Finally, the seller can easily locate potential buyers. If you enter a store, you probably have an interest in something that store sells. Street vendors and door-to-door sellers can simply shout at possibilities, like the Hyde Park (London) vendors who call out, "I say there, Guv'nor, can you use a set of these dishes?", or knock at the door and start their spiel with an attention grabber. From there on they fit their message to the individual customer, taking all the time a customer is willing to give them.

Disadvantages do exist. Personal selling is, naturally enough, expensive, since it is labor-intensive and deals with only one buyer at a time. Just imagine trying to sell chewing gum or guitar picks one-on-one; it would cost a dollar a stick or pick.

In addition, its advantage of time is also a disadvantage. Personal selling is time-consuming. Selling a stereo or a car can take days, and major computer and airplane sales can take years.

Nonetheless, although personal selling results in more rejections than sales, and can be nerve-racking, frustrating and ego destroying for the salesperson, when the salesperson is good it is more directed and successful than advertising.

From the above, it appears that personal selling is much better than advertising, which is nonpersonal. This is true. Advertising has none of the advantages of personal selling: there is very little time in which to present the sales message, there is no way to know just who the customer is or how rhe is responding to the message, the message cannot be changed in mid-course to suit the customer's reactions.

Then why bother with advertising? Because its advantages exactly replace the disadvantages of personal selling, and can emulate some of the advantages. First let's look at the latter.

First, advertising has, comparatively speaking, all the time in the world. Unlike personal selling, the sales message and its presentation does not have to be created on the spot with the customer watching. It can be created in as many ways as the writer can conceive, be rewritten, tested, modified, injected with every trick and appeal known to affect consumers. (Some of the latter is the content of this book.)

Second, although advertisers may not see the individual customer, nor be able to modify the sales message according to that individual's reactions at the time, it does have research about customers. The research can identify potential customers, find what message elements might influence them, and figure out how best to get that message to them. Although the research is meaningless when applied to any particular individual, it is effective when applied to large groups of customers.

Third, and perhaps of most importance, advertising can be far cheaper per potential customer than personal selling. Personal selling is extremely labor-intensive, dealing with one customer at a time. Advertising deals with hundreds, thousands, or millions of customers at a time, reducing the cost per customer to mere pennies. In fact, advertising costs are determined in part using a formula to determine, not cost per potential customer, but cost per thousand potential customers.

Thus, it appears that advertising is a good idea as a sales tool. For small ticket items, such as chewing gum and guitar picks, advertising is cost effective to do the entire selling job. For large ticket items, such as cars and computers, advertising can do a large part of the selling job, and personal selling is used to complete and close the sale.

Advertising is nonpersonal, but effective.


Communication means not only speech or pictures, but any way one person can pass information, ideas or feelings to another. Thus communication uses all of the senses: smell, touch, taste, sound and sight. Of the five, only two are really useful in advertising — sound and sight.


Smell is an extremely strong form of communication. However, when it comes to advertising, it is not very useful. A smell can immediately evoke memories. Remember times when you've smelled something and what memories came to your mind. The smell could be a perfume or aftershave that reminds you of Sheila or George. It could be popcorn, newly mown grass, char-broiling steak, or roses. Any smell can conjure up a memory for you.

However, that is smell's greatest problem for advertising. Although a smell can evoke a memory, everyone's memories are different. For example, the smell of hay in a cow barn always reminds me of my grandfather's farm in Indiana and the fun I had there as a child. To others, however, that same smell makes them think a cow had an accident in the living room, not at all the same response as mine. If an advertiser wanted to make me nostalgic about farms and grandparents, the smell would be perfect. To others the smell might evoke ideas of cow accidents or the pain of having to buck bales on a hot summer day, neither image of much use in making a product appealing.

The point is, the effect of using smell in advertising cannot be controlled by the advertiser. Although many people smell the same things, what they associate with those smells varies with each person. Without some control, smell is a very weak form of communication for advertising.


Touch has a limitation that makes it of little use to advertising — the customer has to come in actual contact with the item to be touched. Thus the item must actually exist and be put in a medium that can carry it. This puts touch more in the realm of personal selling than advertising.

It is possible to use touch for a limited number of products. For example, samples of cloth or paper can be bound into magazines. The potential customer can thus feel percale or the texture of corduroy, tell through touch the difference between slick magazine stock, embossing, Classic Laid or 100% rag paper. However, for the majority of products touch is useless for advertising.


Taste is probably the least useful communication channel available to advertising. Like touch, taste requires the potential customer to come in actual physical contact with the product. However, taste is even more limited than touch. There are few products other than food for which taste is a major selling point, and there is virtually no medium in which an ad can be placed that people are likely to lick; I'm sure few people are going to lick a magazine page or the TV screen, nor get much sense of what the product tastes like from them. It is possible to use direct mail, sending samples to homes, but that is an expensive way to advertise.

Thus, taste is much more effective in personal selling, such as sampling foods in supermarkets or in door-to-door sales.The remaining two senses, sound and sight, are the most effective and easily used channels of communication available to advertising. For these reasons virtually all advertising relies on them.


Sound is extremely useful for advertising. It can be used in a variety of media, from radio and television to the new technology of binding micro-sound chips in magazines to present 20-second sales messages. It is also capable of presenting words and "theatre of the mind."

Words, the method by which humans communicate their ideas and feelings, are presented by sound, by speaking aloud. Through the use of words it is possible to deliver logical arguments, discuss pros and cons, and evoke emotions.

More, through the use of sound it is possible to create what is called "the theatre of the mind." What this means is that sound can conjure in the listener's mind images and actions that don't necessarily exist. For example, if you want to create before the mind's eye the image of a party, you need merely use the sound effects of people talking and laughing, the tinkle of glasses and ice, perhaps music in the background. Even easier, tape record a party and play it back. To evoke images of a soft spring day the sounds of a breeze rustling leaves, the chirrup of insects, the soft call of birds is sufficient. The listener's mind will take those sounds, combine them, make sense of them, and create an image suited to their individual taste.  For example, a beer commercial may play the sounds of a bar in the background, and the listener may imagine themselves in their own favorite bar, and perhaps ordering that brand of beer. Thus sound, in the forms of words and effects, are quite useful to the advertiser in affecting a listener.


Sight is arguably the most useful of the communication channels available to the advertiser. Through sight it is possible to use both words and images effectively.

Words do not have to be spoken to be understood. They can be printed, as well. Although it is difficult to put in written words the emotional impact possible in spoken words, with their inflections and subtle sound cues, nevertheless written words are unsurpassed for getting across and explaining complex ideas or arguments.

There is an additional factor in sight that makes it excellent for advertising. The old cliché, "A picture is worth a thousand words," is correct. Think how long it takes to describe something as opposed to showing a picture of it. No matter how many words you use, some details will be left out that are visible at a glance. Thus sight can quickly and concisely show a customer what the advertiser wants rher to see, be it a product or how buying the product can benefit rher.

In addition, the mind does not have to consciously recognize what the eye sees for it to have an effect on the subconscious. An advertiser can put many inconspicuous details into a picture that will affect a customer on the subconscious level. For example, a drop of water on a rose petal may not consciously register ("I see there's a drop of water on this rose"), but will unconsciously leave an impression of freshness and delicacy. A small child looking upward into the camera, unsmiling and eyes wide, gives an impression of sadness and vulnerability, not shortness.

The five forms of human communication can be used to send any message to potential customers. However, not all five are equal. Smell, touch and taste are of little use, but sound and sight are of great value and effectiveness.

Chuck Reynolds

Visit the Kairos webiste https://cabinet.kairosplanet.com/register/#111b0e

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