Definition of Advertising II

 Definition of Advertising II


Information is defined as knowledge, facts or news. However, you should bear in mind that one person's information is another person's scam, particularly when advertisers talk about their products.

Information comes in many forms. It can be complete or incomplete. It can be biased or deceptive. Complete information is telling someone everything there is to know about something: what it is, what it looks like, how it works, what its benefits and drawbacks are. However, to provide complete information about anything is time-consuming and difficult. For example, to tell all about a car would require its appearance, manufacture and manufacturer, what percentage of parts are made in which countries, cost of upkeep, mileage (city and highway), cost (basic and with any and all combination of options), sales and excise taxes per state, preparation costs, insurance costs per state and locale, ride characteristics (noise by db interior and exterior, ergs required for steering and braking, relative comfort of seats, length of reach required to use controls, degrees of lean when cornering), acceleration, braking distance at many different speeds, etc.. All of this would require a documentary, not a commercial. Complete information is impossible to provide in an ad.

Thus, for advertising, information must of necessity be incomplete, not discussing everything there is to know about the subject. In advertising, what appears is everything the writer thinks the customer needs to know about the product in order to make a decision about the product. That information will generally be about how the product can benefit the customer.

There is, of course, the concept of affirmative disclosure. This concept requires an advertiser to provide customers with any information that could materially affect their purchase decision. Lewis A. Engman, FTC Chair in 1974, said:

"Sometimes the consumer is provided not with information he wants but only with the information the seller wants him to have. Sellers, for instance, are not inclined to advertise negative aspects their products even though those aspects may be of primary concern to the consumer, particularly if they involve considerations of health or safety . . .”

The Federal Trade Commission deals with such omissions by demanding affirmative disclosure of such information and backs up their demands with the force of law.

Bias is being partial towards something, feeling that something is better or worse than other things. Biased information about a product is that which emphasizes what is good and ignores what is bad about it. In advertising, this is not only normal but necessary. Of course, an advertiser is biased toward their own product and against the competition: selling their product is the way she makes her money, and their competition's sales reduce that income. Thus any advertising will use words and images that show how good their product is and/or how poor their competition is. This is biased information, but recognized and accepted by industry, regulators and consumers — it is called puffery, the legitimate exaggeration of advertising claims to overcome natural consumer skepticism.

However, sometimes the biased information goes beyond legitimate puffery and slips into deception, the deliberate use of misleading words and images. In other words, deceptive information is lying to the customer about the qualities of a product. Such deception is illegal, and the FTC requires the advertiser to cease and desist and, in some instance, to do corrective advertising to repair any damage.


". . . paid for . . . " is pretty straightforward. If an ad is created and placed in the media, the costs of creation and time or space in the media must be paid for. This is a major area in which advertising departs from public relations.

PR seeks to place information about companies and/or products in the media without having to pay for the time or space. PR creates news releases and sends them to news media in hopes they will be run. Often PR departments produce events that will be covered by news media and thus receive space or time. There is no guarantee that the media will run any of the PR material.

Advertising doesn't have that problem. If time or space is bought in the media, the ads (as long as they follow the guidelines set down for good taste, legal products, and services, etc.) will appear. The drawback is that ads are clearly designed to extol the virtues of products and companies, and any ad is perceived by consumers as at least partly puffery. PR pieces are usually not so perceived.


"Persuasive" stands to reason as part of the definition of advertising. The basic purpose of advertising is to identify and differentiate one product from another in order to persuade the consumer to buy that product in preference to another. The purpose of this book is to discuss some basic elements of persuasion.


Products, services or ideas are the things that advertisers want consumers to buy (in the case of ideas, "buy" means accept or agree with as well as lay out hard, cold cash). However, there is more involved in products or services than simply items for purchase. (During the following discussion, "products" will mean products, services, and ideas unless otherwise noted.)

A product is not merely its function. It is actually a bundle of values, what the product means to the consumer. That bundle may contain the product's function, but also the social, psychological, economic or whatever other values are important to the consumer.

For example, let's look at a car. If the function of a car, transportation, is all that is important, then manufacturers would need only build motorized boxes on wheels, and consumers would be happy with them. Such is obviously not the case: the number of models and types of cars is huge, and if consumers didn't demand the variety it wouldn't exist. Consumers must find factors other than mere transportation just as, if not more important.

Perhaps the value is social. The type of car a person drives is often indicative of that person's social status. A clunker shows a lower status than a Rolls Royce. A sports car shows that a person is (or wishes to be perceived as) more socially active and fun-loving than a person in a sedan or station wagon. The type of car can even indicate which social grouping a person wants to be considered a part of: in the 1980s Volvos and BMWs were the car for Yuppies.

Perhaps the value is psychological. Some cars may make a person feel safer, or sexier, or give them self-esteem or enjoyment. Since the purpose of this book is to discuss psychological values and how to appeal to them, I'll go no further at this point.

Perhaps the value is economic. Some cars may be cheaper to run, give better mileage, carry more people or cargo, cause less damage to the environment.

The above four values, functional, social, psychological and economic, can stand alone. However, for most consumers, the values are bundled together in varying proportions. How closely a product approximates an individual's proportion of values will often determine whether rhe will buy that product or not.

Companies, through research, try to determine what values consumers want in their products, and then advertise to show how their product satisfies the customers' bundle of values better than competitors' products. To do this, the company must differentiate their product from competitors. There are three basic differentiations: perceptible, imperceptible, and induced.


Perceptible differences are those that actually exist that make one product obviously different from others of the same kind. The difference may in color or size or shape or brand name or some other way. In any case, the consumer can easily see that this car or couch or camera is different from other cars or couches or cameras. Perceptible differences allow a person to make an instant identification of one product as opposed to another.


Imperceptible differences are those that actually exist between one product and others, but are not obvious. For example, there are imperceptible but profound differences between CP/M, MS-DOS and Apple and MacIntosh computers. You can't simply look at a computer and tell which it is; machines can and usually do look alike. And yet buying either precludes being able to use software designed for the other.

The same applied to Beta and VHS format VCRs. Although both are designed to do the same thing, there are differences between them that are imperceptible on the surface but preclude using the same tapes in both. There are other differences besides the size of the cassette: the machines use totally different ways of recording and playing back tapes. Beta records and plays back diagonally across the tape, VHS records vertically. Such a difference may seem small, but it means that anything recorded on Beta cannot be played back on VHS, and vice versa. Also, Beta's system used more tape per instant and thus had an advantage in the amount of information per inch of tape, meaning a better sound and picture but less available time. However, VHS overcomes its deficit by improved electronics and better processing of what information it gets per inch of tape. In addition, VHS (read RCA) managed to corner the market on rental tapes of movies (a major use of VCRs) and VHS has virtually killed off Beta (read Sony). All the differences between Beta and VHS are imperceptible: they are also crucial.


For many products, there is no actual substantive difference between one and another. For many brands of cigarettes, beer, cleansers, and soaps, rice, over-the-counter health products, etc., etc., ad nauseam, there is essentially no difference between one brand and another. These products are called parity products.

For these products, the only way to differentiate one from another is to induce that difference, to persuade people that there actually is some difference and that difference is important to them. These differences are created through advertising, not through any inherent difference in the products, and that creation often uses the appeals and methods discussed in the bulk of this book.

Heidelberg, the working man's beer. Michelob, the sophisticated nightlife beer. Bud, the athletic beer. Bud Light, the sexy party beer. Miller Lite, the fun and funny beer. Coors, the environmental beer. Coors Light, the fast beer. All of these are images projected onto products that have virtually no difference between them (taste tests show that few people can tell one from the other, particularly after having a few of any). This approach depicts the product in association with a lifestyle. For example, soft drinks show people having fun, usually athletic fun (a root beer company countered this approach by calling itself "the sit down soft drink"). Beer ads show people having fun. Airline ads show people having fun. (Notice a trend here?) They want you to think that if you use their product, you will enjoy the lifestyle depicted, and if you don't, you won't. Of course, the fact that the product is not necessary to the lifestyle is ignored.

Another approach is to project an image on a parity product. Marlboro is rugged male, Virginia Slims is independent female, Benson & Hedges is intellectual, Camel is cool and sophisticated. That there is no real difference between one brand of cigarette and another is beside the point. The point is, if you want the image you must use the product. This image approach is so successful that a manly man wouldn't be caught dead (no pun intended) smoking Virginia Slims or Benson & Hedges — he'd feel like a sissy wimp (or rather, that is what he thinks his friends would think he was).

Parity products have the greatest difficulty differentiating one from another. They must rely on creating a trivial or even nonexistent difference in the bundle of values their target audience might find important to their purchase decision. However, if and once that difference is firmly established in the target audience's perception, a company can often rely on habit, brand loyalty and/or cognitive dissonance to get repeat business.


Identified sponsors mean whoever is putting out the ad tells the audience who they are. There are two reasons for this: first, it's a legal requirement, and second, it makes good sense.

Legally, a sponsor must identify trherself as the sponsor of an ad. This prevents the audience from getting a misleading idea about the ad or its contents. For example, many ads that appear in newspapers look like news articles: same typeface, appearance, use of columns, etc.. If the ad is not identified as such, the audience could perceive it as news about a product, rather than an attempt to persuade the audience to buy it. Case in point: what looks like a news article discusses a weight-loss plan. In journalistic style it talks about the safety, efficacy, and reasonable price of the product. A reasonable person might perceive the "article" as having been written by a reporter who had investigated weight-loss programs and decided to objectively discuss this particular one. Such a perception is misleading and illegal. Since it is an ad, somewhere on it there must appear the word "advertisement" to ensure the audience does not think it is an objective reporting of news.

Second, it makes good sense for a sponsor to identify herself in the ad. If the sponsor doesn't, it is possible for the audience to believe the ad is for a competitor's product, thus wasting all the time, creativity and money that went into making and placing the ad.


The various media are the non-personal (remember that?) channels of communication that people have invented and used and continue to use. These include newspapers, magazines, radio, television, billboards, transit cards, sandwich boards, skywriting, posters, anything that aids communicating in a non-personal way ideas from one person or group to another person or group. They do not include people talking to each other: first, talking is personal and advertising is non-personal; and second, there is no way to use people talking to each other for advertising–word-of-mouth is not an advertising medium since you can't control what is said. (The best you could do is start a rumor, which will undoubtedly distort the message in the telling, and is more the province of the PR department.)

Thus, to repeat (in case you've forgotten by now), "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."

Chuck Reynolds


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