Advertising Perplexities

Written by Jessica Bradley

Advertising is a subjective area of discussion with many different takes on its form, its purpose and the reality of its effects on peoples’ lives. Reading Ogilvy on Advertising by the legendary David Ogilvy, often described as the father of modern advertising, gave an interesting insight into his view of advertising as it was in the 1960s – a golden era. He defines advertising as a form of communication, informing people of a product in an engaging way, so that they buy it1. This is a somewhat simplistic view of advertising in light of today’s world, but it highlights the need to write adverts that appeal to a need, create desire, and lead to a sale. I find this stripped down approach helpful in understanding the principles of advertising. However, some would argue that this is an outdated view because the problem with simple communication is that it leaves the consumer with nothing to do2. In the interactive virtual world of today’s branding and advertising, unimaginable to Ogilvy in the sixties, there are the issues of interactive expectations, immediacy, mass-consumption, integrity and very aggressive selling. People want more from brands than ever before and upholding the expectation of consumers is a real challenge for many brands alongside heavy competition.

But how do you sell products/brands to people? – with a big idea! ‘Creatives’ in the ad world are responsible for coming up with ideas to help sell products by making them relevant and exciting for target consumers. To Ogilvy, creativity was simply combining the knowledge from research into a ‘big idea’ for delivering a message in an advert 3. It takes a big idea to attract the attention of consumers in order for them to buy the product; it’s the engaging concept for an advert. However, the real test is relevance – you must reach the right people in the right way and at the right time4. Ogilvy thought that a ‘big idea’ has an incubation period after thoroughly researching the topic. By gathering knowledge from a wide range of sources, the subconscious can piece together information to form an original idea5. Most creative people will notice this process as they start projects; for me an idea comes after thorough research into the brand, product and target audience, when I’m least expecting it. It is an organic process which is continually informed by further research and develops as you begin making it. The creative process, much like the notion of creativity itself, is an individual experience with varying stages leading to a resolved concept for an advert. Some artists have interesting thoughts on the creative process and find that a laborious design process, such as stitch, can aid the development of an idea, as the monotony of the process allows the mind to wander, enabling creative development6. Hand-crafted methods or relaxed production processes allow time for reflection which plays a vital role in developing the thinking in order to push ideas and work further. Thorough and continuous research into a product, the brand and the target audience continues to infiltrate the concept throughout the creative process and in advertising, it’s important to communicate the identity of the brand and product, to project the voice of the brand so that consumers hear it’s identity and differentiate it from competition.

The actual making of an advert has many more stages; from the idea needs to come a realised finished ad! This begins with visualisation of an idea, usually in sketch form, which simply communicates the idea in images and words which is then fully developed into a working advert, through writing and art direction using graphic design, photography, cinematography and so on.  The polished look of adverts is well considered for the psychological effects of colour, typography, layout and style as well as the word choice and media. These psychological elements help build up an aura of meaning through connotation. By connecting simple (seemingly unattached) elements together, such as wider understanding about a topic or cultural reference or story, the advert can create familiarity, preference and desire for the product or brand – such as my work for ‘i’ newspaper; your previous understanding (or stereotyped assumption) of the student working day helps you understand this message about fitting ‘i’ into your time. By understanding the context of the elements within the pie chart (the working day e.g. lecture, seminar), you understand that in order to fit i into the day it would have to be read at lunchtime – in the canteen, which is where the placemat is found (veneered onto tabletops) and where you can buy a copy with your lunch. By putting the targeted advert content (student timetable) in the appropriate environment (university canteen), the context further enhances the message through connotation and understanding. This is how nostalgic adverts work too, of which there is a trend at the moment as we recover from the economic recession. An advert can be well made and look beautiful but if there isn’t a good idea in there, it won’t be effective. The idea is important because it makes the viewer react and feel something, and anything evoking emotion is likely to be better remembered7. Evoking an emotional response is one of the most effective ways of advertising as it is remains memorable, which is why you have to understand the target audience and the benefits your product can bring to that audience. When you combine this emotive trigger with layout hierarchy, colour palettes and advert positioning you have a powerful communicative device that consumers have difficulty to ignore. This leads to the argument about privacy and advertising’s current bombardment tactics, being a constant force in our lives through brand interaction and easy communications through mobile and social media – is advertising influencing your life? I’ll bet it is.

1. 3. 4. 5. Ogilvy, D. (2011) Ogilvy on Advertising, London: Prion. p7, p24, p25, p16.

2. Comstock, G. ‘An advertising sensation in 3 easy steps’, Creative Review: The Type Annual, February 2011, p44.

6. Elephant Magazine: Issue 9, Winter 2011, p83.

7.    The Psychology of Advertising, 1916

i Newspaper Campaign, ‘Easy as pie’ (placemat) YCN Brief 2012 by Jessica Bradley


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