During what now seems to be an ancient era, people would simply turn on the television or flip to a newspaper page and be convinced to buy a particular product or take part in a major event. Tide Detergent would just produce a straightforward TV spot announcing its new and improved formulation, or a headline screaming “50% Off” at the local mall would be seen in the dailies; instantly, bottles that promised to make white clothes even whiter would fly off the shelves, and mall security would have to take on additional precautions due to overcrowding and lack of parking slots. That was then, when life was simpler, and consumers had to take a proactive stance to make sure they got the best deals available.
Today, due to the advent of computer, mobile, and internet technology, the load assigned to the consumer has considerably lessened in terms of information reach and availability. Literally, one just has to open his or her eyes and ears, and information is bound to come. Because of the newfound avenues in communication and advertising, sales pitches and brand promises are practically waiting to pounce at every chance, in every corner. Log on to the internet and banners for diet treatments and weight loss jump out; take a short drive to the next street and posters proclaiming guaranteed fifty pounds off are stuck on every available space; spend a few minutes at the mall, and be approached by smiling men and women promising an incredible new you by purchasing a bottle of healthy diet pills; and back home, a quick check on what’s on TV reveals a local celebrity declaring that she just lost fifty pounds through this new diet, and so should you. Advertising has long been acknowledged as a powerful method of communication and persuasion; the messages it carries have now been strengthened by going beyond just mere product sell, through all possible media. This is the ideology behind integrated marketing communications, which is a new way of looking at the business of marketing; it is designed to appeal to consumers and non-consumers in every imaginable way, with the goal of getting a reaction or response-and not just in the traditional promote-and-purchase style. Integrated marketing communications means getting results, more than old-school advertising ever imagined (Schultz et al, 1992).
II. Advertising and the IMC Boy Band
Advertising used to lord it over all marketing communications tools-what with its end-product of TV and radio commercials and print ads that have been to proven to achieve the desired sales and brand awareness. Its less-popular cousins, such as promotions, public relations, sponsorships and others, used to linger in the sidelines, only taking after what advertising has established; or, in some cases, are the substitute actors in marketing plans that lack the budget for a full-blown advertising campaign. But just like the proven tactic employed by the music scene’s ubiquitous boy bands, advertising now has to play with others-thereby sharing its star with its previous backup singers.
Still, advertising enjoys a prominent position in IMC, since the foundation of the latter is found at the very core of advertising as well. According to David Ogilvy (1995), “every advertisement should be thought of as a contribution to the brand image. It follows that your advertising should project the same image, year after year”, which logically crystallizes the essence of advertising as a builder of brand. This is the very same thought process applied by IMC, wherein every form of communication about a brand should contribute and build toward the whole. It is the figurative harmony of many parts to create one song, one performance, one emotion that the audience would respond to; there is to be no dissenting element, concept, or strategy that should veer from the chosen message. However, unlike the prominent position of advertising-through the traditional and above-the-line media-IMC aims to hit consumers at points that no longer operate within the expected avenues; in the end, they would be unable to define exactly the source of the message. IMC creates a universe for the consumer wherein messages transform into impressions and emotions, coming from numerous sources that work singularly (Yeshin, 1998). Like the boy band phenomenon, the audience would absorb the impressions as a total performance of all its members.
So advertising now functions as a major member in the IMC phenomenon, lending its intrinsic values and proven methods to its colleagues. At the helm of this practice is the advertising agency-typically a dynamic, to-the-minute organization that lists strategic planning and research, out-of-the-box creativity, media planning and buying, and, of course, efficient account management in its roster of services. While the debate within agencies regarding the priority of either account management or creativity has been ongoing for quite some time, the main responsibility of advertising is still to sell-thereby shifting the mode of power toward account management, who are expected to be “trained in all disciplines” (Ogilvy, as cited in Schultz, et al, 1992). As an account executive myself, I am tasked to lead not just in client service; the new principles of IMC are now my top of mind, seeing as the objectives have been upgraded from simple brand awareness to introducing complete mindsets. Sure, many creative guys would probably slam me for saying this, but it is no longer just about the best tagline or storyboard-it is now about giving the total brand performance. Advertising agencies should now recognize what has always been the prime goal of the work we do-and that is to sell to our clients “a fundamental understanding of the receiver and what motivates that receiver” (Schultz, et al, 1992), and not just be producers of media advertising.
III. Working With the IMC Models
As with advertising and the other individual components of IMC, communication is the basic and expected thrust; and since communication is not just one-way, since it involves the integral elements of sender, message, and receiver, IMC drives home the last and most important of all-response. Anyone in the IMC setup, being the senders, can come up with a great message; but the participation of a receiver, or the audience, is necessary to achieve communication. This brings me to the VIP of the whole IMC process, which is the target consumer. Think of him or her as the hotshot record producer who will ultimately decide on our boy band’s fate. IMC must be entirely convincing and give the performance of its life for the producer to sign it up for a deal that would mark its stardom.
The target consumer or market is identified by the designed marketing plan, often through thorough market research. Here the specific demographics and psychographics of the target market are defined and evaluated against the attributes of the brand being promoted. What is formulated is called the marketing strategy, which connects the needs and wants of the target market with the brand. Once this has been decided upon, the next step would be devising a communication strategy-which is, in simple terms, a potentially effective way to tell the target market that this brand is great because it can make their lives better, e.g., get smoother, softer hair by buying this shampoo brand, or have the latest technology without the weighty hardware with Macbook Air. This, of correctly thought through to address the specific consumer needs, may result in a positive brand attitude.
At this point, strategic planning takes place. If you know your target market well, this should not be so daunting; but if the target is new or still in the process of being evaluated, planning may be the catalyst of the brand’s success or failure. For example, selling a cereal brand for kids should not only address the children but their mothers as well, since we know that moms ultimately make the actual purchase. That’s easy. But if we were to target the male college student to communicate the benefits of the new mobile phone that connects instantly to any sports channel, strategic planning must be able to pinpoint how to reach these specific consumers-since the association of sports with male college students is a generalization more than fact. The kids and mothers of the cereal brand may be easily reached through avenues such as above-the-line advertising and mall, supermarket, and school events and promotions. The sports-minded male college guy, on the other hand, could be reached anywhere from TV and radio spots, in-game events, school promotions, web marketing, and parties. Strategic planning must be able to recommend the exact places and situations where the market can clearly connect with the attributes of the mobile phone product.
IMC, in this situation, can be illustrated using the following model (Percy, 1997):
Once this has been achieved, IMC’s role in the communication process has been completed; all it needs now is the target market’s response.
In more practical terms, the process of IMC involves not just the traditional elements appropriated by advertising but everything else from the brand’s conception to the final purchase. Using the cases of the cereal brand and the mobile phone service, among others, the IMC system may be visualized as follows (Schultz, et al, 1992):
Then, depending on the success of IMC in communication, the target market will be able to form the needed response-one that connects behavior and attitude. If the consumer purchases and has a good experience with the product, which is ‘sold’ to him or her via the holistic nature of IMC, it either reinforces the positive attitude or changes it from neutral or negative to positive-enabling him or her to subscribe more permanently with the brand. This is the unique IMC Circular Process of Communication, and can be demonstrated via the following model (Schultz, et al, 1992):
IV. How Advertising Works
Since IMC follows much of the fundamentals of advertising, it is significant to evaluate how consumer response can be stimulated, through its main components.
First and foremost, the task of advertising, on top of all the processes earlier discussed, is to gain the attention of the audience-whether it is the TV viewer, radio listener, or magazine and newspaper reader. This is the most crucial objective of all, since an ad material needs to rise from the clutter of all existing communication designed to sell. Once attention is gained, interest must be stimulated, which correlates with the matched values communicated by the ad with those of the target market. Interest translates into desire, if the ad manages to propose a viable problem-solution argument that works with the target’s needs. This then creates the ultimate response, which is action-purchase and participation are some of the measurable manifestations of this stage (Yeshin, 1998). Attention, interest, desire, action-these are the basic steps in advertising communication, which involves the client, the ad agency, and the consumer. These, as well, are the primary considerations of IMC.
The advertising objective is simply a statement that emphasizes what an advertiser needs to communicate about a brand, which will be done through advertising. These are within the planning context, and must be succinct enough to identify a particular need of the target market for it to work efficiently. Through this, a specific message is formed, one that encapsulates the marketing-talk used in business into practical and personal terms for the target market’s understanding. And, depending on the demographic and psychographic research has provided on the consumer, this message will be structured in ways that would appeal to his or her sensibilities. Much of the latter part is done by the creative department of an advertising agency-or its counterparts in other IMC member groups-and is covered by the creative brief, an instrument that is usually formalized after finalization of the strategy document. Copywriters and art directors brainstorm on concepts that are eventually crystallized into layouts, storyboards, and copy.
One recent example of a successful IMC campaign that has brought together the discipline of advertising and the thoroughness of the total IMC picture is Adidas’ 2008 campaign that aims to bring the brand back into the field dominated by rival Nike. By capitalizing on its rich history and veering from the sports-oriented communication used by Nike, Adidas has been able to produce a campaign that promotes the global ideology of positivism and individualism. The product is its “Celebrate Originality” campaign (Venkatraman, 2008).
Through the combination of various communication formats-a 60-second TV spot, cinema, digital, and retail events as well as print advertising, Adidas has successfully used the promised effects of IMC to promote its new thinking. “Celebrate Originality”, a fun, fashion-forward, and dynamic ad campaign that infuses pop and street culture in the global perspective, is set to create new markets and mindsets beyond those already conquered by leading brand Nike.
Another example of recent IMC efforts is by Coca-Cola, with its launch of its Coke Zero product. Primarily targeting males, the brand now focuses on the real and growing concern of obesity; the fact that the product promises zero calories yet with the good old Coke taste is bound to be appreciated by health-conscious men, or change the attitudes of those who are not. The campaign is entitled “Life As It Should Be”, and is positioned to convince the target male consumer that he can go on with life as he knows it; the concern about added poundage and health risks are now over (Alarcon, 2008).
Another version says, “Why Not Girlfriends with Zero Drama”, which, combined with the above material, promotes the kind of life supposedly idealized by men-carefree, straightforward, and easy. This message is seen throughout its IMC efforts, which include TV spots, outdoor advertising, and below-the-line activities. Since it is targeting males, Coke Zero has also launched its promotional events that feature a Street Striker contest that aims to discover the best street footballers in the UK.
V. Key Players and Technology: Sealing the Deal for the IMC Boy Band
In the UK, the top three advertising agencies are AMV BBDO, McCann Erickson, and M&C Saatchi (Campaign, 2008)-long-running organizations that have more than enough talent and foresight to jump immediately into the IMC bandwagon, thereby sealing their fates as the prime tastemakers in the country. Part of their collective thrust is the adoption of the developments in technology, which may shift the focus from using traditional media to the increasing web-based advertising and communication avenues.
From what used to be a universe controlled by the holy trinity of TV, press, and radio, advertising, within its IMC role, has now recognized the viability of the internet as a medium. Aside from the considerable decrease in production and placement costs, web-based or interactive communications also reach a more targeted audience; the availability and dependence of the format on databases assure IMC of consumers fitting the defined profiles. Aside from web ads, the direct marketing landscape has also changed due to the convenience of email technology-the traditional process of sending DM packs have now been replaced by the faster and more efficient email blasts, which instantly connect with the recipient.
Like any other industry, advertising has to go with the flow of change-and the formation of its IMC posse is proof of that. At the end of the day, the objective is still to sell; to do this, the process must adapt to the changing nature of the consumer. If more and more players are flexing their muscles in a smaller field, then the goal always has to be to find a way to stand out, and to get the message across. This is the effect of IMC, with its complete and no-hold-barred approach to communicating with the consumer. Then, if the aim of IMC is to create a mindset, it has to apply the updates in technology that consumers are subscribing to, and introduce new ones that would reinforce communication. Communication, the foundation of IMC, is a never-ending work-in-progress; the world will always find fresh and new media that would ensure response.
Right now, the IMC boy band is at its peak, with more and more wanting to sign up and share in its glory. But who knows-maybe ten years from now the industry would have found a new star, one that would appeal more to the all-important consumer. However, since it has proven its star quality and effectiveness at this time, it would be best to adhere to its discipline and benefits. There has never been a better time to be in advertising than now-and I, as an account executive, would know that.