How Advertising Works

There was an excellent post last week on W&K's Welcome To Optimism blog on the subject of how advertising works.

It's well worth a read here.

We put our tuppence ha'pennyworth in on the comments section but thought it was re-posting that view here, especially as it picks up on the 'Emotional Advertising' debate which seems to be a big talking point right now.

There's more than one way to skin a cuddly kitten when it comes to developing successful advertising campaigns. And in the stampede towards 'emotional brand advertising' we think it's really important that the actual product plays a starring role and doesn't get left behind.

How does advertising work? It’s a massive point of debate.

Always has been. Always will.

We’re supporters of Professor Sharp over here at Sell! Sell! He speaks a lot of sense and his thinking tallies with our experience of how advertising can help brands to grow.

I wanted to pick up on one thing, though.

And that’s the current line of fashionable thinking permeating Adland that seems to misinterpret Sharp’s work and the findings of neuroscience to blanketly and blindly dismiss any kind of role for the product in helping to build memory structures that relate to decision-making.

Featuring the product at the heart of the advertising idea does not necessarily mean that you are Rosser Reeves incarnate, and doesn’t automatically mean you have to have rational USP based communication as a direct result.

It is possible to put the product at the heart of an advertising idea and generate important emotional associations at the same time.

W&K’s very own constantly mouthwatering Lurpak campaign is an excellent case in point.

Brands like Apple, Lynx, Stella Artois, Old Spice, Guinness, Sony and Lidl, to name but a small few, have also demonstrated this over time with excellent campaigns that spring from a product or insight.

The examples of Citroen advertising you mention aren’t unmemorable because they attempt to communicate product attributes. They are unmemorable because they are bland, dull, piss-poor pieces of communication bereft of any kind of charm, reward, entertainment factor, freshness, distinctiveness that might possibly help form any kind of compelling long-term brand associations

Contrast this, for example, with the Van Damme ‘Epic Splits’ campaign for Volvo. The idea is built around the stability and precision of Volvo Dynamic steering but the way this is communicated is genuinely distinctive and anything but dull and unmemorable.

I know we can all cite examples of ads to reinforce our point until the cows come home but it’s not as simple as product as = bad, emotions = good.

As Sharp himself says “Brands largely compete in terms of mental and physical availability. This doesn’t mean that product features, and consumer evaluation, aren’t important – just that they operate within this battle for attention”
He goes on to say “…so while positive features and perceptions help a brand to be chosen, they only do so when they are part of the selection set [i.e. after the buyer has culled most of the other brands]. Over time, feature advantages can build salience; with time they assist in gaining mental and physical availability.”

Those important associations and memories you mention for successful campaigns can be built from the product upwards.

In fact, the Andrex “soft, strong and long” example came from this model. JWT started with what they wanted to communicate about the product and used the puppies as a neat device to help this to be remembered. Over time, the puppy became a brand icon and a short cut for remembering the brand’s qualities to help put it at the front of the consideration set for toilet paper because Andrex = puppies = soft, strong, long loo roll

Nowadays, you get the sense that most agencies would forget about saying anything about the loo roll and dispense with any kind of product communication. There would be no sign of any toilet paper anywhere and we’d just get the cuddly puppies running around with an Andrex logo bolted on to the end of the ad.

Each to their own, I guess.


  1. I wouldn't expect anything else from the agency that did the dancing pony ad for...uh...can't remember what it was for. Sorry.

  2. Anonymous - yeah, this is us:


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