What Is Advertising Supposed To Do?

Advertising has been around for a long, long time. If it isn’t the oldest profession, it was surely a must for success in the oldest.

Fortunes are invested in advertising all over the world by advertisers and their agencies. By now, one might assume that both are in total agreement as to what the investment is supposed to accomplish.

They are not.

For example, here are a few items from an article in a recent issue of Direct Marketing Magazine. The article was written by Andrew J. Byrne, a direct marketing professional with many years’ experience in Europe and America.

Mr. Byrne reported on a recent survey of 50 U.K. company-marketing professionals who were asked about the function of advertising and advertising agencies

  • Almost 80% thought of advertising’s key function was to accomplish tasks other than selling!
  • None gave the ability to sell products in print as an important skill for an advertising agency to possess!

Which prompted Jeremy Bullmore, Chairman of J. Walter Thompson/London to say,

“It matters a great deal if advertising is thought to have no commercial effect. Because if it doesn’t, then what the hell is anybody spending any money on it for?”

Confusion as to the role of advertising is hardly exclusive to advertisers.

Following are some extracts from the U.K.’s Campaign magazine, reporting on a one-day advertising agency seminar in London.

Holding forth were Simon Broadbent, Research Director Leo Burnett/London; Charles Channon, Vice Chairman, Director of Research and Planning for Ayer Barker/London; and Chris Wilkins, Creative Director Young and Rubicam/London.

“Charles Channon…concluded that advertising should be judged more on the level of communication that sales effects.”

“A highly memorable campaign is not necessarily cost-effective from the client’s point of view, claimed Simon Broadbent.”

“Broadbent showed how, ‘a lot of advertising creates awareness and little in terms of sales’ while Chris Wilkins (Y&R) maintained it was not the job of advertising to sell – ‘that should be left to shop assistants’, he said.”

Campaign described the exchange between Broadbent and Wilkins as “lively.” We suspect not nearly as “lively” as the exchange, which would have taken place if Mr. Wilkins had met with Raymond Rubicam who, as co-founder of Young and Rubicam, established many of the guiding principles of what is now the world’s largest advertising agency.

One of which was, “The object of advertising is to sell goods. It has no other jurisdiction worth mentioning.”

An equally “lively” discussion would have ensued if Messrs. Wilkins and Channon had met Dr. Daniel Starch, a giant among the pioneers of advertising research. He said, “Advertising is mass-selling. An advertisement can be effective only if it leads someone to buy the product.”

If you need any proof of agency/client confusion about the real role of advertising, just take a look at a few business and trade magazines. You will find an amazing number of advertisements more concerned with looking good and sounding good, than they are with what should be their real objective – selling. If some are your advertisements – you have problems.

Or, take a look at some of the business/professional direct mail you have received lately. Much of it fails to talk of product benefits to you, the reader, let alone try very hard to sell. Still more is so pre-occupied with being cute and clever that it fails to perform its basic function – contribute to increased sales. And, it might not be a bad idea to look at your own direct mail. If it isn’t selling and selling hard, you cannot afford it. Not in these difficult times.


Penny Ohlmann Neimann

Penny Ohlmann Neimann

The Ohlmann Group has a rich history that began in Dayton, Ohio in 1949, where the agency was founded as Penny and Penny by Bob Penny and his wife Jean. In 1964, Walter Ohlmann joined the firm. Ralph Neiman came on in 1969 and the firm became Penny/Ohlmann/Neiman. In 2011, P/O/N was renamed The Ohlmann Group to better reflect the agency's ongoing evolution and collaborative nature.

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