The reference to an “advertising message” makes me wince. The
word “message” seems to imply that the advertising is designed to convey
specific information or an argument. But not all advertising is intended to
persuade people by arguing the merits of a brand. And even when it does, I
think we overestimate the degree to which people actually comprehend what is
shown and said in advertising.
Particularly for dynamic media like TV, online video, radio and
cinema, people rarely assess the relevance of an ad at the time of viewing.
There are three reasons for this.
First, there is no pause for thought. If people have decided to
watch the ads, then new content is constantly displacing attention on the old.
Second, most people are not in the shopping window, i.e. the
subject matter is not immediately relevant to them.
And, third, even for those in the shopping window, the
information is understood as a claim, it is not yet a belief confirmed by
But this does not mean that most advertising is ineffective.
Provided the ideas conveyed by the ad come to mind when relevant, then it will
have an effect, i.e. when someone is thinking about buying the product in that
category. So in the vast majority of cases, the best we can hope of any
advertising is that the content is noticed at the time of viewing and the idea
and feelings evoked are linked to the brand in people’s memories.
This is why I have always preferred the old-fashioned term,
“advertising impression.” Although it is typically used as a media term to
imply an exposure or ad view, the word “impression” also implies that people
get the general idea. They understand the gist of what is being said, without
necessarily consciously considering what the ad is trying to convey at the time
of viewing. An impression is the mental image of a brand that sticks in
After all, isn’t that what most advertising is trying to do?
Advertising helps the brand to make a good impression. The analogy might be
chatting with someone you find attractive. You might try to make yourself seem
interesting to the other person. You try to make a good impression by saying
the right things and casting yourself in a good light. You may choose to
emphasize certain things about yourself more than others, in order to make
yourself stand out from the crowd. And you will try to make yourself seem
It seems to me that if these tactics work for a person, then they ought to work
for a brand as well. So what do you think? Would “impression” be a better word
than “message?” Please share your thoughts.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Nigel Hollis, Chief Global Analyst Millward Brown
Sponsored by: The Brand Positioning Workshop
FREE Publications And Resources For Marketers