“After a century or so of formal study, we still do not know how advertising works! This isn’t the admission of defeat it sounds; advertising is a craft, not a science, and asking how advertising works isn’t like asking how a bicycle works – it’s more like asking “How does literature work?“! Nevertheless, it’s very important to have a good grasp of the general theories that have been advanced and developed over the years, because they must all be part of our ‘mental furniture‘ when we’re defining the role for advertising.
‘Classic’ theories of how advertising works are mainly of the single-model kind; that is, ‘The way advertising works is this way’. These include AIDA (which states that Awareness is necessary and leads to Interest which is necessary before and leads to Desire which is necessary before and to Action); USP (Unique Selling Proposition, which depends on finding a motivating point-of-difference within the product); and Brand Image (which asserts that image is more important in selling a brand than any specific product feature, and that advertising works by ‘adding value‘ to the gestalt).
However, as early as the 1930s it was acknowledged that advertising could work in more than one way, and frameworks began to be constructed. The most enduring from that time is James Webb Young’s ‘Five Ways’ (1963), which says that advertising works:
- By familiarising
- By reminding
- By spreading news
- By overcoming inertias
- By adding a value not in the product
It is very easy to underestimate the value of these observations, and it wasn’t until the 1970s that most of the theory was developed which underpins our thinking today.”
There’s two important points made in this excerpt:
- Advertising is as much an art as it is a science.
- Advertising can work in multiple ways.
Fifty five years after James Web Young defined his ‘Five Ways’ and 21 years after Clemmow wrote this passage, I fear we still have not learnt these lessons.