Advertising Principles - Evidence-based principles

Educational Materials

Techniques for Advertising

Below, I describe techniques that are useful to those in advertising. For ambiguities or mistakes on the thumbnail sketches, send e-mail to Scott Armstrong. For more on group process techniques to enhance productivity and creativity, go to Group Process. Revised August 2004.

Brainstorming (and Glossary Link Brainwriting):
Brainstorming is a highly structured set of rules to enhance creativity. They should be used only for short sessions, say ten minutes. The rules have one major guideline: to reduce evaluation. To make brainstorming work, you must appoint a facilitator and use a checklist A more effective alternative, especially for small groups, is “brainwriting,” where you take a short time for individual thinking and writing (I suggest seven to ten minutes) and ask people to write down all their ideas. This is typically used to generate creative solutions, but the problem can be expanded first by brainstorming problems. Brainwriting will save a great deal of time for groups.

Closing the deal: A method whereby a person attempts to solidify a deal. Some techniques for this are suggesting realistic action steps, offering an incentive (i.e., low price) to consummate the deal right away, asking directly for the order, or getting the prospective buyer to make minor choices as to color, size, etc. (foot-in-the-door), or asking a client, “What do we need to do to implement these proposals?”

Glossary Link Copy testing: While prior research helps in the design of an ad, it is often useful to develop tests of alternative copies to see which of them will be most effective. You can examine whether the ad is understood, or believed, and whether it would lead one to take action. This can be done in a laboratory setting.

Decomposition of judgment: This is one of the basic strategies of management science: Break a complex problem into pieces, solve each piece, and then reassemble. Use for estimating response to an advertisement. Additive breakdowns are safer than multiplicative ones. For more on this see MacGregor’s “Decomposition for Judgmental Forecasting and Estimation.

Delphi  (a procedure named after the oracle at Delphi): First, each group member reads about a problem. Then each person makes an independent estimate before any discussion takes place. The estimates should be treated anonymously. A summary will then be provided of the group's responses. After this summary has been examined, groups will discuss various proposals for a period of time, say ten minutes. Then, each person will again make an independent and anonymous estimate and a group summary will be prepared. Additional rounds can be done. This procedure provides substantial improvements in accuracy over ratings by unstructured groups. It can be done on paper or by software.

Diffusion of innovations:Advertising should be tailored to the stage in the diffusion process. For example, special media and messages are needed to reach early adopters. As you plan the Glossary Link campaign for a relatively new product, consider how the plan should change as the product matures.

Experimentation: Consider the use of laboratory and field experiments to test your ads and your campaign. Traditional designs can be used for the laboratory experiments, while the field experiments often call for quasi-experimental design (see Campbell, Donald T. and J. C. Stanley, 1966, Experimental and Quasi-experimental Designs for Research. Chicago: Rand McNally).

Expert systems: Explicit rules derived from studying experts as they solve problems. In addition, previous studies of relationships may be useful. These rules are generally conditional statements (If X then Y).

Focus group: Use the same procedure as for a nondirective interview, but apply it on a group basis. A popular and overused technique that costs more than $2,000 per session, but you can do a decent job (with friends) at a low cost. Use early in projects to generate ideas (e.g. about target market needs). It is only useful in rare situations. It may be useful for ideas about advertising products that are highly visible and when a buyer’s decision is based on what others think of him (i.e. have you ever heard of a liberal professor who drives a Cadillac?) One cannot draw statistical inferences from focus groups. Interestingly, the skill requirements to run a focus group are not high. In general, non-directive interviewing with individuals (group depth interviews) are more effective. For more, see "When Should You Use Focus Groups?"

Formal planning:This is improves group performance only when the group is small enough to reach commitment. It has four stages: (1) set objectives (2) generate alternative strategies, (3) evaluate strategies, and (4) monitor results. New product introductions that do each step explicitly are more likely to succeed. In practice, few firms do this. See Systems Approach, Marketing Planning, and Planning Process Checklist.

Gallery Writing: This can be done manually or electronically. In the manual mode, group members silently write unsigned suggestions about the discussion topic on flip charts. They then post the pages on the walls. Others write comments on the suggestions. This approach is effective and is well liked by participants (Aiken and Vanjani 2003).


Gatekeepers: Who is it that makes the purchase decision? Often this differs according to the consumer, as for household versus industrial purchases. Consider that you may have to target advertising to the gatekeepers in order to reach the final consumers.


Index Method: To develop an index model, use prior knowledge (i.e., prior empirical evidence or expert domain knowledge) to prepare a list of predictor variables. There is no limit on the number of predictor variables that can be used. Specify for each variable whether it has a positive or negative influence on the outcome variable, or define the variable in such a way that it has a positive influence.


Alternatively and more simply, score 1 for a positive influence and zero otherwise. (When there are only two choices, one can also pick the option that dominates.) Finally, add the scores to calculate the value of the index. The higher the index value, the more likely it is that the outcome will occur such that the better the score for an ad, the more likely it is to persuade. The index method is useful if there are many important variables, good prior knowledge on the direction of the effect, and the values of causal variables can be assessed at least subjectively (e.g. as zero or one). The method is especially useful if a large number of causal variables are important, and valid and reliable quantitative data are scarce relative to the number of variables. The method easily accommodates new causal variables should they arise. Its primary disadvantage is that it is difficult to estimate effect sizes.


Intentions surveys: Ask people whether they intend to purchase your product. In some cases, this can provide a useful way to forecast.

Marginal analysis: When setting the media budget, the optimal budget should have equal marginal returns. Thus, if you can get a larger return by spending an additional $100 dollars on radio rather than on newspaper ads, you should shift money into radio until the marginal returns are equal.


Monitoring: This is a formal process to review the performance against the plan.

Non-directive interviewing: The listener follows a set of rules to help suspend judgment and focus attention on listening.

Objectives Setting: Organizations often confuse objectives (where they want to be) with strategy (how to get there). Studies in organizational behavior show that groups can improve their effectiveness by setting objectives that are (1) explicit, (2) measurable, (3) relevant, (4) ambitious yet achievable, and (5) operational. This should apply to an advertising campaign.

Opinion leaders: We turn to particular friends for advice on certain topics (e.g. What movie should I see?). In the early stages of a product’s life cycle, it is often cost effective to advertise to opinion leaders in hopes that they will spread the message by word of mouth.


Parallel processing: Divide your group into two or more subunits and have each unit independently solve the same problem. Then compare the results to select the best solution (or to modify it). This is useful for creativity. It also helps to guard against mistakes in analyses (seldom do sub-groups make the same mistakes).

Second solution: Assume that your preferred solution is not feasible. Develop a new solution to compare with the old and decide which is best. This procedure is useful for improving creativity in groups.

Simulated interaction: A realistic acting-out of the relationships involved in a situation. This technique asks subjects to reach a decision by going through the same typed of interactions that might occur in the real situation (e.g. in meetings or by exchanging messages). It has been found to be especially useful for situations involving conflicts among groups. See paper by Green (2002).

Stakeholder analysis: The success of a firm depends upon the cooperative efforts of various groups that make contributions (e.g. stockholders, employees, creditors, customers, suppliers, etc.). Consider how your advertising campaign will meet the need of each stakeholder.

Survey research: Useful for assessing customer needs and also for assessing expert opinion about how customers will react to an ad. Extensive research has led to effective procedures - the best summary of these is in Dillman, Don, Mail and Internet Surveys. It is easy to look at a survey and tell whether the creators have used the research in designing it. For more, see surveys.

Systems approach: Look first at objectives then at alternative strategies. In each case, start at the highest conceptual level, and then make the objectives and strategies more operational. It sounds easy, but it requires time and discipline. The systems approach enables people to go outside of current solutions and to produce rational yet often surprising solutions. For details, see Systems Approach.

Time line: This is the process of allocating one's time in accordance with the tasks one must accomplish. This method allows one to break down one’s jobs into small tasks. One of the essential components of a time budget is slack time. With slack time, people can deal with inevitable setbacks without upsetting their schedules. PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique) can be used to create a time budget. CPM, the Critical Path Method, is another method. Do the time line, show relationships, and estimate times. Then figure which path is determining the time to completion. You might then consider changes to this critical path to shorten the time or to introduce slack. (See Time Lines. )

Two-step-flow: Consider that advertising information often flows from the advertiser to the opinion leader (or to a gatekeeper), then to the consumer. What can the advertiser do to ensure that this flow of information is effective? One technique that you can use here is to simulate this flow of information analogous to the game of telephone. Test your ad to see whether the most important information is successfully transmitted to each person.

Virtual group: A group in which members work on a common problem, yet they do not meet face-to-face. They might interact in other ways, such as via telephone, email, or websites - or they might not interact at all. Delphi is a form of a virtual group that allows for some interaction. Markets are another form, but they do not provide for interaction among group members. Virtual groups avoid many of the problems of groups, such as "group-think." Thus, they use information more effectively, and they save time. In face-to-face groups, influence depends on such irrelevant things as how much people talk (people who talk more do not necessarily know more) and gender (males talk much more than females). In virtual groups, influence depends more on performance. Finally, because of the need to write, virtual groups leave a paper trail that aids in communication.


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