You cannot build a brand with advertising alone

86% of Malaysians don’t trust advertising. The Star) . 78% of Malaysians trust the recommendations of other consumers. There are more than 1,500,000 Malaysians on Faceboook. 80% of affluent Malaysians (those with a household income (HHI) above RM5,000) use social networking sites. Nine of the Top 20 websites in Malaysia are social networking sites. These consumers are the new world order. They are online for many hours a day and pay little attention to traditional mass media. Despite this, Malaysian companies continue to poor billions (RM6.45 billion in 2008. Adoi) into mass market advertising in the mistaken belief that what they are doing is building a profitable brand.

Advertising was much more relevant in the past when the mass media was limited to only one or two TV stations, few radio stations, a couple of national newspapers and the occasional billboard. Limited leisure time pursuits meant consumers spent a lot of time interfacing with the mass media. Finally, there was little competition so high product or service standards were unimportant. With frequency and timing, mass media advertising generated enough ‘awareness’ to justify the budget.

With limited competition and consumers who were willing to accept low standards or didn’t know any better, such awareness could result in sales and for some, it was enough to build a brand.

Using advertising to build a brand is ineffective
Unfortunately, using advertising to build a brand will not work anymore. Mass media has disintegrated into niches or communities. Consumers have been carpet bombed by so many messages – up to 3,000 a day and for so long, that they have learned to block most of those messages. The favoured reaction of advertising agencies to declining responses and lack of effectiveness is to increase frequency but this doesn’t help because it just adds to the cacophony.

In a media saturated world, awareness is just background noise that means very little. For most companies, and there are very few exceptions, in an age when information on every product and service is widely available, and consumers have more choice, are better informed, and more powerful, creating awareness is not going to build a brand. For instance we’re all aware of Mazda, Alfa Romeo, Eon Bank, Pan Am, Airbus, Ritz Carlton and many other multi national global brands, yet most of us will go through life without ever buying something from these companies.

Indeed, many companies have realized, sadly after spending millions on advertising, that advertising can raise awareness (and even that outcome is not a given), but still fail to transform an offering into a brand. Settling for awareness, when so much more is possible and required is a total waste of valuable funds.

But this doesn’t mean that advertising is no longer important. Advertising is, and will probably always be, important to branding. But its role has changed. Advertising can no longer be a tactical initiative to ‘reach’ as many consumers as possible to ‘get the name out there’.

Advertising must do more than try to create awareness. Advertising must work to ensure consumers adopt offerings into their lives. Adoption enables an offering to be seen as the best option. But this adoption also needs organisational excellence and the ability to match offerings to client requirements for value. Advertising cannot be expected to do this on its own. And it is wrong of advertising agencies to give the impression it can but it is also wrong of business owners to expect advertising agencies to be solely responsible because advertising is not a silver bullet.

It may seem like I am stating the obvious, but advertising must also communicate trust. This is the key element in any relationship. Prospects won’t make that critical initial connection without trust. And for trust to grow into loyalty, the key to brand building, companies must deliver on the promises made in the advertising. If you don’t deliver on the promises made, your target market is reduced by 86% and you are trying to sell to the 14% of Malaysians who trust advertising.

Some of the claims being made by property developers, automotive distributors, airlines and others in their advertising are often bordering on the ridiculous. Consumers, already pressed for time and cynical, are doubtful as soon as they see the advertising. If you foster doubt from the moment of the initial contact, you’ve wasted every dollar spent on that campaign. If you are making claims you must follow through with them across every touchpoint. And don’t expect it to happen overnight. It takes time to build loyalty.

Understand that building a brand requires not just advertising but also a significant investment in building loyalty and organisational excellence and the money you spend on advertising may be money well spent. Failure to do so and you may as well pour it down the drain.


One thought on “You cannot build a brand with advertising alone

  1. Marcus,
    Nice summary of advertising’s role in branding. I like your thoughts on the requirement of transparent messages that create trust without selling being key to consumers growing loyal.
    Tom Simpkins


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