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ADText: Advertising Curriculum
Unit 10: The Role of Research in Advertising

ADText Unit 10

What makes us buy some products and not others? Why do we prefer some brands over others? Do print ads and TV commercials actually influence our behavior? In an effort to answer these questions, advertisers look to research. At present (and in the past), diverse research strategies—psychological, social, and cultural—help advertisers understand consumers and assess the effectiveness of advertising messages directed to them. The particular kinds of research conducted in an advertising campaign are always tailored to serve the needs of those who produce the ads as well as the interests of the clients whose products (or services) are promoted. A client who seeks to direct messages to a very specific group of consumers needs to know if the ads are effective with that group. For example, milk producers may want to encourage adults to consume milk. Thus, they need ads that position milk as an adult beverage. Another client may need assistance determining which groups of consumers are most likely to buy the products they offer. For example, an MP3 manufacturer wants to determine which consumers make up its potential market and needs research to help define the market. A third client may ask for detailed information about what consumers recall about the company's ads. For example, a pet food company wants to know if consumers who watched its TV commercials remember the brand name and have positive associations with the brand. Advertising research is directed toward answering such questions as these. Because the questions differ from campaign to campaign, no single research strategy can work for every situation.

This unit examines some of the kinds of research conducted in the service of advertising. The actual variety of methods and techniques used in advertising research is so great that it would be impossible to discuss them all. The research strategies discussed here are indicative of this great variety and represent some of the most common types of research. For convenience, they will be organized and discussed as research conducted before, during, and after the production of an advertisement.

1. Laying the Groundwork for Producing an Ad—Research Conducted before an Ad is Produced

Advertising agencies do not simply produce advertisements. They must first be hired by clients who have products and services that they want to sell. In order to get their business, advertising agencies make pitches to prospective clients. These pitches focus on prior work the advertising agency has done (typically its best work) and sometimes includes speculative work that suggests some ideas for the prospective client's brand. In preparing for a pitch, an agency will research the client company, its brand, and the major competitive brands in the same category. For example, if the client produces a particular brand of beer, the agency will also research beer in general in order to understand the product category. The specific research conducted in this preliminary phase may include interviews with consumers to find out what they like and do not like about the specific brand. It will almost certainly involve the collection of and review of the client's previous advertising as well as advertising for other brands. It may involve other kinds of research that the agency believes will convince the client to select them.

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