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Advertising is about selling. By nature, advertising is neither neutral nor objective. Pleading its case through the strongest, most persuasive means, advertising informs, entertains and sells. Occasionally, it even inspires. If advertising is about selling, then persuasion is how we get there.


Consumers are not persuaded by illogical or irrational promises and can see through ill-conceived ideas. You might be surprised to learn that 80 to 90 percent of new products launched FAIL. Smart marketers hold the utmost respect for their consumers in two ways: 1) delivering product quality and 2) using honest advertising. Think about yourself as a consumer for a moment. How do you respond to the advertising you are exposed to each day? Do you run out and buy everything you see and hear advertised? Are you easily convinced that you absolutely need to buy a product?

You may be starting to get a sense of how difficult it is to persuade someone. Before looking at some of advertising's greatest attempts, let's try to understand just what an advertiser's challenge is.

Although our society is fortunate to have a proliferation of products and services, consumers must somehow wade through millions of products crammed on retail shelves and sort through thousands of marketing messages that fight for their attention every day. Commercial messages appear just about everywhere - - on TV, in magazines, newspapers, billboards, on the radio, on buses, in phone booths, sports arenas, on the Internet, even in public toilets. The average American is exposed to over 3,000 ads a day.

Considering this, and today's hi-tech electronic environment, advertisers are challenged as never before to get their message to consumers. As a result, advertising's job is extremely difficult.

The key to creating advertising that engenders persuasion is to have a sound and properly focused advertising strategy. It is necessary to understand who the consumer is and what his/her attitudes and product usage habits are in order to develop this strategy.


An advertising strategy identifies who the prospective target is and defines his/her needs, wants and desires. This meaningful information, when clearly and creatively executed, should translate to a call to action: "I'm going to buy this product." The common form for a written strategy is:

  • Objective: States what you would like to convince consumers to feel or do as a result of the advertising execution. This statement should be the central, singular marketplace problem facing the brand.

  • Target Audience: Who is your prime prospect/customer? (Include age, gender and any other pertinent demographic/psycho-graphic information and/or lifestyle explanation of who your target customers are.)

  • Key Consumer Benefit: Must go beyond "Cleans your windows" or "Tastes great." What (singular) thought/belief about consumers' lives, brand feelings, category assumptions, hopes, dreams, expectations, worries, cultural beliefs, etc., will cause a strong reaction and get the target's attention?

  • Reason to Believe: Which one or two product attributes will persuade the consumer to believe the product will deliver the promised benefits? In other words, what is the single most important fact, angle, direction, sentiment or emotion that can be communicated in order to meet business objectives/solve the problem?

  • Proof: Provide support.

  • Tone and Manner: Affects the setting, look and feel of the execution. Must be relevant to the target audience to drive the message.

Once the strategy is agreed upon, development of the advertising begins. On-going research is conducted among targeted consumers to evaluate and check whether the ad is communicating the strategy and whether it evokes the desired action.
Choose one or two commercials (either from your own reel or those that follow) and have students participate by trying to figure out what the objective, reason to believe, etc., is for each spot.

When product sales decline, one of two factors is usually to blame: 1) consumer dissatisfaction with the product or 2) the advertising has gotten stale. Through research among the target consumer group, advertisers and their agencies learn what the problem is and, by talking with the consumers who use it, determine how they will solve it.


The following actual case studies demonstrate four advertising success stories. Almost all involve consumer research that resulted in a revised creative strategy and new advertising that was created to increase consumer awareness to give the brand a stronger image.

PANTENE - The Evolving Approach to a Global Brand

In 1990, Procter & Gamble (P&G) made the decision to launch their small premium Pantene Shampoo brand around the world. P&G's decision was not based on pure whimsy; it was based on strategic market research conducted globally for this premium-priced two-in-one shampoo/conditioner. Research results, compiled from markets around the world, led P&G to hypothesize that health positioning might provide the basis for a new worldwide hair care franchise. Why? The research indicated that:

  • Women believed the ideal standard for hair is "healthy".

  • Women considered their own hair damaged.

  • Women believed that shine signaled health.

  • Pro-vitamin formulation provided real support for claims.

Advertising was developed around the health positioning and was launched globally. The advertising was customized at the local level with the tag line, "Hair So Healthy It Shines."

The challenges to advertise Pantene in local markets (country to country) were numerous. First of all, after identifying that "Hair So Healthy It Shines" would be the central strategic product benefit that would be meaningful around the world, P&G had to determine how best to express this benefit in local markets. Next, the product's benefit and reason-why (to purchase) had to be communicated and visualized in arresting ways. There were four lead countries in the 1990 launch. Each communicated a different piece of the strategy and execution elements, as follows:

  • United States: a TV campaign was developed using an authoritative spokeswoman and showing the transformation of the model's hair;

  • Taiwan: dramatized the end-result - - the shine (a very powerful end benefit in this part of the world);

  • France: dramatized the vitamin capsule ingredient story;

  • United Kingdom: demonstrated product efficacy via the hair root demonstration.

While local differences were necessary (talent, ethnic standards of beauty, hair type, legal claims), the global format held true virtually everywhere. The second commercial is a montage with quick-cuts of executions from European and Asian countries.

By 1994, less than four years following its launch in 55 countries, Pantene was the #1 hair care brand around the world. Two years later it was still leading in 78 countries and by 1998, it was the leading shampoo in 90 countries with worldwide sales of well over $1 billion, thanks to a carefully researched creative strategy and the persuasive power of advertising.

By the end of the '90s, Pantene needed to be reinvigorated to keep its lead in an increasingly competitive environment in stores around the world. As a result, P&G re-launched the Pantene brand around the world, focusing on a global strategy, with local executions due to marketplace conditions and competitive activity from country to country. Pantene experienced nearly 10% growth globally that year via a new end-benefit product line-up touting: "Achieve the look you want with new customized collections" (Smooth, Volume, Curls, Color), with local advertising executions meeting local needs depending on the country.

In 2003, P&G launched a line of Pantene products designed specifically for African American women. While Pantene had experienced sustained success worldwide, P&G faced many obstacles in introducing its Pantene Relaxed and Natural brand. Issues of credibility, brand loyalty, and distribution presented serious marketing challenges in reaching the target consumer group. P&G found that African American women preferred to buy products made by African American owned companies and by companies that gave back to the African American community. They generally distrust general market products and tend to purchase haircare products in beauty supply shops (56%) rather than food and drug stores where Pantene is sold. Additionally, Pantene Relaxed and Natural would not be found in the ethnic haircare aisle.

The ad campaign for Relaxed and Natural was highly targeted and ran on cable and network TV (80%) as well as in print media (20%). Despite the formidable challenges stated above, P&G saw substantial results. After one year on the market, the number of first trials increased five times and the number of repeat purchases increased by 320%. Revenue from sales was almost double P&G's initial objectives, and after seven months on the market, Pantene's Relaxed and Natural product became the #1 brand in the African American haircare market. The strategic marketing efforts of P&G proved to be a highly successful and profitable endeavor.

The Pantene brand -- in total -- represents the most successful global launch in beauty care history. Today, Pantene remains the number one hair care brand around the world and the third most profitable brand for P&G.


Essentially, there are two approaches to persuasion in advertising: emotional and rational. Rational persuasion taps into consumers' thinking side. It tells them about the benefits of the product and why they should buy it. Emotional advertising taps into consumers' feeling side. It shows them the benefits of the product through drama and relies on them being so involved with the characters and finding the story so relevant that it will hit an emotional chord. Emotional advertising is much more indirect in its persuasion.

One of the more prevalent users of drama and emotion in advertising is a company whose very existence is dependent on human emotions - - Hallmark Cards. Hallmark takes a product that is inherently emotional and focuses on this benefit in its advertising. This is clear in Hallmark's advertising strategy. Its objective is to dramatize the role that Hallmark greeting cards play in strengthening relationships. Also, by tapping into consumer insights, a relevant bond is made with the viewer.

The format of the three commercials you'll see are simple, dramatic stories played out by characters. There is no announcer or presenter or other such interruption to the plot. Even the product itself is carefully woven into the story so as not to disrupt. This is not to say that the product is incidental. In fact, in all of these commercials, the product - - a greeting card - - acts as the pivotal point in the story and is used to resolve the dramatic tension.

While the emotional approach to persuasion is certainly the less direct, hard-hitting approach, it has helped Hallmark Cards maintain its spot as the premiere greeting card company in the world for over 85 years. In fact, the advertising has also helped create one of the most recognized and admired brand names in the world. Hallmark ranks among the top 10 on EquiTrend's list of top 100 brands for the entire U.S. EquiTrend tracks perception of brand quality among consumers using factors such as dominance, function, value, service and responsibility.


Emotional and hard-hitting are good descriptors for this next advertising campaign. Since 1942, the Ad Council has created timely and compelling public service messages Americans need to hear. The Ad Council uses the power of advertising to stimulate action against the problems confronting Americans today. The Ad Council is joined in this mission by the media, the advertising industry, the business world and the non-profit community. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has sponsored the Ad Council's Drunk Driving Prevention campaign since 1983.

Impaired and drunk driving is one of the most frequently committed violent crimes in the United States, killing more than 17,000 people last year and affecting one in three Americans. Since launching the "Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk" campaign, alcohol-related deaths declined steadily and reached a record low in the late 1990s.

Unlike other violent crimes, this one is 100 percent preventable. Intervention is an important key to preventing drunk driving. Research indicates that one of the most effective deterrents to drinking and driving is convincing people to take it upon themselves to stop an alcohol-impaired friend, relative, or anyone from getting behind the wheel.

When the Ad Council began its campaign against drunk driving in the early 1980's, 60 percent of all automotive accidents were the result of drunk driving. By 1999, this figure had dropped dramatically to 40 percent. Additionally, in a recent poll, 68 percent of people have tried to stop someone from drinking and driving. The Drunk Driving Prevention campaign is designed to remind Americans that "Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk." In a 2002 study, conducted by the Ad Council, results indicated that 90 percent of American adults were aware of this tagline.

The 2004 campaign once again featured the award winning "Innocent Victims" public service announcements (PSAs). These PSAs remind everyone to do whatever it takes to prevent someone from drinking and driving. They also help to demonstrate the senseless loss of life that can be prevented as demonstrated by the following commercials.


Unilever was faced with a huge marketing and advertising challenge when the company decided to introduce their deodorant bodyspray, AXE, into the U.S. market in August 2002. AXE had held the coveted position of #1 grooming brand overseas. A men's deodorant bodyspray, AXE was different in form/application and use from U.S. men's deodorants.

The Antiperspirant/Deodorant market in the United States is stick-based, whereas antiperspirant/deodorants sold overseas are generally aerosol. In addition, U.S. consumers are not emotionally involved with their antiperspirant/deodorants. Overseas, AXE emphasizes humor and the emotional and social benefits of smelling good that allow the brand's advertising to be among the most admired.

To introduce AXE to American men, Unilever had three major challenges to overcome: 1) convince American men to try AXE; 2) educate American consumers about how to use it; and 3) create an effective way to introduce the product and break through the clutter.

Plan to overcome challenges about product use among U.S. males:

  • Communicate the social and emotional benefits of using a fragrance:
    - Smell good and get the girl!

  • Excite consumers about an historically unexciting antiperspirant/deodorant category.

  • Adapt consumer behavior to deodorant bodysprays (aerosol product).

  • Educate new consumer usage of bodysprays - - all over the body.

In-depth, pre-launch research in the U.S. among the target (men 18-24) showed that product education was key to increasing purchase motivation. The strategy was excite and educate! Unilever's AXE marketing team wanted consumers to be excited about something new; to see, hear, and interact with AXE everywhere.

An all-inclusive national launch was planned. Two sets of ads were created: the first ad used a mannequin, which educated consumers about product usage. The second ad used humor by showing the emotional and social benefit of smelling good - - and impressing girls.

With the target in mind, AXE used non-traditional channels to build excitement for consumers. Consumers saw AXE everywhere - - in movie theaters, bars, on Web sites, in-store TVs, radio and on television. A huge sampling program accompanied the launch in movie theaters and on college campuses. In-store activities increased interaction with consumers. AXE Angels (models in AXE t-shirts) traveled by bus (the "casting coach") in search of "The Next AXE Guy". The AXE craze was ignited with thousands of young men on college campuses, in stores and on the streets. They wanted to be part of "the AXE effect" and get the girl.


  • The launch was a success. AXE rocketed into the U.S. market, starting strong and never looking back. By Dec 2004, Axe had reached an 8.4% dollar share ($154MM million; 2004 YTD, through October) of the antiperspirant/deodorant market. AXE leads the newly created deodorant bodyspray category with an 85+% dollar share. In Q3 2004, Axe was the #1 male anti-perspirant/deodorant with a 10+% dollar share.

  • Research conducted since launch indicates that AXE's brand awareness and trial have continued to grow substantially. Its TV ad awareness scores were well above the average for new product launches.

  • Since launch, the AXE Web site was visited by over 7 million consumers and enjoyed increased consumer referrals.

  • Online involvement, intensive viral ads plus chat room activity had consumers talking about AXE - - their favorite fragrances, the AXE effect, their experiences in the mating game. For instance, dozens of bloggers were intrigued by the Pitman anti-perpsirant deodorant print campaign, chose to write about it, and referred over 100,000 consumers to the Axe website to play the game and try to get a keychain.

  • The AXE Mannequin became a product icon. Articles in Star magazine and the New York Post, for instance, showed "Quinn" hanging with celebrities, such as Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey at Outkast's post-Grammy party. Quinn was also the celebrity photographer on Playboy.com.

  • AXE communication has won many awards, including a gold Effie award, Brandweek's Guerrilla Marketer of the Year, a Cannes Cyber Silver Lion and two print silver ones, and numerous promotional and PR recognition.

  • Since its launch in August 2002, AXE has been joined by five similar new products in the men's deodorant category.



Whichever creative approach an advertiser chooses to use, a bond must be formed with its consumers. The advertising that creates this bond must change or maintain an attitude, build a brand's image and persuade consumers to buy. Of course, it is the marketer's responsibility to provide consumers with products of the highest quality so that a continued relationship is maintained. These case studies demonstrate how effectively advertising persuades consumers, either by making a case for changing their attitude about a social condition/cause, or by giving consumers a reason to take action and purchase a product or service.

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