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Consumer interaction in contemporary advertising design

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Design
Wordcount: 5487 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This paper offers an insight into the role of the consumer in modern advertising. It charts the role of advertising in society from the earliest known origins in Ancient Egypt to the creative revolution during the 1960’s right up to modern day viral campaigns.

A range of topics are discussed from why companies lose power over their brands to how the individual changed modern advertising. It considers the ways in which, successful brands have utilised the consumer in their campaigns and goes on to deliberate ethical boundaries in the business of advertising.

Encompassing a range of authors and correspondents views on the subjects it demonstrates the need for businesses to consider and act upon consumer’s desires and suggestions in modern society. Furthermore it discovers the necessity to ensure that the consumer’s views are used as inspiration throughout the creation and development stages of advertisement design in order to guarantee its goals are met.

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The paper concludes that particularly now, in an economy where there is very little venture capital, brands should embrace consumer-generated content and utilise it in a manner that will aid growth and development. It references industry experts and their views on the subject and establishes a means by which businesses of all sizes can gain from consumer interaction in advertising design.


Advertising design refers to the creation and development of visuals to be used in the advertising process. It is used attract audiences by pushing creative boundaries and appealing to their emotional senses in order to sell.

Advertising and advertising design have come a long way since their beginnings and that is no more apparent than in recent times with introductions of new media but how exactly has advertising changed in recent times? Why was it necessary? What effect have relatively new introductions such as the Internet had on advertising and to what level is the consumer involved when considering advertising campaigns? Pivotally, are advertising agencies still able to engage with consumers and sustain their interest?

This paper will discuss the many viewpoints concerning the need for consumer interaction within advertising design, what happens when it is ignored and offer case studies as to how it can be use effectively.

Despite much literature on the matter issues still exist with the implementation of consumers through all stages of advertising design. It is hoped that this paper, despite limitations of time constraints and access to large samples of primary research, will assist as a guide to designers and the use of consumers within the sector.


A Brief History of Advertising Design

The creation of advertising can be traced back as far as the ancient Egyptians who used papyrus to make sale messages and promotional posters. There are surviving signs from ancient Babylonia and ancient China during the Western Zhou Dynasty (1050 – 771 BC) advertising the sale of wine at trade fairs. Other examples have been discovered in the ruins of Pompeii, promoting a range of activities from political campaigns and theatre performances to sporting events and drinking establishments. Papyrus was also used in both ancient Greece and ancient Rome to advertise articles that had been lost and found. During the middle ages, where it was uncommon that the population in mass would be able to read, vendors would use symbolism to promote their trade. For instance a cobbler may have used a picture of a boot or a blacksmith a horseshoe to advise customers of their location. (Landa, 2004)

The year 1450, and trained Goldsmith, Johannes Gutenberg invents a printing press, the first of it’s kind to utilize movable, metal type. Its release in Germany and popular rise throughout Europe allowed the widespread distribution of information to the public. It is this that can be accredited as the beginning of mass media (Kreis, 2004)

As a discrete form, however, advertising is generally agreed to have begun in the seventeenth century with classifieds and line-ads appearing in weekly English newspapers. (Wilson, 2009) Simple description, accompanied with a price indication, generally for books and newspaper, which due to advances in the printing press were becoming more affordable, served their purpose until false advertising became a prevalent issue, from which regulation of content was introduced.

1836 and French newspaper, La Presse, became the first media of it’s kind to introduce paid advertisement space. Due to this successful concept, the paper was able to lower its retail price, resulting in wider readership and an increase in revenue. Four years later, in Boston, MA, Volney Palmer established what was to become known as a predecessor to advertisement agencies. Around the same time French news agency, Havas, extended its services to incorporate advertisement brokerage. These forerunners to advertising agencies worked as brokers, selling advertisement space in newspapers. It wasn’t until 1869 and N. W. Ayer & Son of Philadelphia became the first full-service agency, which could be likened to those of today, in that they assumed responsibility for advertising content. (Landa, 2004)

It was towards the end of the nineteenth century, with an emergence of more full-service advertising agencies, that the business of advertising became an institution in it’s own right. (Wilson, 2009) It had its own creative values and working models, as well as being considered as one of the few real career opportunities for women at the time. This was due to the fact that it was women who were responsible for the majority purchasing within the household. The advertising agencies soon realised the invaluable input of women’s insight through the creative process. In fact it was Helen Lansdowne Resor’s foresight that turned Woodbury’s soap’s attention away from sole promotion of its medical properties to line itself with the consumer. Her tagline; ‘A skin you love to touch,’ implied a romantic desire and is credited as the first utilization of sex in advertising. (Reichert and Lambiase, 2003, p. 44)

Advertising agencies became the response to an ever growing and often crowded marketplace. Manufacturers and sales people realized that promotion was vital to the success and longevity of a product. The agencies began to sell themselves as experts in constructing goods to consumer communication, which if employed, would leave the businesses to concentrate on the manufacture and growth of their goods.

The Great War saw a number of advances in advertisement to the mass market with the arrival of propaganda ads on all sides. It was the British government, who were at the forefront of the propaganda battle, using advertisement to persuade civilians to fight as well as an attempt to lure America to join them. It is written in Mein Kampf that Germany lost the war because they lost the battle of propaganda. (Kick, 2001) The most important affect the First World War had on advertising was the mechanization of industry and the resulting increase in expenditure that gave birth to a new concept; the desire to create need within consumer. It is this notion that has been the dominating force in advertising since the 1920’s.

Into the 1920’s and the first radio stations were established by manufacturers in order to sell more radios to a greater number of people. Soon many not-for-profit organisations also began setting up stations, such as schools and civic groups. The practise of sponsoring a program became popularised which usually meant the mention of the single sponsoring business as an introduction to the show. However, it was soon realised that an increase in the number of advertising spots available would create an increase in revenue. Station owners began selling time allocated slots to multiple businesses rather than selling the rights to whole programs.

This practise was proving very effective until 1929 when the Wall St. Crash hit, which put an end to widespread affluence. This was followed by the Great Depression and the Second World War, which meant that it was not until the 1950’s that customers had enough disposable income to respond to the marketer’s creation of need concept, which had been established through the twenties.

Post War affluence had prevailed, as did a wealth of goods for which a feeling of need for the consumer had to be created. Perhaps the most predominant product to be seen as a necessity was the television. No home could be without one and of course, where the televisions went, the advertisers soon followed. It should be noted that due to Britain’s government control over broadcasting, they were a decade or so behind the US in allowing commercial TV stations to air. To this day the UK and Europe still have tighter control over the amount of editorial sway that advertisers possess over a programme. This is partly due to corruption within the US model that enabled sponsors to interfere with the storylines of quiz shows in order to make their goods more appealing. (Stafford and Faber, 2005)

1960’s America and Doyle Dane Bernbach introduced what is said to be one of the finest advertising styles in modern times. So much so that it’s creation sparked a period known in the states as the Creative Revolution. Set in a sea of hard sell, the agency used wit in addition to a certain amount of self-ridicule in order to advertise the now iconic, Volkswagen Beetle. The taglines ‘Live Below Your Means’ and ‘Think Small’ created the appearance of a company that was willing to make a pun about itself and it’s product. The car and it’s advertising was adored by the children of the revolution who saw it as a rejection of their previous generations materialism. (Consumer Guide Automotive, 2007) This form of societal advertising paved the way for some of the most creative and long-standing advertising models, which are still in use to this day.

Continuing with the American timeline, the late 1980’s saw the introduction of cable TV, and significantly, the introduction the music video with MTV. MTV altered many advertisers mindsets and paved the way for a new model where by the consumer actively watches because of the message, rather than it being a by-product of the program. (Williams, 2003) As cable TV and more commonly in the UK, satellite TV, became more widespread channels emerged which, devoted themselves entirely to advertising product, such as shopping channels.

Moving into more modern times and the Internet has created a fantastic medium for advertisers to operate solely on advertising revenue. At the turn of the century, many online businesses, including giants Google, began using un-obtrusive, and contextually relevant advertisements to aid the user. Importantly this is a major factor in the increasing trend of interactive marketing. (Kuntz, 2008)

Now, well into the 21st Century and a somewhat recent innovation for the advertising world is guerrilla marketing, which is an unconventional means of advertising aimed at gaining maximum results from minimal resources. The phrase, coined by Jay Conrad Levinson, relies on the use of unexpected and unconventional campaigns in order to create a buzz, in turn becoming viral. Guerrilla marketing may involve PR stunts, product giveaways, poster campaigns, as well as creative use of modern technology, in truth anything required to get maximum results from minimum resources. (Drake and Wells, 2008)

Analysis of Brand

“Is a brand a product, a service or company? Is it a logo, a marketing strategy or an attitude?”

(Mono Design, 2005, p. 8)

The origins of the term brand and its modern definitions can be viewed as somewhat elusive due to its generalised use.

The term itself derives from the practise of permanently stamping or marking something under a person’s ownership. For example, a herdsman’s would brand his cattle with a hot iron to display them as his possession. It was also, as Jane Pavitt writes (2000, p. 21) “a means of signalling disgrace.” Up until modern times criminals would be marked using hot iron or tattoo as a sign of infamy. This can be traced as the origin of the term ‘branded a liar.’ Branding can therefore be principally known as “the process of attaching a name and a reputation to something or someone.” (Pavitt, 2000)

The primary and most recognisable feature of a brand is a name or logo, which is used to denote its origin. It is this name or logo an individual or business will use to indentify and distinguish themselves from competitors.

It is widespread belief that brand is far more than a name or trademark however. It is the representative image for a product within its market. A brand owner must create a desire that connects the associations and attributes of the product from their own view, or desired identity, to that of the consumer. (Wheeler, 2009) This is referred to as brand image. It is this image of special or unique attributes that make the brand a primary advertising element due to its ability to demonstrate what an individual or organization can offer in the marketplace. The process of attaching values to a product or service, either physically or by suggestion, is called branding.

Branding is also defined as the method used to build consumer awareness and extend customer loyalty. It requires owners to seize every possible opportunity to communicate why an individual should choose their brand over a competitor’s. (Pavitt, 2000)

“A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service or company.”

(Neumeiner, 2006)

Due to the multitude of choice created by competitors, those looking for a market foothold must aim to connect emotionally with consumers and become, in their eyes, irreplaceable and in doing so create long-term relationships to ensure brand longevity and staying power. People trust strong brands and believe them to have superior status. How a market perceives the brand will affect its success.

In Designing Brand Identity (2009, p. 2) Wheeler references David Haigh, CEO of Brand Finance statement that, “Brands have three primary functions.” These are to navigate the customer in selecting one product or service from a wealth of choice.

To reassure and comfort the customer, through communication of quality, that they have made the best selection and to engage, using distinctive imagery and the previously discussed associations, to enable customers to identify with a given brand.

And to have the brand work to enable identification, which is referred to as brand identity. The final point here is of significance as brand identity is a tangible proposition. The identity aims to stimulate recognition, to amplify differentiation and to create accessibility for the consumer.

“Brand identity takes disparate elements and unifies them into whole systems.”

(Wheeler, 2009)

The ability to create and maintain a strong brand is referred to as brand management. It is brand management, which is of vital importance when considering consumer reaction and affect on marketing the brand.

Marketing the Brand

When considering marketing their brand, whether for a start-up, a non-profit or a product, the owner must first consider a strategy.

“The best strategy is developed as a creative partnership between the client, the strategist, and the designer.”

(Wheeler, 2009, p. 12)

A brand strategy will provide the owner with a dominant and unifying plan around which, all actions, communications and behaviours are centralised. The best strategies are so straightforward that they are easily communicated to all levels of employees and consumers but are also so differentiated and powerful that they stand above the competition.

The strategy is built on a vision that aligns itself with the owner’s strategies and develops from their culture and values. At the forefront of the strategy is the ability to ensure a deep understanding of the consumer’s needs and perceptions. Brand strategy aims to define position and a competitive advantage as well as creating differentiation and a unique prospect for the consumer.

An individual rarely develops the brand strategy. Generally a team of people, which may include the CEO as well as heads of advertising, public relations and sales departments combine to head it’s creation. Global firms will by and large hire in strategists with outside experience who can creatively aid a firm in articulating what is already there. Brand strategy is critical to a business’ success and longevity.

“Companies frequently survive and prosper because they have a clear brand strategy. Companies falter because they do not have one.”

(Wheeler, 2009, p. 13)

Following on from the strategy and in its support is a positioning strategy that both exists and in doing so evolves to create openings in a saturated market, which the brand can exploit. It does this by taking advantage where it can of technology, changes in demographic and importantly, consumer trends. It aims to find a gap in the market in order to appeal to the public in an alternative, fresh and alternative manner.

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Positioning, as a branding concept was developed by Al Ries and Jack Trout in 1981. (Harris, 1998, p. 27) They defined it as the foundations on which a company should build their brands, strategize planning and extend relationships with their customers. Positioning takes into account the four principal dimensions, which affect sales, product, place, price and promotion. Ries and Trout believed that for successful brand strategy that the owner must cement their position in the consumer’s mind. This, they believed, should be done by considering the consumer’s needs, assessing the strengths and weaknesses of their own business and understanding the competitive landscape. Ries and Trout’s beliefs continue as a guiding staple pin throughout marketing, branding and advertising.

To further grasp the importance of brand and its position within marketing it is fitting to consider a case in context, that of Levi’s.

The past ten years have seen a steady movement away in customer purchasing from established denim-wear brands such as Levi’s and Wrangler to a contrasting base of manufacturers. Designer labels and smaller independent, street-wear manufacturers have been acquiring a larger market share despite the fact the in many cases these manufacturers are not primarily focused on designing jean lines, seeing them rather as an accompanying product to clothing lines, which are of greater focus. It is felt that consumers are drawn in by the individuality and distinction of small-run lines, as well as the perception of celebrity through associations with their parent-label. (Mono Design, 2005, p. 74)

Levi’s tackled this shift in consumer behaviour in a positive manner by opting to reinvigorate and expand their own product lines, creating designs that did not just reflect emerging trend but actually drove them. Levi enlisted the expertise of London-based design agency, Kitchen who began working with Levi Strauss across the continent to aid in the reinvention and repositioning of the Levi’s brand image. They did this by consulting the customer at stores and consumers in third party research to gain a better understanding of their mind-set when purchasing a pair of jeans. Kitchen discovered a need for Levi to fully immerse themselves in culture and the environment around them. (Mono Design, 2005)

Although predominantly consumer based, the rebranding exercise aimed to stretch further, by raising the profile of the repositioned image in the press and by doing so educating retailers about the visual direction and expectations of the brand.

Directly due to consumer input, the forefront of the campaign was presented as a limited collection of books that made use of unexpected materials and experimented boldly with a number of conceptual formats. The idea behind the individual designs of the books was that each theme would be representative and reflective of the product it was promoting. For example, the book released alongside the premium product line featured a quality, embossed leather cover, where as the press book for the vintage clothing line featured earthy colours and an individually distressed cover.

Although distribution of the revitalised brand image was overseen by the Brussels based, head office, the true manifestation and grasp of the identity occurred in the outlet stores, which are somewhat varied in style themselves. Retailers were given the power to dress their stores in a manner that they felt was appropriate to the product lines they stocked and the environment around them. The books and promotional material encouraged creativity and inspiration due to the individual and experimental surrounding concepts. Consistency of the message was achieved, which maintained a modern, revitalised and innovative approach to marketing the brand. (Mono Design, 2005, p. 82)

How Companies Started to Lose Power Over Their Brands: The Need For Personality

Early 2005 and Apple was set to release it’s latest addition to the iPod family, the Shuffle. Shaped like a stick of gum, it was set to become the smallest music player created. The iPod has been market leader since 2000 and broke ground with its innovative scroll wheel interface. However, Apple had once again set themselves up to break convention with the Shuffle by completely redesigning the interface and removing the screen. It was clear from early test reviews that if customers were to ever be attracted by an iPod without a screen that the marketing behind it must be something special. The feature, which caused real stir about the shuffle, was its size and the fact that it was probably going to appear too small for some users. (Bhargava, 2008) Apple therefore took it upon themselves to add a note of advice to UK consumers within the product’s disclaimer manual, ‘Do Not Chew iPod.’

These four words soon caused mass, viral debate through blog postings and online reviews. Was this a light-hearted pun or a true disclaimer to protect the company?

In truth, Apple had used an untouched part of the marketing language in a fresh and unexpected manner that created a huge amount of buzz. It was a fitting tagline that demonstrated the personality of the product as well as Apple themselves.

This is just one of the many facets that has helped the iPod become CoolBrand’s fourth place in their 2009/10 respected, marketing league table, with Apple one place above and their revolutionary iPhone in the top spot. (CoolBrands, 2009/10)

“Personality is the unique, authentic and talkable soul of your brand that people can get passionate about.”

(Bhargava, 2008, p. 6)

It does seem, however, that until recent times Apple were one of the few companies that would commend and promote such a display of personality through an untouched medium, such as a disclaimer at the bottom of the instruction manual.

There was a day when consumer’s choice was limited, when there weren’t hundreds of television channels, tens of thousands of magazine publications and primarily the Internet as a base to gain information. Since there were fewer choices, it wasn’t necessary for companies to provide so many choices. However, those times have now passed and consumers are far savvier, demanding options in both product and brand. Consumers also have more choice when deciding to buy from large, industrial producers or the trend to buy from small, local producers.

“They [customers] realize that paying less for something made by a giant, faceless corporation is often less rewarding than paying more for something made by a small company.”

(Calagoine, 2005)

Consumers have the power to decide what to buy, where they buy it, how much they should pay for it and whether or not to believe the marketing messages behind it. Consumers hold supreme power over business and their products because they possess the ability and desire to voice their opinions with others through a multitude of devices. An example of the user’s new found power can be found in the ability to block pop-up ads while browsing online, thus selecting which marketing messages to receive.

In today’s era of social media, full of portable, personal and individualized mediums, with accessibility a key player in promotion, companies and their brands are becoming shaped not only by an individual’s perception but equally their communications.

“Historically, advertisers have thought of themselves as top-down communicators, in control of what information is released, to whom and when, as well as the channels of communication themselves.”

(Spurgeon, 2007)

It is clear that appearing faceless and unapproachable doesn’t work in modern times. Consumers must now be considered as primary creative contributors through the development, communication and marketing processes. Companies have come to realise that personality and character are key elements behind the brand and it’s image.

“Marketing is not about selling.”

(Kotler, 2000)

Both sales and marketing use similar approaches. When considering a sales campaign, the focus is product based. However, a market-driven business focuses on the consumer. Marketing aims to penetrate the psyches of consumer and this is what companies like Apple have utilised in order to create an almost character like representation.

The previous example of their pun-disclaimer was just a tit-bit in a wealth of marketing, but it is encompassed by an identity that consumers already associated with the Apple brand. The disclaimer was confident, bold, and different, just like Apple.

Brand owners must now concentrate on being responsible not just for releasing fantastic product, but creating passion and enthusiasm for their customers to buy into. They must tell a story which consumers understand and appreciate and most importantly, pass on to others.

How The Individual Changed Advertising: The Viral Boom

Before the Internet, businesses had two real choices to attract attention. They could buy up expensive advertising placements or get third-party commendations through the media. The web has changed all that. (Odih, 2007)

Prior to the Web, traditional, directionless advertising through television, radio and newspapers ware the only established methods to create publicity. However, this made individualised and personal advertising messages rather difficult, which, as mentioned above aids in the creation of a personal and accessible brand. It should be stated here that mass advertising still exists in a successful and appropriate manner today, for example Carling advertising their Lager during half time of a football game through television. This is because, although a stereotype, men watching football on the television will often do so while drinking lager, it therefore makes sense that as a product that sets itself up to appeal to a mass market, Carling should advertise to the mass, male market of football enthusiasts they wish to attract.

When considering the millions of other businesses, independent retailers, not-for-profits and entrepreneurs, traditional advertising is so broad and impersonal that it is largely ineffective. (O’Shaughnessy, p. 490) For these subjects however, the web has created a fantastic opportunity to promote themselves to the individual with target messages that cost a fraction of the traditional, mass-market approach.

It may be argued that traditional advertisers employ what David Meerman Scott refers to as one-way interruption. (2007, p. 7) Meerman paints a picture of an advertising agency’s creative team sitting in an office and conjuring up ways to interrupt an audience so they become engrossed in a one-way message. Continuing from this example, in the middle of a television show, it would be the creative team’s job to craft an advertisement that would gain the viewer’s attention, when they would prefer to be doing something else, for instance, watching the intended show. This example and in fact all examples of traditional advertising, rely on holting an individual in what they are doing so that they will pay attention and soak-in a message. This, it is argued, is where the web differs.

The web and online advertising has the ability to, instead of interrupting an individual, actually deliver useful content exactly when the consumer requires it. Furthermore, for the first time, consumers not only decided when they want to receive advertisements, but they also possess the ability to enable growth and longevity of an advertisement and therefore the product or service it would be promoting. This, it is claimed, is due to the development of viral marketing.

Viral marketing is now an everyday term, which suggests passing something on, it is word of mouth marketing. (Kotler et al. 2008, p. 856) Its aim, from the view of the advertiser, is to create something that grows as it is passed from person to person and is often utilized in a similar manner to snowball sampling. From an audience’s viewpoint, viral marketing empowers them by giving them a choice whether to buy into something and in turn help it grow or alternatively click off and choose to ignore it.

The huge rise in video-sharing websites such as YouTube and Veoh spawned a new level of accessibility for marketers, which was stumbled upon somewhat by chance.

Early 2006 and home-made videos of bottles of Diet Coke exploding when mixed with Mentos mints began to appear on the Web. Neither Coca Cola nor the Mentos brand owners could control either the use of their product or the distribution of the destructive nature of the images. Replication of the experiments using the two brands was ripe and with the means to share these experiments through the web, the videos snowballed. Thousands of videos were uploaded tallying up millions of views. The finest examples were rapidly powered through viral-dissemination and soon topped most-watched lists on video-sharing sites. Mentos was said to be the happier of the two brands about this popular display of its brand and new found association with youth-culture. Christina Spurgeon (2007, p. 3) quotes Vranica and Terhune (2006) and states that the media exposure was worth an estimated $10 million USD, approximately more than half their yearly advertising budget. They also took immediate steps to expand on this undeveloped market and newfound publicity by partnering with YouTube to host a contest for the finest Coke-Mentos video. Coca-Cola too explored the consumer-generated promotion by creating an unrelated competition in order to further build the Coke brand. (Spurgeon, 2007)

It was sporadic revelations such as the success of the Coke-Mentos videos that set in marketer’s minds the power and influence of the user in the management, interaction and productivity of media.

Utilising the Consumer in Viral Campaigns

One of the finest examples of viral marketing and its manipulation is that of MSN.com and it’s free email service, Hotmail. (Sweeney, 2006, p. 54) Since it’s creation, every email sent using a Hotmail account has contained a tagline informing the recipient about the service. It currently reads: ‘Join the world’s largest e-mail service with MSN Hotmail: http://www.hotmai.com.’

This unobtrusive message enabled Hotmail to inform hundreds of thousands of potential users to the service they offer. As many great advertising campaigns do, the message went deeper. Hotmail itself does not actually retail products, however, the technique was used to create mass exposure for the Microsoft Network site. This is because users would generally log onto their Hotmail account through a link on the Microsoft Network’s site, in turn creating exposure for MSN.com and their ot


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