Market Reactions to Integrated Communication

ABSTRACT - Communication conditions have drastically changed during the last few years. Companies have growing difficulties to convey their advertising messages. By using integrated communication one can harmonize and reinforce all brand impressions over time. Integrated communication means to coordinate all communication instruments through content and/or formal elements. The result is an increasing advertising efficiency. This article discusses a range of investigations which analyze effects of integrated communication on consumer’s memory. Three different levels of integration were tested: integration by slogan, semantic picture integration and integration by key visuals.


Franz-Rudolf Esch (1998) ,"Market Reactions to Integrated Communication", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, eds. Basil G. Englis and Anna Olofsson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 227-238.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, 1998      Pages 227-238


Franz-Rudolf Esch, Justus-Liebig-Universitaet Giessen, Germany


Communication conditions have drastically changed during the last few years. Companies have growing difficulties to convey their advertising messages. By using integrated communication one can harmonize and reinforce all brand impressions over time. Integrated communication means to coordinate all communication instruments through content and/or formal elements. The result is an increasing advertising efficiency. This article discusses a range of investigations which analyze effects of integrated communication on consumer’s memory. Three different levels of integration were tested: integration by slogan, semantic picture integration and integration by key visuals.


Companies have growing difficulties to convey their communication messages to the consumers and to influence their preference for specific brands. The main goal of brand management is to build brand equity. Strategically oriented brand communicationfocuses on this goal.

According to Keller (1993, p. 2) customer-based brand equity can be defined "as the differential effect of brand knowledge on consumer response to the marketing of the brand." As much as Aaker (1991, 1996) Keller stresses the importance of favorable, strong, and unique brand associations as platform for customer-based brand equity. In other words: customer-based brand equity can be operationalized through brand knowledge. In order to build strong memory structures for brands, companies have to make their brands top of mind and have to build a clear image of the brand through positioning. Especially integrated communication is necessary to facilitate this process and to maintain strong memory structures over time.

This study will be focused on the problem of how to forge a link with the consumer with emphasis given to the role of integrated communication.

These questions cannot be answered without considering the relevant market and communication conditions. We must distinguish supply from demand. Since 1975 the number of advertised brands on the supply side has more than doubled in Germany. The number of different media as well as advertisements within a particular media channel are permanently increasing. Advertising spots in Germany have risen from 444 daily spots in 1986 to 3049 spots in 1994 (GfK Advertising Research, 1995).

On the other hand, consumers’ interest in information is rapidly decreasing. Information is only perceived in fragments. Consumers prefer pictorial to verbal information. Consequently, the growing information offer and the decreasing information demand must result in an information overload in our society. Information overload does not refer to information stress (Jacoby, 1977), but it is used in the sense of information overflow. Information overflow is defined as an information excess ranging between information offered and information perceived (Kroeber-Riel, 1987). In Germany on average more than 98 percent of advertising information end up in the waste-paper basket (Kroeber-Riel, 1993a). Communication effects must be fragmented under such conditions. The effects of individual communication contacts are constantly decreasing. Figures published by all great German market-research groups acknowledge these results, i.e. the efficiency of advertising expenses for communication decreases rapidly. From 1985 to 1993 there was a decrease from 18 to 12 percent.

This tendency will intensify in the future. Our society will be dominated by pictures (Kroeber-Riel, 1993b; Schultz et al., 1994). Today’s consumers prefer information divided in small understandable portions. Companies cannot alter these changing conditions. Communication, especially integrated communication, must be adapted to these new habits, otherwise marketers risk to loose contact with consumers. Looking at today’s communication scenery one can hardly speak of the integration of communication. The opposite is true: Impressions for a brand given by print ads differ from impressions given by radio or TV ads. Additionally, many companies change their communication campaigns too often (Esch and Andresen, 1996). These changes are leading to further fragmentation caused by the company itself. Fragmented communication means conveying different impressions and messages for the same brand. For that reason advertising expenses are not efficiently invested in the creation of a strong brand image.

Coordination and integration are indispensable. But there is still a huge lack of integration, caused by organizational and personal problems within companies, such as turf battles between different communication departments (Duncan and Everett, 1993). Additionally, there exist three further essential barriers to integrated communication: One psychological problem and two widespread errors (Esch, 1995).

The psychological problem: Having seen their advertising campaigns more often and more consciously than the actual target group managers and advertisers have strong internal wearouts. Supposing similar effects on the target group they ted to frequent campaign changes, although there is no external wearout measurable.

The misconceptions: Companies feel forced to adapt communication to different target groups who may be interested in different information. Salesmen, for example, are interested in other information than customers or shareholders. This does not mean, however, that communication cannot be harmonized. Shareholders and salesmen as well as customers read popular magazines and watch television. They cannot be exclusively reached by a one-to-one communication. Furthermore a brand and its key positioning is constant independent of the relevant target group. Communication must be integrated in such an intelligent manner that its integration elements remain perceivable without excluding target-group-specific contacts!

A further misconception, that media-adapted communication within different media can hardly be integrated (i.e. print, radio, TV) is not true. What matters above all is to examine, whether integration elements can be transferred and transformed to diverse types of media and modalities (Kroeber-Riel, 1993b). These are today’s challenges to integrated communication.

In the following context integrated communication will be defined as the coordination of all communication instruments through content and/or formal elements. The aim is to harmonize and to reinforce all brand impressions over time (Kroeber-Riel, 1993b). Integrated communication is not limited to individual or mass communication. From our point of view all marketing-mix-instruments help to communicate with the consumer, i.e. packaging, store design etc. (Shimp and DeLozier, 1986). Though other definitions also refer to internal and external communication including planning and organization aspects (Wells et al., 1989; Duncan and Everett, 1993), we consciously restrict our investigation to the application of external communication. [According to the American Association of Advertising Agencies, integrated marketing communication has a broader meaning. It is defined as a concept for planning marketing communication "that recognizes the added value of a comprehensive plan that evaluates the strategic role of a variety of communication disciplines...and combines these disciplines to provide clarity, consistency, and maximum communication impact" (Duncan and Everett, 1993, p. 31).] Here the business sector sees the main need for action. According to research results from Bruhn and Zimmermann (1993) managers who are concerned with integrated communication are primarily interested in goals referring to external communication.


From the point of view of the consumer behavior research integrated communication can be seen as a concept of learning. Memory structures are to be created for brands and companies. Clearly defined emotional or informational brand attributes shall be cemented into the consumer’s mind. For the reinforcement of these contents repetition is necessary (see Esch, 1997).

For integrated communication two aspects of learning must be differentiated:

- initial learning of brand associations, and

- refreshing of contents of former learned associations.

According to cognitive psychology once acquired brand information and brand impressions cannot be forgotten anymore. Without appropriate stimuli, however, the consumer finds it difficult to make the necessary associations. Memory contents fade away due to passage of time or to interference with other information (Anderson, 1989; Underwood, 1957). The construction of clear memory structures for a brand by communication demands concrete information about knowledge structures and the representation of knowledge in the consumer’s mind. Previously acquired knowledge considerably determines the way new information is perceived, processed and stored.

The representation of knowledge in the consumer’s mind can be described by schemata (Bartlett, 1932). A schma is a large, complex unit of knowledge containing typical characteristics and fixed standardized ideas about objects, persons and events (Esch, 1997; Rumelhart, 1980, p. 34; Alba and Hasher, 1983). Schemata can be visualized by semantic networks (Fiske and Pavelchak, 1986). Such schemata exist for products, brands and companies as well. With the chocolate brand 'Milka’, for example, we spontaneously associate the color purple, the Milka cow, the Alps, a delicate chocolate produced with milk from the Alps and so on.

Precondition for building strong schemata, however, is the consistency of the presented information over a period of time! (Smith and Houston, 1985, p. 215; Taylor and Crocker, 1981). Schemata exert an essential influence on the perception of information. During the advertising contact schemata serve as framework for the selection of relevant information (Neisser, 1976). Three conditions must be fulfilled, if schemata shall influence the perception and processing of information (Abelson, 1981, p. 719):

1. The consumer must have a stable cognitive representation of a brand schema, i.e. the clear schema of 'Milka’.

2. There must be a relevant context which activates the brand schema. In Milka ads, for example, this might be the Alps and the purple cow.

3. The consumer must use the learned schema.

If communication activates an already existing brand schema, such a schema determines the selection of information as well as rapidity and manner of information processing (Fiske and Taylor, 1991). Information which is in accordance with a brand schema, facilitates and automates information processing. In this context it is important that central or salient attributes of a schema are recognized considerably faster as a part of the learned schema than peripheral attributes (Abelson, 1981, p. 718; Taylor et al., 1979; Arbib et al. 1987, p. 12; Friedman, 1979). The Milka schema is faster activated by the purple cow than by the Alps.

If the information structure perceived does not match the formerly acquired knowledge, the recall effects for this information will be poor. Such 'mismatches’ can occur, because

- the information perceived is too different from the stored brand schema, or

- the person does not have a brand schema (Esch, 1997; Alba and Hasher, 1983).

The activation of a schema through communication strongly depends on the consumer’s involvement, that means how attentively the consumer concentrates on communication (Zaichkowsky, 1985; Krugman, 1965; Laurent and Kapferer, 1985). The more casual the perception of an ad is, the more consistent with a formerly acquired schema the presented advertisements must be to activate the stored brand schema. If the consumer, however, gives his full attention to the ad, the information may differ more from a previously acquired schema. But the target group’s attention at the moment of communication should not be overestimated. In general consumer's involvement with advertising is low (Kroeber-Riel, 1993a).

When communicating with low involved consumers the use of pictures is very important. The results of imagery research show that pictures are better perceived and remembered than words (see Madigan, 1983; Shepard, 1967; Paivi, 1986). Imagery results dealing with the perception, processing and storage of pictures (Paivio, 1971, 1986; Ruge, 1988; Esch, 1997) are therefore very important for the shaping of integrated communication under low involvement conditions. The superiority of pictures over words is known for a long time: Pictures are better remembered than words. Contrary to words pictures are processed automatically, with low cognitive control, and holistically. The findings of imagery research are of crucial importance for the communication with low involved consumers (Kroeber-Riel, 1993b; Esch, 1993). The consistent use of pictures which communicate similar contents, helps to create fixed and clear brand schemata at low involved customers. The integration of communication just by verbal elements would not have such an effect. Low involved consumers do not spend much time to process an advertisement. Most of them are used to look at the presented pictures and not at the copy (see Kroeber-Riel, 1993a).


More detailed investigations on integrated communication should differentiate between dimensions (integration over a period of time and integration between different media channels) and means of integration (Esch, 1997; Kroeber-Riel, 1993b). Means of integration can be subdivided according to form and content (see table 1).



Pictorial retrieval signs and corporate design are examples for means of formal integration (Lutz and Lutz, 1977). Nivea, for example, uses the colors blue and white together with the character of Nivea in order to create a formal integration. The Michelin man, on the other side, is an example of a pictorial retrieval signal for Michelin tyres.

Formal integration is useful, if the advertisement is for special offers, the main aim is the actualization of a brand in order to become top of the mind or the creation of formal links between different departments and brands with different positioning is aimed at. Formal integration helps to fix the brand in the consumer's mind and simplifies the access to a brand, but it does not create a bond between the positioning contents and the brand. For the positioning of brands and companies, therefore, integration should be obtained by pictures and words. Recent investigations on integrated communication are considered in the following chapter.


4.1 The Experimental Design

In experimental studies relations were examined among differently integrated communication under low involvement conditions. We investigated the effects of integration of communication between different media (i.e. TV, print advertising), and print ads over a certain period of time.

A large number of US studies were carried out under high involvement conditions. The subjects had often twenty seconds and more to regard an advertising spot (Keller, 1987, 1991; Schumann et al., 1990; Burke and Srull, 1988). Recent research results show, however, that a one page advertisement is generally regarded for two seconds only (Kroeber-Riel and Weinberg, 1996; Kroeber-Riel, 1993a, 1993b). For that reason we simulated low involvement conditions in our experiment.

Our examination of integrated communication over a certain period of time shall now be discussed in more detail. [This study was sponsored by icon "Forschung und Consulting', Germany.] As for their effects on communication we examined four different ways of integration regarding the content of communication of four different brands and variable numbers of repetitions. For the investigation we produced 128 new test ads. As a typical example of th four levels of integration several ads are selected for one brand ('Wnrttembergische Versicherung’; for examples see Figures 1a to 1d). For another brand ('Singapore Airlines’) some different ads are described below. The formal design for all ads remained constant. This is of crucial importance, because we wanted to exclude that different formal meaning of integration could influence the results. This is a different approach than that used in the experiment of Schumann, Petty and Clemons (1990), who changed in one case the formal approach of two print ads and used identical contents (= cosmetic variation) and in the other case they used just the opposite approach (= substantial variation). First some examples of fragmented communication: In each of these ads one can find a different text, picture and slogan for a brand. The 'Wnrttembergische Versicherung’ once pictures an old couple for underlining the issue of 'retirement insurance’, another time a consultant appears in order to emphasize the idea of personal contact and so on. The ads for 'Singapore Airlines’ once showed a passenger sitting in the first class, another time one can see a plane above the clouds.

As for integration by slogan the advertising copy differs except for the slogan in every ad. The message for the 'Wnrttembergische Versicherung’ shows the company always as a solid insurance company. The slogan of the 'Singapore Airlines’ shows the company always as an exotic airline.

For semantic integration different pictures are used which always show the 'Wnrttembergische Versicherung’ as solid (e.g. the German oak tree, the Alps etc.) and the 'Singapore Airlines’ as exotic (e.g. exotic fruits, a Toucan etc.). The comprehension of the motives based on their messages was proved by a pilot study. On the highest level of integration key visuals were used. Salient pictorial elements are considered as key visuals. They embody the visual heart of an ad’s message. The advertisements show the 'Wnrttembergische Versicherung’ as solid and the 'Singapore Airlines’ as exotic. The key visual of the ads for the 'Wnrttembergische Versicherung’ was the "rock in the surf", in the ads for the 'Singapore Airlines’ it was the 'Singapore Girl’.

In the experimental design four different integration levels were tested from the highest level of key visual integration until complete absence of any integration (see table 2). The subjects had four or eight contacts with the different ads. This number of repetitions was chosen, because other experiments had shown that wearout effectsBin case there are someBoccur after five or six repetitions (Pechman and Stewart, 1989). Every different level of integration was investigated for four brands. Two brands existed in real life and two were fictitious. The product groups of two brands (airlines and insurance companies) were supposed to have a higher product involvement than the brands in the other product groups (deodorant and cereals). Therefore treatment group 1 saw four times an integration of the key visuals for brand "A", for brand "B" a semantic integration by using different pictures with similar contents. For brand "C" the subjects saw an integration by slogan and for brand "D" there was no integration at all.











The laboratory investigation simulated a low involvement situation. The subjects had to read two different magazines. To insure the low-involvement situation we gave the following instruction which was already successfully used in other experiments: "Please leaf through the pages of these magazines, as if you were, e.g., in a doctor’s waiting room. Just throw a quick glance at the articles" (see Andresen, 1988). Each magazine had 40 pages, 50 percent of them were ads. Apart from the stimuli there were ads from the competitors of the examined brands. The reason for this is the fact that ads of competitive companies reinforce interferences in the consumer’s mind (Burke and Srull, 1988). The ads within the magazines and the magazines themselves ere systematically rotated in order to exclude sequence effects. To cause a necessary distraction the subjects had to assess the formal design of the magazine. After 20 minutes the subjects had to leave the room. The retrieval of learned information becomes more difficult in a foreign environment (Baddeley, 1986). This corresponds to reality. Most of the time products are not bought in the same place where communication contacts are established. Questions about integration were only asked in the second room. Up to this moment 95 percent of the subjects were convinced that the test was performed for a publishing company. The real investigation purpose was therefore effectively disguised.

The main hypothesis of this experiment is that under low involvement conditions the integration of key visuals has the best advertising effect. The semantic integration has a better advertising efficiency than the other levels of integration. Furthermore, it was assumed that there is no difference at all between the advertising effect of integration by slogan and the ads without any integration. It was expected that four to eight repetitions do not create a wear-out effect. In contrast the results for key visual integration and for semantic integration should improve. Integration by slogan and fragmented integration under low involvement conditions do not improve any results after four to eight repetitions. These hypotheses were tested with the following dependent variables (see table 3).

Attention will now be focused on the recall and recognition results, because they are important for the building of a clear brand schema. The 'Wnrttembergische Versicherung’ will be used as an example, since the results of all brands were approximately the same.

This means, that the direction of the results were the same. Of course, the results of the real life brands were generally better than the results of the fictitious brands.

4.2 The Results

The retrieval of brand image related associations: The subjects were asked to say everything they associated with a brand. The integration of the key visuals produced the largest number of positive associations (Esch, 1997; see table 4). The integration of the key visuals produced the most relevant associations for the brand image (see tables 4, 5).

Additionally that kind of integration produced the best memory for pictures. Furthermore the subjects had least confusion in assigning pictures to a brand.

Key visual integration showed by far the best picture recall (see table 6). There was no confusion with pictorial motives from competitors whereas interference effects with competitors happened on other integration levels (semantic integration: 28 percent; verbal integration: 37.8 percent; fragmented communication: 21 percent).

There are similar results for the recognition of pictures, headlines and slogans (see table 6). In all cases, even if the slogan was recognized, integration of key visuals was superior to other kinds of integration.

In conclusion the results of the investigations show the superiority of integration by key visuals. The poor results of semantic integration are disappointing. However, the poor results of the integration by slogan in the case of low involvement are not surprising. Therefore, the integration by slogan in a low involvement situation seems to be no effective instrument of integration.










The effects of communication integrated on different levels have been investigated and first results turned out. Further investigation has to be done in this field. Such research could refer to specific transfers of individually integrated instruments, examie the integration of short-termed tactical communication in an integrated concept, investigate the supporting effect of jingles in the field of verbal integration, analyze aspects on the point of sale or a harmonization of communication with packaging as already partly checked by Keller (1987, 1991) in his experimental investigations. It will also be important to investigate the possibilities of integrated communication with regard to heterogeneous target groups with different information interests, since in this case target group specific and core brand information must be furnished. Interested researchers will find a large play ground of fascinating questions. Marketing in practice, however, must say farewell to a one-sided application of integration by slogan. This widespread normative preference for using verbal means of integrationBbased on the idea of rational consumersBcannot be seen as an effective way of integration any longer. In order to create clear brand schemata stronger means of integrationBespecially non verbal meansBare necessary under the present low involvement communication conditions.


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Franz-Rudolf Esch, Justus-Liebig-Universitaet Giessen, Germany


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3 | 1998

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