Advertising Communication Models

ABSTRACT - A general structure is proposed for constructing models of "the way advertising works" (advertising communication models). Four fundamental models with a total of eight paired variations are identified. These models: assist managerS to set complete advertising objectives, help creative specialists to articulate purpose, and increase the validity of advertising pre-tests.


John R. Rossiter and Larry Percy (1985) ,"Advertising Communication Models", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 12, eds. Elizabeth C. Hirschman and Moris B. Holbrook, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 510-524.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 12, 1985      Pages 510-524


John R. Rossiter, N.S.W. Institute of Technology

Larry Percy, HEM/CREAMER, Inc.


A general structure is proposed for constructing models of "the way advertising works" (advertising communication models). Four fundamental models with a total of eight paired variations are identified. These models: assist managerS to set complete advertising objectives, help creative specialists to articulate purpose, and increase the validity of advertising pre-tests.

Advertising communication models are theories about "how advertising works." These theories or models attempt to explain and describe, at the individual buyer or consumer level, the process by which advertising communicates with and effectively persuades individuals to take action. Managers operate with these theories or models, explicitly or implicitly, whenever they create, approve, or test advertising.

Most available theories or models share one of two common faults: (1) they are either singular versions of the hierarchy-of-effects notion (e.g., Colley 1961; Ehrenberg 1974; Howard and Sheth 1969; Krugman 1972; Lavidge and Steiner 1961; McGuire 1976; Rogers 1962) whereas it is evident that advertising works in at least several different ways rather than via a single process; (2) or else the theories acknowledge multiple processes but focus inordinately on the role or location of brand attitude as a communication objective (e.g., Ray and Webb 1974; Ray 1982; Smith and Swinyard 1982; Vaughn 1981) while ignoring other necessary steps in the advertising communication process.

The purpose of the present article is to provide a new interpretation of previous approaches and to extend the context of advertising communication models to incorporate the other inputs that advertising managers need. Firstly, a general structure of the necessary components of an advertising communication model is provided. Secondly, four fundamental brand attitude strategies are described which, together with two prior types of brand awareness alternatives, produces a total of eight basic advertising communication models. Thirdly, advertising tactics for these models are listed. Finally, major implication for the process of pre-testing advertising are discussed.


A complete account of the overall advertising process requires at least six steps (Figure 1). The last two of these steps are concerned with marketing objectives, to which advertising must contribute, namely: sales or market share, leading to profit for the firm. These will not be discussed further in this article. [The present article is based on several chapters from a forthcoming book by the authors to be published by McGraw-Hill. A more detailed exposition of the points summarized here can be found in those chapters. For the present article, the authors would like to acknowledge the comments of Robert J. Donovan, then visiting associate processor of marketing at New York University, Geraldine Fennell of Fordham University, as well as,research personnel at Ogilvy & Mather/New York and Ogilvy & Mather/Australia.]



The first four steps are the province of advertising as a communication process, along with the behavioral outcome of communication. In order for advertising communication to be successful, the prospective buyers in the target audience must: (1) be exposed to an ad or series of ads in a campaign, via media, (2) process the elements of each at in the intended manner so that the advertising results in (3) communication effects, connected to the brand, which in appropriate circumstances produce (4) action, such as purchase of the brand. [As usual we use the term "brand" in a broad sense to include any type of product or service that the advertising is designed to promote. Also "action" can include a variety of desired target behaviors on the part of distributors or consumers, such as sales inquiries, visits to retail outlets, and other forms of purchase-related behaviors whenever purchase is consummated by personal selling or other marketing inputs.] Our approach postulates a "recycling" sequence of overall steps whereby a buyer may take action, then be reexposed to further advertising and go through the sequence again, albeit in a modified state of mind due to purchase or usage experience with the brand (Ehrenberg 1974; Smith and Swinyard 1982). The overall sequence should not be confused with the hierarchy-of-effects notion, which is essentially a theory about the communication effects step. Rather, our approach postulates a "heterarchy" of effects, at both the processing step and the communication effects step, as will be explained later.

An advertising communication model should incorporate all four steps. Essentially, an advertising communication model sets objectives for each step, and provides strategies and tactical detail on how each step is supposed to lead causally to the next one. From the manager's "top down" planning perspective, an advertising communication model therefore consists of decisions at four levels:

A. BUYER: Target audience action objectives

B. BRAND: Communication objectives

C. AD(S): Processing objectives

D. MEDIA: Exposure plan

A generic structural checklist for advertising communication models is given in the Appendix. The checklist asks for sufficient detail to enable a comprehensive advertising communication model to be stated while at the same time attempting to be short and explicit enough so that managers will use it (Little 1979). In the succeeding sections of the article, we explain how the checklist is used to develop an advertising communication model suited to particular advertising situations.

A further note about the checklist is that the manager is asked to indicate whether the input for each component of the model stems from research or from judgment. Checking the research box means the manager considers that adequate research supports the input; if not, the manager still supplies the input but checks the judgment box. Not only does this ensure that all components are addressed, it also highlights areas where specific types of research would be of value to yield sounder conclusions. In the real world of advertising management, adequate research often does not exist nor can it afford to be done. Much planning stems from judgment and one of our purposes is to provide some theoretical input that will make these judgments more defensible and better reasoned.

The checklist is not in itself an advertising communication model; it is just the general framework. However, what goes into the framework must be based on an advertising communication model, of which we will now outline the main alternatives.

A. Target Audience Action Objectives (Buyer)

Step A-1: Target Audience. The first step in constructing an advertising communication model for a particular brand and advertising situation is to identify the target audience. In our approach, a target audience is defined behaviorally and attitudinally as the group of people (or households, companies or retailers) from whom sales are expected to come. A target audience consists of those people who will be most responsive to advertising.

The concept of target audience differs from the broader concept of market segments. Market segments are based on the other "4 P's" in the marketing mix, such as product segments for different end uses, price segments for high and low priced brands, geographic markets for distribution, or customer sales potential segments for personal selling. A target audience for advertising may be drawn from people within a market segment or across market segments. It is their vulnerable behavior and attitude toward the brand that draws them together as a target audience for advertising.

Increased sales through advertising can come from one or more of four prospective target audiences: (1) new category users -- who can be induced to try the product category via our brand, e.g., IBM personal computers; (2) brand loyals, who can be induced via new users to use more of our brand than they use at present, e.g., Arm & Hammer baking soda; (3) brand switchers -- who can be induced to switch to our brand more frequently than they do at present, e.g., the Coke-Pepsi battle; and (4) other-brand loyals - who can be converted to our brand from loyalty to another, e.g., Ralph Lauren's Polo shirts' inroads on Izod Lacoste's previously loyal buyers.

A particular advertising campaign rarely addresses more than one target audience. To do so would be requiring too much of what should be a tailored communication effort. However, managers will sometimes establish a primary target audience, to whom the communication content is mainly tailored, and one or more secondary target audiences, who will be affected but to a lesser degree. A campaign targeted to other-brand loyals, for example, is often undertaken with the provision that the campaign does not alienate but rather maintains the behavior of current brand loyals.

Step A-2: Decision-Maker. Unless purchase of the brand is an entirely personal decision, the manager must then identify the decision-maker or decision-makers within target audience households or companies to whom the advertising is directed. In our checklist the manager is asked to nominate the decision-maker by role and by action (Webster and Wind 1972) as to whether the target audience individual should: propose the brand for consideration (initiator), recommend it (influencer), make the final decision (decider), order or buy it (purchaser), or use or consumer it (user). The communication content of the advertising will differ according to the decision-maker target, e.g., men's shirts such as Hathaway being advertised to women as influencers, or children's products such as Fisher-Price toys being advertised to parents as deciders. For entirely personal purchases, the individual occupies all five roles and is the solitary decision-making and action target.

Step A-3: Personal Profile. Target audiences are behaviorally and attitudinally defined with regard to the brand. (A better term for the latter would be communication effect-defined, since it is not only attitude that determines action, as we shall see in the next section.) In this last section of Part A of the checklist, the manager is asked to specify the target audience decision-maker's current rate of behavior in terms of frequency and volume, as well as the future target rate desired as an action objective for the advertising.

Also requested are several personal profile variables: media exposure patterns, to help media planners reach decision-makers directly; demographics, to help copywriters portray the decision-maker; psychographics, to further help copywriters in writing "to" the decision-maker; and an estimate of the decision-maker's likely "mental state" during media exposure, which can be useful to copywriters to determine the style of ads, e.g., for tired late-night TV viewers or harried commuters reading newspapers.

Again it should be emphasized that although research may not be available for all these inputs, they will be tacitly assumed anyway in the process of advertising creation. That they are identified as judgments forces these aspects to be considered and can highlight points at which audience research may be needed.

Already, therefore, we see emerging the alternative content decisions that need to go into the particular advertising communication model via the general checklist. However, it is not yet reasonable to refer to these as alternative advertising communication models, since these decisions mainly refer to alternative targets of the communication rather than to alternative communication processes. The next section of the checklist, Part B, differentiates the fundamental advertising communication models via communication processes.

B. Communication Objectives (Brand)

Our approach utilizes five advertising communication effects (see Table 1 for definitions). In order to take action such as purchase of a brand, a target audience individual must: (1) have the category need, i.e., be "in the market" for the product class; (2) be aware of the brand as an option within the class; (3) have at least a tentatively favorable brand attitude toward it; (4) intend to buy it, although this intention may be quite latent or subconscious until the individual is in the purchase situation; and (5) experience no barriers to purchase facilitation, such as distribution unavailability or inability to meet the price or pricing terms.



The five communication effects may appear to resemble and perhaps to extend the notion of a hierarchy-of-effects, and it would be surprising if they didn't, given the widely acclaimed face validity of the hierarchy notion. However, there is no assumption that they occur in any hierarchical order, and indeed they may be generated simultaneously or at different times and with varying degrees of strength in a prospective buyer's mind. For example, an individual may know all about Preparation-H, but not experience the first communication effect, category need, for a hemorrhoid remedy until later in life. Similarly, an individual may have the category need and experience no barriers to purchase facilitation, but make an "impulse" selection on the brand wherein brand awareness, brand attitude, and brand purchase intention are created by point-of-purchase advertising at the last minute. There is no hierarchical necessity although the communication effects may in some cases be experienced at full strength in the numerical order shown.

Not all communication effects are necessarily communication objectives for a particular advertising campaign. There are, however, two effects that are universal objectives -- brand awareness, and brand attitude. [One could argue that brand awareness is the single universal communication objective. For example, the one-word ad "Perrier" may effectively increase or maintain brand awareness and cause purchase among target audiences who already have a fully learned favorable attitude toward the Perrier brand. However, most managers would concede that, although the brand attitude content is by implication only, the brand attitude objective of even this one-word ad is to maintain the target audience's favorable attitude toward Perrier by reminding the target audience of their attitude and thus protecting against competitive attitude interference. It is therefore meaningful to regard both brand awareness and brand attitude as universal communication objectives.] It is these two communication objectives that differentiate advertising communication models. All advertising campaigns are aimed at maintaining brand awareness (if not to increase it) and at maintaining brand attitude (if not to change it). The other three communication effects are optional as objectives.

Step B-1: Category Need. Category Need is an optional communication objective for a particular campaign. In the checklist, as with all the communication effects, the manager is asked to mike this decision explicitly. Category need can be ignored as an objective if this communication effect is at full strength in the prospective buyer's mind. For example, Coca-Cola probably does not have to address the cola category need in advertising Coke; whereas in advertising for Diet Coke, the category need for diet cola may require reminding, or selling, the other two options in the checklist. Discontinuous innovations (Robertson 1971) invariably have to "sell" the category need in their advertising; new brand entries in a well known category may have to remind the target audience of the category to which the brand is aspiring; but established brands rarely have to address category need unless, as Campbell's Soup did recently, they are trying to stimulate category sales of which they reap a large share.

Step B-2: Brand Awareness. B and Awareness is a necessary communication objective. Indeed, without brand awareness being experienced at some point prior to the purchase decision, the brand cannot be bought. Brand awareness is poorly conceptualized in most advertising plans. Only Bettman (1979) and a few others have come close to identifying what is required to set valid brand awareness objectives. Many advertising agencies and their client companies continue to rely blindly on top-of-mind brand recall, when many brands are in fact chosen by brand recognition at the point-of-purchase, not by recall prior to the purchase situation.

The main decision concerning the brand awareness objective (and thus the brand awareness component of the advertising communication model) is whether the target audience predominantly enters the brand purchase decision via brand recall or brand recognition. This may differ by target audience for the same brand. For instance, R-C Cola brand loyals may predominantly plan to buy that brand, by recall; whereas R-C Cola brand switchers may predominantly notice it at the point-of-purchase as one of the alternative cola brands that they switch between, by recognition. The checklist does provide an option of "both," to be selected only when a substantial proportion of the target audience is known or judged to use the alternative method. This should not be used as a "cop-out" option by managers because, as we shall see, the advertising communication tactics differ markedly depending on whether the objective is brand recall or brand recognition. Complexity is increased if both brand awareness communication objectives must be addressed in a single advertisement, and furthermore, the exposure (media) schedule differs too.

Table 2 presents a summary of the advertising tactics recommended for the respective types of brand awareness. [It should be clearly stated that the tactics recommended for brand awareness and brand attitude are hypothetical at this point. Most were synthesized from a thorough reading of various advertising sources, although there is a good deal of original speculation. If these a priori tactical recommendations stimulate research to test or challenge them, they will have served their present purpose.] A full rationale for each tactic is given in Rossiter and Percy (1983) and the rationales can only be summarized here. Brand recognition is a much easier response to learn than brand recall. The main brand recognition tactic is to emphasize the package and the name visually in the advertising. This prescription is often ignored or slighted, and it may be noted that it renders radio a very poor medium for generating brand recognition. Media weight can also be reduced after initial learning of brand recognition, since it is a relatively easy response to maintain (see also Krugman 1972). However, the reduced media weight tactic may be overruled by the brand attitude strategy, as explained in the next section.

Brand recall is a considerably more difficult form of brand awareness to achieve. As suggested in the table, the key is not simply repetition of the brand name, but repetition of the association of the brand name with the category need. Brand recall does not occur in a vacuum. Rather, brand recall is a "response" to a category need "cue" and it must be learned in association with that cue. (Note that in brand recognition, the process is reversed: brand recognition is the cue and category need is the response. For example, you see the Fab package and remember that you need detergent.)



The category-brand association can be made in what we have called the "main copy," which includes headlines, tag lines, and also the copy claims themselves, to ensure repetition. The other brand recall tactics are explained further in Rossiter and Percy (1983) where it is shown that personal reference increases brand recall by personalizing the association; that bizarre executions are a very effective associative vehicle as long as they do not detract from the brand's "image"; and that jingles, if they catch on with the target audience and elicit spontaneous rehearsal, are a very effective mnemonic device for increasing brand recall because music offers greater opportunity of unique encoding than words heard o; read in cows unaccompanied by music.

SteP B-3: Brand Attitude. Brand Attitude is the second necessary communication objective. Brand "attitude" as a communication effect is defined in our approach a little differently from the usual academic definition and more in line with the way most practitioners use the term (Figure 2). Academic definitions tend to follow the Fishbein type of definition (e.g., Fishbein and Ajzen 1975) in which attitude is conceptualized as overall affect toward the act of buying the brand. However, as Wyer (1974) has argued, overall affect is simply one class of beliefs about the brand -- that "the brand (or the act of purchasing the brand) is likable." Evaluation or likability in this sense has very limited motivational status; only a few products or brands are bought merely because they are liked. Rather, as Fennell (1975, 1978) has cogently pointed out, people buy brands to fulfill one or several of a relatively finite set of motivations. It should be noted that these motivations are not Just "benefits" but rather underlying energizing mechanisms of human action to which benefits contribute in a secondary manner.



Our approach to brand attitude builds on Fennell's and identifies eight basic motivations to which a brand may be attitudinally connected: problem removal, problem avoidance, and normal depletion (the negatively originated motivations); and sensory gratification, intellectual stimulation, and social approval [Social approval is meant in the sense of social rewards, which are positively motivating. If social approval is sought because of personal anxiety, it comes under problem removal and is negatively motivating.] (the positively originated motivations). Brand attitude is conceptualized as a summary belief (an overall evaluation) linking the brand to a motivation.

The checklist item 3-3 for brand attitude is divided into two sections. Section 3(a) is quite straight-forward as it simply asks the manager whether the brand attitude objective is to: create a new attitude from zero; increase a currently favorable attitude; modify an existing attitude (connect the brand to a new motivation); maintain a current attitude; or change a currently negative attitude across the neutral point into the positive zone, which is generally a much harder task than an increase within the positive zone.

Section 3(b) for brand attitude identifies the brand attitude strategy that will meet the brand attitude objective. It is here that advertising communication models become truly differentiated. Referring to Figure 2, it can be seen that brand attitude -- from an advertising communication standpoint -- has two strategic components: (A) correct emotional portrayal of the motivation, and (B) adequate logical support for perceived brand delivery on the motivation. These are of course the affective and cognitive components of attitude. In advertising terms, to borrow psychologist George Mandler's words (1979), the crux of the attitudinal approach is "heat" and "light." An effective advertisement engages the prospective buyer's emotions and enlightens him or her about the brand.



The emotional (motivational and energizing) and cognitive (directional) components of brand attitude form the basis for a four-fold typology of brand attitude strategies (Figure 3). On the emotional dimension, we have borrowed the terms suggested by Wells (1981) to categorize the predominant type of motivation governing purchase of the brand. Brand attitude strategies can be classified as relying primarily on either an "informational" (reason why) motivation or a "transformational" (brand-user image) motivation. In our approach, these are not just nominal distinctions. Information strategies apply when the brand is linked to one of the five negatively originated motivations: problem removal, problem avoidance, incomplete satisfaction, mixed approach-avoidance, or normal depletion. Transformational strategies, in contrast, apply when the brand is linked to one of the positively originated motivations: sensory gratification, intellectual stimulation, or social approval.

On the cognitive dimension, we utilize the concept of involvement or perceived risk associated with buying the brand. Involvement is categorized according to the economic theory developed by Nelson (1970), which classifies the brand purchase decision as either "low involvement"Or "high involvement" (search/conviction required). Related developments of this conceptualization of involvement can be seen most directly in the theory advanced by Ehrenberg (1974) and also Lutz and Reilly (1974), Smith and Swinyard (1982) and Finn (1982). The perceived risk leading to involvement can be either economic, especially for products sold informationally: or psychosocial, especially for products sold transformationally (Bauer 1967; Peter and Tarpey 1975).

The involvement classification applies to a particular brand, for a particular target audience. As indicated in Figure 3, brand purchase decisions in some product categories tend to involve so little economic and psychosocial risk that it is meaningful to speak of a "product" as being low involvement. However, the classification depends on the target audience for the brand. For example, the brand loyal buyer of a Rolls-Royce automobile, an ostensibly high involvement product, is essentially making a low involvement purchase decision; likewise, the other-brand loyal buyer of Tylenol, an ostensibly low involvement product, would be making a high involvement decision in switching to the aspirin-containing Bayer brand. Involvement, and thus the cognitive classification of brand attitude, must be determined for the brand and for the particular target audience.

The brand attitude strategy classification produces four fundamental advertising communication models which, when combined with the two brand awareness alternatives described earlier, produce a total of eight models. The tactical recommendations for the four brand attitude strategy variations of these models are summarized in Table 3. Space limitations again preclude a detailed exposition of these tactics (Rossiter and Percy 1983) but several important distinctions are reviewed next.

Authentic emotional portrayal of the motivation. In the transformational models, emotional authenticity is of paramount importance. Indeed, in the low involvement/ transformational motel, positive emotion is the sole "benefit" associated with the brand, e.g., the exuberant portrayal of sensory gratification in the "Coke is it" commercials. In the informational motels, correct emotional portrayal, which usually follows a negative emotion to positive emotion problem-solution format, is also important, but less so relative to the cognitive component. For instance, the efficacy with which Wisk detergent is shown (and perceived) to remove shirt collar stains is relatively more important than the particular Portrayal of the stain problem itself.



At likability (attitude toward the ad). A second distinction, also related to the informational-transformational advertising, is that in transformational advertising, it is essential that the target audience like the ad itself, regardless of its opinion of the brand. This is not true for informational campaigns, where sometimes "irritating" commercials get the point across more effectively, e.g., the notorious "Mr. Wipple" campaign for P&G's Charmin which effectively communicated that Charmin toilet tissue is squeezably soft. It is noteworthy that all published studies in which attitude toward the ad has been shown to contribute significantly to attitude toward the brand have employed what appear to be low involvement/transformational products: beer (Rossiter and Percy 1980); facial tissues (Mitchell and Olsen 1981); and soda (Shimp and Yokum 1982).

Following the low involvement route to persuasion demonstrated by Petty and Cacioppo (1979) and summarized by Petty and Cacioppo (1983), extraneous elements of the message such as executional likability assume much greater weight in low involvement attitude formation and change than they do in high involvement attitude formation and change. This is also reflected in the models.

Adequate logical support for perceived brand delivery on the motivation. A third distinction turns now to the cognitive component of brand attitude strategy in the models. In the low involvement motels, claims stated (informational) or visually implied (transformational) about the brand need only be tentatively believed, to a degree that is adequate to prompt trial of the brand (cf. Maloney's 1962 concept of "curious disbelief"). This means that claims in low involvement advertisements should be stated or implied as extremely as possible. [Extreme claims are of course subject to legal substantiation. However, on the verbal site, there are plenty of psycholinguistic devices for delivering perceptually extreme claims (Harris et al. 1980) such as, "You can 't beat Crest for fighting cavities" (but you can equal it), and on the visual side, perceptually extreme claims are often made effectively by implication rather than explicitly and may avoid legal challenge (Rossiter and Percy 1981).]

Claims in low involvement advertising have to be learned, rather than fully believed and accepted, and a more extreme claim will be more likely attended to and learned, and more likely to induce trial to test the claim via usage experience. [Smith and Swinyard (1982) attempt to address the low involvement trial induction phenomenon with their concept of lower order and higher order beliefs. However, this concept confounds the degree of belief with the confidence with which it is held (see also Wyer 1974). Beliefs, in low involvement attitude formation, are extremely polarized buy only weakly or tentatively held, subject to post-trial usage experience.] This has been labelled the "ask more, get more" tactic of attitude formation and change (McGuire 1969).

In contrast, it is only in high involvement models that the textbook attitude principles of "latitude of acceptance/rejection" and the careful tailoring of claims to the target audience's prior or initial attitude are truly applicable (Houston and Rothschild 1977). High involvement purchase decisions dictate that advertising claims must be believed and accepted before purchase action will be considered. Accordingly, the cognitive tactics for the high involvement models (especially the high involvement/informational model) are much more detailed than for the low involvement models.

Media exposure schedule. A fourth distinction in the models relates to the exposure schedule for different types of advertising (Wells 1981). Generally speaking, informational campaigns have to work immediately -- the reason or reasons why the target audience should buy the brand should be evident and fully learned (low involvement) in one or two exposures. In contrast, in transformational campaigns, brand attitude continues to build with multiple repeated exposures (Zajonc 1980) until a peak or asymptote is reached; thereafter, continued exposures are needed to reinforce the attitude, especially in low involvement/transformational advertising, where attitude toward the advertising is a significant contributor to attitude toward the brand.

Quadrant dimensions as dichotomies in practice. The four brand attitude strategy "quadrants" are postulated to represent functionally distinct models. Although it may be contended that the two dimensions that form them are continual, thus rendering the classification artificially extreme, in practice it is comparatively easy to determine, especially through research, whether most of the target audience regards the brand purchase decision as within the realm of "try-it-and-see" (low involvement) or whether they would have to be convinced first before buying (high involvement). In rare cases when the target audience exhibits mixed levels of involvement or when a single ad is aimed at two target audiences, one of which is high-involved and the other low-involved, then high involvement tactics should be assumed. High involvement models are the more conservative or "safer" models buy they also require more complex and careful execution and, according to the theory, a high involvement model will be less effective if used when the brand decision is actually low involvement.

Similarly, by identifying the main motivation, it is comparatively straightforward to decide whether the predominant executional focus of the ad should be informational, or transformational. Truly mixed cases on the informational-transformational dimension most often occur with high involvement/transformational advertising that has to provide information so that the prospective buyer can "rationalize" before accepting the transformation. Mercedes-Benz automobiles, for example, are purchased primarily because of social approval motivation, but their ads provide plenty of performance information with which the prospective buyer can rationalize the brand choice. Mixed cases of informational and transformational strategies can be handled by including both sets of tactics, although this necessarily poses a more complex task for the advertising to accomplish.

Step B-4: Brand Purchase Intention. Brand purchase intention is usually a purchase intention but can refer to any intended action targeted by the advertising. Industrial advertising, for instance, often targets sales inquiries as the intended action rather than purchase directly. Brand purchase intention is an optional communication objective. The option refers to the difference between "hard sell" (intention-induced) advertising and "soft-sell" (intention-deduced) advertising.

In hard-sell advertising, the target audience should form a conscious, immediate intention to act at the next purchase opportunity. In the tactical extreme, promotion offers and exhortations to "act now" are included in hard-sell advertising. The hard-sell approach, intended to generate an immediate purchase action intention, mainly is used with informational advertising. However, high involvement/transformational advertising, e.g., for vacation packages, may also employ hard-sell to try to stimulate immediate intentions. The manager has to decide which approach is more suitable even though there is a reasonable correlation with the communication model selected.

In soft-sell advertising, the target audience does not form an immediate conscious intention to purchase or take action with regard to the brand. An intention to act is only experienced consciously, later, when it is triggered for a fraction of a second in the choice situation (Krugman 1965). At this time, the prospective buyer "deduces," from brand awareness and brand attitude, a monetary but effective intention to act. We suggest that low involvement/transformational advertising frequently operates in this way to trigger purchase. If so, it is pointless to try to measure purchase intention prior to the event.

We do not, however, suggest that the hard-sell and soft-sell options represent a sufficient conceptual difference to warrant these being designated as separate advertising communication models. Rather, they are seen as close complements to the brand attitude model incorporated in the advertising.

Step B-5: Purchase Facilitation. Purchase Facilitation, the fifth communication effect, is also optional as an objective. It applies when the advertising must overcome a barrier to purchase resulting from the remainder of the marketing mix. Barriers may take the form of a perceived product problem, e.g., Tylenol and tamper-proof containers; a perceived high price problem, addressed in purchase facilitation by the inclusion of easy payment terms or a high quality appeal to offset the price via perceived value; or an actual distribution problem, overcome by exclusivity appeals such as "not available everywhere" or by offering home delivery.

Purchase facilitation is not usually a communication objective for national brand advertising although it frequently occurs in retail and direct mail advertising. If purchase facilitation is not required, the manager so indicates on the checklist and omits this objective.

C. Executional Processing (Ad)

Communication models can, if desired, cease detailed exposition with the establishment of communication objectives. The creative department and the media department, respectively, can be left to construct specific advertisements and a media plan that will meet the communication objectives. However, the eight advertising communication models (differentiated by the two types of brand awareness and the four brand attitude strategies) require concomitant variations in the way ads are processed and the schedule on which they are best delivered. Accordingly, a full advertising communication model will specify the two remaining levels: processing and exposure.

Processing refers to the prospective buyer's immediate responses to elements of the advertisement. Following the popular cognitive metaphor, processing responses occur in short-term or "active" memory, and are "ad-centered." The intended outcome of processing is to produce communication effects in long-term or semipermanent memory, which are "brand-centered." Processing is not exclusively cognitive, however. In our approach, processing includes: (1) attention to all elements of the advertisement relevant to respective communication objectives; (2) physiological responses to emotional elements of advertisements pertaining to the motivation portrayal; (3) rote (often subconscious) learning of associations between elements pertaining to brand awareness and, if applicable, low involvement brand attitude; and (4) cognitive acceptance of elements pertaining to, again when applicable, high involvement brand attitude, category need, induced brand intention, and purchase facilitation.

In our work with the checklist, we have found it both highly instructive, and very useful as a means of guiding later diagnostic searches following ad testing, to have the creative personnel on the account complete the processing section of the model. Here is what they are asked to do. It should be noted that the checklist skips the attention phase of processing, as this would be very tedious to complete and is implicit in the points listed in the remaining three steps of processing.

Step C-1: Emotional Portrayal. The copywriter and the art director are asked to describe the exact emotion, or sequence of emotions, that they are trying to elicit in the audience in conjunction with the brand motivation. For example, an informational advertisement addressing the problem removal motivation might employ the sequence: disappointment + hope + relief. A transformational advertisement addressing the sensory gratification motivation might simply nominate elation as the emotion or "tone" to be portrayed.

Including emotional descriptions in the advertising communication model used for a brand makes explicit an aspect of advertising effectiveness that is almost always neglected by managers who focus only on approving written copy. As we have seen in the definition of brand attitude, the emotional component is a necessary complement to the cognitive or brand benefit delivery component. For transformational campaigns in particular, it is the emotional execution of advertisements that differentiates the great from the average campaign. Furthermore, an explicit listing of emotions to be portrayed makes the task of ad testing easier because appropriate emotional adjectives can then be selected with which to gauge audience reactions to the ad.

Step C-2: Points to be Learned. In our approach (Rossiter and Percy 1983), two communication effects require only rote learning during processing. These are brand awareness, and low involvement brand attitude. In brand awareness processing, the target audience must learn the association between the category need and the brand, producing a subsequent recall response or recognition response as appropriate. [In brand recall, the prospective buyer experiences the category need first then recalls the brand(s) associated with it. In brand recognition, the prospective buyer recognizes the brand first, e.g., in-store, then associates (actually recalls) the category need whereupon a mental check of category need status is made. Recall and recognition thus reverse the stimulus and response roles of the associative link between category need and brand awareness.] The copywriter is asked to indicate those elements of the ad that tie in the category need with the brand - following the tactics for brand recognition and brand recall described earlier.

In brand attitude processing, the target audience must learn further associations between the brand and specific benefits (related to the motivation). In low involvement attitude formation and change, rote learning is all that is required. The copywriter is asked to identify the specific message points to be learned -- be these in the verbal copy or implied in the visual portrayal.

Step C-3: Points to be Accepted. For all other communication effects apart from brand awareness and low involvement brand attitude (and note that this means that many low involvement campaigns are based strictly on learning), the in-ad elements pertaining to these effects have to be consciously accepted by the target audience. The perspective buyer of the IBM Personal Computer, for example, has to : accept the category need for a personal computer; accept that the IBM Personal Computer is a good brand; accept an action intention, such as visiting an IBM store or calling for a demonstration; and accept that the price or payment terms aid purchase facilitation.

Acceptance signifies personal agreement with the relevant advertising elements or message points. Acceptance is manifest consciously in the phenomenon of "cognitive responses" (Cialdini, Petty and Cacioppo 1981; Hovland, Janis and Kelly 1953; Perloff and Brock 1980; Wright 1980) which seem to be prerequisite for shifts in high involvement attitudes and, we would argue, for shifts in these other non-rote communication effects.

The copywriter does not, of course, have to be knowledgeable about acceptance or cognitive response theory. All that is required is a careful listing of the message points -- either stated or implied visually or verbally in the ad -- that the target audience is supposed to accept. It is straightforward to do this, especially if the points are categorized in terms of the communication objectives they are intended to address. In working with the checklist, categorization of message points in terms of specific communication objectives to which they relate has been found to illuminate the copywriter's purpose rather than hinder it. The results of the exercise are of immense value to managers and researchers because they help to reduce the mystery (but not the magic) of what creatives are doing.

The four types of responses in processing -- attention, emotional responses, learning, and (if appropriate) acceptance -- are also "heterarchical." For an ad to meet a communication objective, each element relevant to the communication effect concerned must be processed. Because ads consist of multiple elements, this means that a person processing the ad may be making, for example, an acceptance response to one element while simultaneously seeking attention to further elements. Just as in the communication effects step earlier, there is no set hierarchs of effects in the processing step.

Nor, except in the rare case of a new brand being launched into a virtual mental vacuum, is there any necessity for the four overall steps themselves to form a hierarchy, even though they are shown this way for convenience (Figure 1 earlier). For example, communication effects (Step 3) may be salient in the audience's mind before the ad is processed (Step 2). Similarly, behavioral action (Step 4) may lead to deliberate reexposure to advertising for the brand (Step 1) as in the well-known dissonance reduction sequence. The whole series of steps should be regarded as a potentially inter-looping mental heterarchy, punctuated by occasional behavioral acts such as purchase.

Returning now to the steps in the checklist, there is another frequently used tactic or set of elements that affects processing -- the use of a presenter.

Step C-4: Use of a Presenter The use of a presenter (or endorser) in ads is another decision that often confronts managers. In our approach, endorsement is not a separate strategy; rather presenters or endorsers can be used, with any of the advertising communication models, to increase Processing of specific communication effects that need strengthening. Presenters should be considered to "boost: communication effects when a "standard" advertising execution falls short of attaining the communication objectives.

The processing checklist for presenters identifies presenter characteristics that relate to various communication effects and particularly to the four brand attitude models. The VisCAP Acronym (an extension by McGuire 1969 and Percy and Rossiter 1980 of Kelman's 1958 apProach) summarizes the major presenter characteristics.

Visibility. Visibility or recognizability, the strong characteristic of celebrity presenters, is likely to heighten brand awareness -- notably brand recall, although the advertiser must be careful that the presenter does not obscure the presentation of the brand itself. The processing mechanism associated with visibility, of course, is the expectation that a highly visible presenter will draw attention to the ad and thus make the brand more visible; that is, the presenter will increase brand awareness.

Credibility. Credibility consists of two characteristics, expertise and objectivity. A presenter can be perceived as expert without being objective, and vice versa. Expertise is relevant to informational communication models, both low and high involvement, because perceived expertise enhances attention to and learning of (low involvement) or acceptance of (high involvement) information presented in support of brand attitude. Objectivity, on the other hand, is mainly relevant to the high involvement/informational model. This is because high involvement claims have to be believed (accepted) whereas low involvement claims are more effective if they stretch credibility and are stated more extremelY and thus less effectively.

Attraction. Attraction or attractiveness as a presenter characteristic also consists of two components, likability and similarity. The attraction the presenter holds for the target audience is of primary importance for the transformational motels, where the advertising content most offers positive stimuli to enhance the positive motivation. Likability is mainly relevant to the low involvement/transformational motel, where everything about the ad must be likable, including the presenter. SimiLarity (to the target audience) is a high involvement/ transformational factor, where the target audience must not like the at, but identify with the brand presentation personally.

Power. Power, or perceived authority, is not a widely employed presenter characteristic. However, it is relevant in hard-sell campaigns where the purpose is to induce immediate intention to act. Public service campaigns on safety and health (problem avoidance motivation) frequently use powerful, authoritative presenters to good effect so that the message will be accepted almost as a commandment or a duty rather than as a message the audience can freely accept or reject. Pharmaceutical ads, too, can imply medical or clinical authority by using powerful presenters.

The use of a presenter, therefore, is not an arbitrary decision. Presenters must be selected so that their salient personal characteristics are those which amplify audience processing of elements relevant to the particular communication model through which the ad is designed to operate.

D. Exposure (Media)

A full advertising communication model also addresses exposure of advertisements via the media plan. Advertising communication models have inherent implications for media selection and media scheduling. As such, they dictate the overall media strategy of a campaign while leaving tactical details and specific considerations to the media specialists.

Step D-1: Media Selection. Media planners usually select a primary medium for a campaign, then supplement this with one or more secondary media to reinforce particular communication objectives or to reach prospects omitted in primary media coverage. The strategy checklist in Section D-1 asks the media planner to indicate these choices. As shown in Table 4, it is essential that the media planner selects media that are compatible with the particular communication model upon which the campaign is based. Particular models eliminate or severely limit the use of certain models. [Rossiter and Percy (1983) discuss creative solutions for overcoming many of these limitations. However, the solutions are typically elaborate and expensive. and should only be used when other considerations strongly dictate use of the medium. The discussion here is confined to conventional use of the respective media.]



The respective models eliminate or restrict media selection according to: (i) visual capacity (radio is eliminated for brand recognition models where packages must be shown): (ii) color quality and cost (newspapers are limited for new package brand recognition and for transformational campaigns); and (iii) verbal message capacity (the "short" media of TV, ratio, and outdoor are virtually eliminated for high involvement/informational campaigns). A further limitation is imposed by (iv) high effective frequency, which is discussed in connection with media scheduling.

Step D-2: Media Scheduling. Media planners are increasingly recognizing the importance of basing media schedules on effective frequency calculations. Effective frequency (e.g., Naples 1979) is based on the estimated minimum number of times an individual target audience member must be exposed -- within a purchase cycle -- in order to induce purchase of the brand (see D-2). The effective frequency estimate will vary with the target audience; for instance, brand loyals will require less frequency than brand switchers, other-brand loyals, and new category users, usually in this order (Rossiter and Percy 1983).

Effective frequency also depends on the advertising communication model. Table 4 (earlier) indicates limitations (in parentheses) when high effective frequency is required. Brand recall campaigns typically demand high effective frequency to instill the brand or to protect against competitive brand learning. Hence, in the checklist, the media planner is asked to estimate the frequency per purchase cycle used by the leading competitor, so that a "dominance" schedule can be planned. Low involvement/transformational campaigns also demand high effective frequency (Wells 1981) to generate and maintain brand attitude or "image."

When all factors inherent in the advertising communication models are considered, the media planner's choice of media for a particular campaign becomes quite circumscribed. The final choices can be inferred from the table. To provide examples from just two of the eight basic models: brand recall/low involvement/informational campaigns are best suited to TV, radio, or newspapers; whereas brand recognition/high involvement/transformational campaigns are best suited to TV, magazines, outdoor. or direct mail.

To complete the exposure plan checklist, the media planner is asked to list other factors such as continuity, seasonality, and geographic market considerations that will affect the plan (Step D-3). These do not depend on advertising communication models and are not discussed here


The eight advertising communication models have crucial implications for ad testing. There is no one way in which ads work; therefore, there is no single procedure that can validly test all types of advertising. Failure to appreciate this fact has led to endless, fruitless debates among various proponents (such as syndicated test service providers) of particular advertising testing models. [Preston (1982) has made a heroic effort in proposing an advertising communication model that attempts to integrate most of the major syndicated measures. However, this seems backwards operationally, in that correct concepts should surely precede consideration of extant measures. Moreover, Preston's is yet another singular model and, as we have seen, singular models cannot account for the different ways in which advertising works.]

The eight advertising communication models differ on three basic dimensions: (1) brand recognition versus brand recall; (2) low involvement versus high involvement brand attitude strategy; and (3) informational versus transformational brand attitude strategy. These three dichotomies require different ad testing measures, as summarized in Table 5. When these measures are recombined into the eight models, it can be seen that eight different testing procedures emerge. Rather than discuss all eight, which are relatively easy to piece together, we will examine just the three dimensions of difference.



Brand Recognition Versus Brand Recall

It should be obvious that if the brand is chosen in the real world through a brand recognition process, as with many supermarket products, then the standard brand recall measure usually obtained in conjunction with half-hour delayed advertising recall (e.g., ASI, McCollum-Spielman procedures) is irrelevant. The brand awareness objective with brand recognition models is to get the package recognized in a typical competing package display setting. An appropriate visual measure, such as a tachistoscope test of a multi-brand display, should be used. Brand recognition is not correlated with brand recall (Thorson and Rothschild 1983) and so the substitute use of a brand recall measure for a brand recognition objective is inappropriate and misleading.

If the correct model is, however, brand recall, then there are two main brand awareness measurement details to be considered. One is the cue to be used to elicit recall; this should correspond with the category need that prompts brand recall in the real world, and it depends on how consumers define the category and not necessarily on how the marketer defines it. The other is the number of recall responses that are allowed; this number should correspond with the typical evoked set size from which consumers select the brand in the real world.

Also, because recall usually declines with time (mainly due to interference), brand recall in an at test situation can provide only a relative measure of brand recall awareness. It can provide an absolute measure only when the exposure-to-test interval is similar to the average real world interval. Brand communication effects are conditional on brand awareness, and a brand recall measure (or a brand recognition measure) taken very soon after exposure in a test situation can product a spuriously inflated estimate of advertising effectiveness.

Low Involvement Versus High Involvement

The testing of low involvement ads differs from the testing of high involvement ads in several ways. Firstly, the nature of processing is different. Low involvement brand attitude registration depends on the perceived (learned) rather than the believed (accepted) message. Thus, the correct type of processing measure for the low involvement models centers on correct learning of the intended message. A suitable measure would be along the lines of: "In this ad, What do you think the advertiser is trying to tell you about the brand?" Open-ended responses are then coded as correct if they mirror or closely paraphrase the advertiser's intended message, i.e. the benefit beliefs to be learned

An overall measure of brand attitude is taken, usually relative to other brands in the evoked set (except in the low involvement/transformational model as explained below). Finally, aided or diagnostic measures of the benefit beliefs presumed to lead to the overall brand attitude can be taken. For low involvement beliefs, it is recommended that the beliefs be measured on a 0-1 (yes-no basis: for low involvement brand purchase decisions, the brand either has the characteristic or it does not

High involvement processing is quite different. Here it is the believed message that counts. The correct type of processing measure for high involvement ads is of the cognitive response variety (e.g., Wright 1980; Belch 1982; Lutz and MacKenzie 1981; Petty, Ostrom and Brock 1981). Measurement focuses on the target audience's own responses rather than the advertiser's intended responses. A question such as, "List all the thoughts, visual images, or feelings that you had when watching/listening to/looking at this ad," is used to prompt reproduction of actual processing reactions, then these are coded as positive, negative, or more specifically in terms of reactions to elements of the ads.

An overall brand attitude measure is taken, followed by measure of specific benefit beliefs. In high involvement models, beliefs are most likely to be graduated rather than all-or-none, and so multi-step scales (either Likert or semantic differential, see below) are appropriate.

Informational Versus Transformational

A further set of differences occurs in testing informational ads as distinct from transformational ads. For ads based on the informational brand attitude strategy, a rough execution is sufficient for test purposes, because the informational (reason why) message should be apparent regardless of the executional quality of the ad presented to consumers. [Schlinger and Green (1980) have presented detailed comparisons of the test results from rough versus finished ads. The correspondence is noticeably higher for informational measures than for transformational or "image" measures.] Likewise, the message should be apparent immediately, so that one exposure (print ads) or two exposures (broadcast; cf. Krugman's 1972 point that the first exposure of a fleeting broadcast ad allows only a "What is it?" response) should be sufficient.

An overall brand attitude measure is used. For attitude measurement, a pre-post design is most efficient. A pre measure is not sensitizing because consumers consciously experience attitude shifts with informational ads. For diagnostic measurement of brand benefit beliefs, Likert-type (agree-disagree) scales are recommended, because the consumer must agree that the brand provides the benefit; note, however, the 0-1 measures recommended if the model is low involvement-informational. Finally, since informational ads are supposed to work immediately, it is appropriate to include a purchase intention measure.

For ads based on the transformational brand attitude strategy, a high quality version of the test ad is required. Transformational ads depend on production values for contributing to the positively derived brand attitude, so a transformational ad should be tested in a version as close to the finished ad as possible. Whereas one (unlimited or natural) exposure is sufficient for transformational print ads, multiple exposures are necessary for transformational broadcast ads to allow them the opportunity to "build" their brand attitude effect. Three to four exposures of the test commercials represent a more valid simulation of real world conditions than just one or two exposures.

An overall brand attitude measure is usually appropriate for high involvement-transformational models; but it is unrealistic to expect low involvement-transformational advertising to produce an immediate attitude because of the low involvement, virtually subconscious way in which these ads operate, and thus an overall brand attitude measure is omitted in this case. For the same reason that transformational advertising produces "soft" attitude shifts, a non-sensitizing experimental-control (two group) design is recommended rather than a pre-post design. Brand benefit beliefs are also more appropriately measured on the "softer" semantic differential type of rating scales, anchored by "image adjectives" than on Likert-type agree-disagree scales. Finally, transformational attitude shifts are not validly captured by an immediate purchase intention measure because the translation of attitude into planned action is not an immediate, conscious process as in informational advertising. The kid glove response registration represented by semantic differential-type "image" measures is the most valid way of testing the typically fragile effects of transformational advertising.

Composition of a valid ad test therefore depends crucially on careful prior identification of a suitable advertising communication model. The eight basic models outlined in this paper should prove adequate for most advertising applications. If a more specifically tailored model is desired, the eight basic models together with the strategy checklist should be of considerable assistance in indicating the questions to be answered in designing the inputs for a specialized model.







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John R. Rossiter, N.S.W. Institute of Technology
Larry Percy, HEM/CREAMER, Inc.


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 12 | 1985

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