Advertising Evolution – How does it work – in the past and today?

Advertising is a critical component of marketing. But advertising, as marketing, has not always been the same. Over time, advertising, and more specifically, its purpose, has changed – we will call it The Evolution of Advertising.

To start with, we will have a look at an old Coca-Cola commercial. It originates from 1953 and looks quite odd from our perspective today:

What can we observe? In essence, the spot is only informing the spectator, but not attempting to provoke any emotions. Today, this is different.

What is Advertising?

Before we go on with the advertising evolution, we have to know what it actually means. Advertising is an apparent, payable, and persuasive message placed in media. Apparent means that it is recognizable as such. You have to pay the media to broadcast it, and it has a convincing content.

1897: The AIDA Approach – Step one in the Advertising Evolution

The AIDA-Approach is the oldest advertising formula/model, from 1897. It consists of attention, interest, desire and action. The model was originally designed for the layout of shop windows. First, the attention of the person should be caught, then interest generated. The desire derived from that should lead to the action, which was entering the store. Later, the AIDA model was applied to media and advertising.

Different types of commercials can aim at different stages of the AIDA model. Here is one which focuses on Attention:

As you can see, the spot catches the attention of the spectator for more than 30 seconds before anything about the actual product is said or shown. This is simply reached by relying on the strange appearance of a gorilla. After that introduction, the marketer can be certain to have captured the attention of the audience.

Attention can be defined as a selective part of the cognition process which allows the conscience to concentrate on the sensual perception of a stimulus. Thus, it works like a kind of filter. An example for how this filter works is the Volkswagen commercial with the leopard, which is not perceived by the spectator:

Interest, however, is a measure of the cognitive activation of the receiver. It comes from the general attitude towards the message subject and the features of the stimulus. Interest depends on two factors. First of all, internal motives: Does the receiver want to gain new knowledge? Secondly, the content of the stimulus: How capturing is the commercial?

Consequently, the question may be risen why commercials are not always designed to be 100% interesting. The answer is if something is new to us, it is interesting. However, if it is too new and unknown, it is also less trustworthy, and we are sceptical, because we don’t know it. Therefore, the right mix needs to be found so that interest can be transformed into remembering the brand or the product.

The Complex Cognitive Model – Step two in the Advertising Evolution

A more complex model than the AIDA approach is the complex cognitive model, which subdivides the process into attention, interest, understanding, conviction, action and satisfaction. Understanding means whether the target understands the message. Conviction refers to whether the target is convinced that the product actually possesses the beneficial features brought forward by the advertisement. The action is in most cases the purchase, although even visiting a website may be the desired outcome. Satisfaction is reached when the expectations are fulfilled. Otherwise, cognitive dissonance is present. Since satisfaction is the reason to repeat a purchase, this step is of crucial importance to capture Customer Lifetime Value.

1955: The Unique Selling Proposal – Step three in the Advertising Evolution

1955, the Unique Selling Proposal was developed, which contributes also to advertising: every commercial must have a single, outstanding reason to buy the product. It must be original, convincing, and addressed to a certain market segment.

1961: The Lavidge and Steiner Hierarchy of Effects Model – Step four in the Advertising Evolution

The Lavidge and Steiner Hierarchy of Effects model goes even further, beyond the cognitive process, by considering 3 stages: Think, Feel, and Do. Think consists of awareness and knowledge, which is the actual cognitive process. Feel, is composed of liking and preference. Finally, Do refers to conviction and purchase.


1961: The Lavidge and Steiner Hierarchy of Effects Model – Step four in the Advertising Evolution
1961: The Lavidge and Steiner Hierarchy of Effects Model – Step four in the Advertising Evolution

The Lavidge and Steiner Model clearly reveals a major factor that has received more and more weight over time: Feel. Recall the advertisement from the beginning. It did not provoke any emotions. Instead, it was only informing, which refers to the Think phase. Instantly, the jump to the Do phase is made, skipping the stage which might be most important in modern advertising: Liking and Preference.

The Change in Purpose – The Reason for the Advertising Evolution

As these models have developed over time, so has the purpose of advertising. The latter, actually, is the reason for these models having developed and received so much attention. What is advertising for? Until the 1980’s, the aim of advertising was to sell products. However, advertising cannot be alone in the selling process: even if the commercial is perfect, in case the product is too expensive, or too cheap, or not as the customer expects it, or the distribution is not good enough (it is not available where and when the customer expects it), or whatever else, it will still not be successful.

In other words, marketing needs to be an integrated process. If any of the marketing elements fail, advertising doesn’t work. Therefore, today, instead of only selling, advertising is seen as an integral part of the marketing strategy, and is supposed to change attitudes. Attitudes here must be taken to mean a relatively permanent valuation (positive or negative) of an idea, a person, an organisation, a product or a brand. By changing attitudes, advertising today is supposed to lead to persuasion. Persuasion is any communication activity aiming at changing attitudes.

Attitude and the Lavidge and Steiner Model

The Lavidge and Steiner Model is based on the concept of attitudes. An attitude has three components. There are the cognitive components, which is in fact knowledge, the affective components, which are feelings, emotions etc., and the behavioural components, which are motivation, involvement and readiness to act. Therefore, there is a high resemblance to the Lavidge and Steiner model (Think, Feel and Do).

Different Emotions in Advertising

The advertising evolution has not only caused the use of emotions in advertising. Rather, the advertising evolution has also uncovered that different kinds of emotions can be provoked and aimed at by advertising. Emotions can be of various nature, according to the wheel of emotions. They differ in terms of positive or negative, intensity and content (the reasons for why they arise). A perfect example for the influence of emotions in a commercial is the following spot:

It shows how a product can be linked to emotions: first positive emotions (sweet), then sad, then surprise and fun. The message conveyed is: the cheese makes the mouse so strong that it can exercise with the mouse trap. The advertising evolution has made this implementation of emotions quite common.

1980: The FCB Grid – Hierarchy of Effects Models fitted to the Situation – Step five in the Advertising Evolution

The next step in the advertising evolution is the FCB grid. According to the FCB-grid, there is not a single, universally working hierarchy of effects model. Instead, it depends on the product and the targets how the order of think (or learn), feel and do should look like. On the horizontal axis, there are two types of products: products that are bought because of rational reasons, and those bought because of emotional reasons. On the vertical axis, there is the degree of involvement. For instance, paper towels require very low involvement, and are not very much linked to feelings. On the contrary, a sports car is a feeling product, and has a high involvement.

1980: The FCB Grid – Hierarchy of Effects Models fitted to the Product - Example Products - Advertising Evolution
1980: The FCB Grid – Hierarchy of Effects Models fitted to the Product – Example Products

That leads to four different hierarchies of effects models:

FCB Grid: 4 different Hierarchy of Effects models fitted to the Product - Advertising Evolution
FCB Grid: 4 different Hierarchy of Effects models fitted to the Product

The grid suggests that for different kinds of products, different models should be used. However, approaches can even differ for the same products:

And now this one:

In addition to all of these considerations, people differ. For instance with regard to sex: a car advertised to men focuses on performance, design etc.:

An ad for the same product aimed at women does not even have to drive in the commercial, but may rather present the handy interior, to deposit shopping bags etc. Also within a sex, people differ: psychological components, extroversion (need more emotions) or introversion (need less emotions, more rational argumentation), sensing or intuitive… Thus, you must also consider individual features of your target market in designing an advertisement.

In conclusion, advertising has undergone a strong evolution over time. While it had only an informing character in the past, it must today be fitted to the individual targets, which is a result of the advertising evolution. However, advertisers today know that targets can only be reached by passing a number of stages. The most important change over time has occurred with regard to emotions. Advertising today is not presenting facts; it aims at our feelings.

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