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Brand Salience versus Brand Image: Two Theories of Advertising Effectiveness.

How does advertising work? The dominant belief of most advertisers and academics over the past several decades has been that advertising primarily works by changing consumer attitudes toward a brand. An analysis of an 11-year tracking-study in an established service category challenges this assumption. The key finding is that advertising primarily influences market share by increasing brand salience. Advertising had limited impact on brand image.

One of the questions that market research professionals frequently ponder is: How does advertising work? Simon Broadbent of Leo Burnett claims that there are a total of 456 theories about how advertising works (Broadbent, 1992). And that was back in 1992!

Even though there may be many theories about how advertising works, most share a common theme or assumption. They assume that advertising works by changing consumer attitudes about brands. This has been the dominant belief of most American advertisers and academics over the past several decades (Jones, 1990).

The classical expression of the theory that advertising works by changing brand attitudes is the AIDA model (Joyce, 1967). This simple model says that awareness of a brand precedes interest, which in turn precedes desire and action. The model assumes that as the consumer moves from awareness of a brand to action, attitudes toward the brand shift. While awareness plays a role in this theory, it is primarily a gatekeeper. The theory simply states the obvious: that awareness of a brand is required before you can be interested in it.

Many variants of this model have been proposed over the years, all of which assume at least a somewhat sequential processing of information and that an attitude shift is required prior to purchasing (e.g., Vaughn, 1980; Preston, 1982).

Maybe the clearest statement of the theory that advertising works by changing brand attitudes or imagery came from Al Achenbaum in an article originally published in 1972 and reprinted by the ARF in a special issue of the JAR in 1983.

The data suggest that the advertising process works something like this....

Information about one or more product attributes is communicated in a

persuasive context by national advertising. The attributes can be sensory,

evaluative or emotional.

If the communication is persuasive enough to improve consumers' attitudes

on that attribute, their attitudes toward the overall brand will improve as

well. This improvement in overall brand attitudes will concomitantly

increase the probability of purchase.

The theory that advertising works by changing brand attitudes has many adherents in the 1990s--though the concepts used to express the theory have changed. Several leading market research companies have proposed models based on brand equity and brand loyalty (e.g., Baldinger and Rubinson, 1996; Dyson, Farr, and Hollis, 1996; Farr, 1996). Measures of brand equity and loyalty are included in tracking-studies where presumably improvements on these measures are viewed as intermediate criteria of advertising's success. While some of these theories admit the importance of brand presence or salience, this clearly plays second fiddle to attitude changes, which are now conceptualized in new and interesting ways, such as "perceptions of the brand's relevance," "perceptions of the brand's performance," "perceived advantage versus competition," and ultimately, "consumer bonding" (Dyson, Farr, and Hollis, 1996).

THE MINORITY VIEW

While the majority of American researchers over the past few decades have held strongly to the belief that advertising works by changing brand imagery, there is a minority opinion. This minority opinion holds that in established categories, advertising works primarily because it improves or maintains brand salience (Moral, 1990; Sutherland and Galloway, 1981).

"Brand salience" refers to the order in which brands come to mind. It refers not to what consumers think about brands but to which ones they think about. In market research, brand salience is frequently measured by top-of-mind awareness (brand that first comes to mind) and total unaided brand awareness. Brand imagery, on the other hand, is usually measured by overall ratings and attribute ratings.

Two theories have been advanced to explain why brand salience may influence sales and ultimately market share. One is that brands which come to mind on an unaided basis are likely to be the brands in a consumer's consideration set and thus have a higher probability of being purchased (Miller and Georgiou, 1996; Sutherland and Galloway, 1981). A second explanation is that advertising weight and brand salience are cues to consumers indicating which brands are popular. According to this theory, consumers have a tendency to buy popular brands. Thus there is a connection between brand salience and sales (Sutherland, 1997; Sutherland and Galloway, 1981).

IMPLICATIONS OF THESE VIEWS

The issue of whether advertising primarily works by improving brand salience or building imagery is not just an academic one. It has implications both on the practice of advertising and the role advertising has in the marketer's repertoire.

If advertising primarily works because it builds or reinforces brand imagery, then the following activities become extremely important in the advertising process:

* understanding the brand's equity

* developing a brand position that is both appealing and unique

* developing advertising which persuasively communicates or at least reinforces the brand positioning

Of course, these activities are going to be important regardless of what theory of advertising you hold. However, they become of paramount importance if you hold the theory that advertising primarily works by influencing brand attitudes.

On the other hand, if you believe that advertising primarily works by building or maintaining brand salience, then it becomes extremely important to:

* develop advertising that is intrusive and/or entertaining

* develop advertising that is well branded

Again, developing advertising with these characteristics is going to be important regardless of your position on the theoretical issue. However, these considerations become critically important if you believe that advertising works primarily by affecting brand salience since, according to this theory, advertising's basic job is to register your brand name with the public.

The brand salience versus brand imagery debate also has implications on the role of advertising in the marketer's repertoire of tools.

Advertising holds a unique place among advertisers who believe that it can build brand equity. This is because advertising is one of the few tools that can do this and is probably the most cost-effective one. Promotions, sponsorships, and public relations all lack advertising's strength--the ability to change the public's view of your brand.

On the other hand, if you believe that advertising primarily affects brand salience, advertising is just one more tool for getting your brand name in front of the public. It is not fundamentally different from other tools in the marketer's repertoire that promote brand awareness. It becomes an empirical question whether advertising is the best way to promote brand salience or whether this is best done with other tools. With this view, cutting advertising spending might make sense if other, less costly, marketing tools can maintain your brand's presence.

A CASE STUDY

This paper reports a case study from the rent-a-car category that has implications on the issue of whether advertising works by building brand imagery versus brand salience. Rent-a-car is an established service category with companies that spend moderately on advertising--generally $50 million or less per year. In this respect, it is typical of a great many other service categories in the United States today.

The results reported here were part of an advertising review process. The primary goal was to review market research results to determine the effect rent-a-car advertising had on awareness, imagery, and market share. A second objective was to see what principles of successful advertising could be ascertained so that future advertising could deliver an even greater return on investment.

The case study is based on a tracking-study which Lieberman Research Inc. (LRI) has conducted in the rent-a-car category for 11 years. The survey is a point-in-time tracker that is conducted with car renters either once or twice a year. The basic sample consists of 800 car renters in the top 25 markets nationally, where rent-a-car companies do most of their business. The study covers a variety of issues including brand and advertising awareness, communications, brand image, and share of market. The tracking-study data was collected over an 11-year period between 1986 and 1996.

BASIC CORRELATIONS

The first step in this process was to look at the relationship between changes in advertising spending and changes on various tracking-study measures over the 11-year period. For each of six companies, we calculated correlations between advertising share of voice and various tracking-study and external measures. We then averaged the correlations across companies.

Figure 1 shows that there is a strong positive correlation between the amount of money a company spends on advertising and its share of market.

Figure 1 Correlations between Changes in Advertising Share of Voice and Tracking Study/External Measures
                                                Correlation
                                                    (r)

Behavior-Market Share   LRI Market Share            .52
                        Airport Revenue Share       .49

Company Awareness       Top-of-Mind Awareness       .49
                        Unaided Awareness           .42

Ad Awareness            Unaided Ad Awareness        .45
                        Total Ad Awareness          .41

Ad Communications                                   .35
(Positioning)

Image-Company Ratings                               .23


Advertising spending was correlated with two measures of share of market--the LRI share-of-car-rental occasions from the tracking-study and the Airport Revenue Share. Airport Revenue Share is an independent measure of market share based on rent-a-car companies' reports of revenue to the airport authorities.

Advertising spending was also correlated with several other measures from the tracking study. It was correlated with measures of company awareness and advertising awareness. It was also correlated with advertising communications and, to a lesser extent, company image.

The image measure used here was the average rating for each company across 13 attributes, covering characteristics like speed of service, condition of the car, rates, etc. The communications measure was based on a theme/slogan recall question. Respondents were read themes or slogans from rent-a-car advertisements and asked to identify the company that uses the theme in its advertising. For each theme or slogan, the percentage of car renters who associate it with the correct rent-a-car company is calculated. The communications score used in this analysis is the average "correct identification" across each of the six companies' advertising themes or slogans.

MODEL OF HOW ADVERTISING IMPACTS MARKET SHARE

The next step was to build a model to describe how changes in advertising spending influence share of market in the rent-a-car category. The model, based on regression analysis, involves dividing up the explained variance between advertising spending and market share to understand the mechanisms through which advertising has its influence. The model is based on the five rent-a-car companies for which we have data on all measures throughout the 11-year period.

The first part of the model shows the relative association between changes in share of voice and various tracking-study measures (see Figure 2). It shows that changes in advertising spending have a greater effect on company awareness, advertising awareness, and advertising communications than on company image. Or, to say this another way, it is easier to change your awareness and communications scores than it is to change your company's image.

[Figure 2 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The next part of the model shows the degree of association between changes in tracking-study measures and share of market (see Figure 3). The two measures most highly associated with share of market are company awareness and company image. Advertising-related measures are directly correlated with share of market at lower levels. What this means is that changes in company awareness and imagery are more likely to be translated into improved market share than changes on advertising-related measures.

[Figure 3 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Up to this point, we've shown how advertising is related to measures of awareness, communications, and image and, in turn, how these measures are correlated to market share. Now the question is: how does advertising influence market share? What's the net-net?

To do this, we calculated a net-effect score by multiplying the percentages on each side of the chart and then repercentaging the results back to 100 percent. Figure 4 shows that over 70 percent of the effect of advertising on market share is generated by increasing awareness--particularly unaided company awareness.

[Figure 4 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

In contrast, only a small amount of the effect of advertising in the rent-a-car category is due to communications or the advertising building a company's image. This is not because imagery is unimportant to market share. Rather, it is because it is more difficult to change a company's image than it is to change awareness of the company.

REVIEW OF COMMUNICATION DATA

The low association between advertising weight and imagery found over the 11-year period may be due to the fact that much of the advertising in the rent-a-car category does not do a particularly good job of communicating key messages. In the tracking study, recall information was collected on close to 65 advertising themes and slogans used in rent-a-car advertising. The themes and slogans were read to respondents and they were asked to identify the company which uses the theme or slogan in its advertising. We then are able to determine, for each theme or slogan, the percent of car renters who are able to correctly identify it.

Even though there are some exceptions, the general level of recall of the themes and slogans tested over the past 11 years is low. The highest correct identification level obtained by the average theme or slogan is only 12 percent (see Figure 5). Over one-half of the themes and slogans are correctly identified by less than 10 percent of car renters. Many of the themes and slogans were in the tracking-study for several waves, and we used the highest correct identification level obtained by the theme or slogan in this analysis!

[Figure 5 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

PRINCIPLES OF SUCCESSFUL COMMUNICATION

To better understand what is involved in successful communication, we compared the high, moderate, and low recalled themes/slogans.

We found, not surprisingly, that the key difference between highly recalled messages and less highly recalled ones is that highly recalled messages are much more likely to be supported by well-funded, long-standing advertising campaigns. The less highly recalled ones did not receive such advertising support. What is interesting here is not that these highly recalled messages are supported by some of the larger advertising budgets in the category--we would expect this--but that most of the highly recalled messages were, quite literally, on-air for years. Table 1 shows the five themes/slogans recalled by 30 percent or more of car renters. Most of these are easily identifiable even though the campaigns may not be running now.

TABLE 1

High Recall Themes/Slogans (Correct Identification--30% or Greater)

* We try harder.

* The company is employee-owned.

* #1 Club Gold Service.

* Features O. J. Simpson in the advertising.

* Biggest name in rental cars.

In addition, several other characteristics are correlated with successful communications. For one thing, the more successfully communicated messages had a greater propensity to be unique. Saying the same thing as everyone else did not facilitate effective communication. For example, over the years, several rent-a-car companies advertised low rates for luxury cars and none of these messages were among the most highly communicated.

Finally, themes and slogans tied into the companies' current brand equity tended to be recalled at higher levels than other themes and slogans. For example, Avis and Hertz had an easier time communicating fast service--part of their long-term reputation--than other messages such as rates and cars.

This has an interesting implication. Themes and slogans that support a company's current image seem to generate awareness faster than themes and slogans which support a new positioning. This has obvious implications when repositioning a company or brand.

CONCLUSIONS

The findings from this analysis support the brand salience theory of advertising effectiveness rather than the brand imagery theory. Awareness measures in rent-a-car accounted for approximately 70 percent of advertising's effect on market share versus an approximately 30 percent effect due to content-related measures, that is, communications and imagery.

Assuming that these findings can be generalized to other established service categories with moderate advertising budgets, they offer sobering food for thought to marketers and advertisers who believe that advertising works by improving attitudes toward their brand a la Achenbaum (1972) or by reinforcing brand attitudes a la Ehrenberg (1974).

It is undoubtedly true that advertising would have had a greater impact on communications and imagery if rent-a-car advertisers displayed a greater commitment toward advertising and advertising spending. But this "what if" argument is somewhat disingenuous. Car rental agencies are not telecommunications companies whose finances permit hundreds of millions of dollars per year on ad spending. Given the realities of the car rental business today--including the amounts of the advertising budgets--advertising simply does not have that great an effect on imagery. Speculating about what "could be" in an ideal world does little to aid our understanding of the day-to-day advertising business.

The finding that advertising in established service categories has limited effect on brand equity is actually somewhat of a relief. It suggests that established brands are stronger and more robust than many suspected. There is no reason for fear of "losing" brand equity if an advertising campaign is a flop. Nor is there need to worry about falling off the brand equity map if we do not advertise for six months or a year.

These findings should not be taken to imply that advertising in the rent-a-car category has little effect on market share. In fact, the relationship between advertising spending and market share was fairly strong. However, the reason for that relationship is somewhat different than many advertising and marketing professionals might have suspected.

NOTE

The theory of brand salience discussed in this paper is considerably different than the theory discussed by Ehrenberg, Barnard, and Scriven (1997). These authors use the term "brand salience" somewhat differently than most advertising and research professionals. By it they mean a general "halo effect" whereby a brand that has greater salience than another brand obtains greater scores on a variety of measures including awareness, familiarity, overall favorability, brand ratings, etc. Ehrenberg et al. believe that advertising can develop, maintain, or "nudge" brand salience.

This concept of brand salience has a clear attitudinal or image component--even if the authors reject or minimize the notion of brand differentiation. In contrast, the concept of brand salience discussed in this paper refers to which brands consumers think about, not what they think about them, or how favorable they are toward them. The concept of brand salience used in this paper is related more to "attention" (awareness) than to "attitudes."

REFERENCES

Achenbaum, A. A. "Advertising Doesn't Manipulate Consumers." Journal of Advertising Research 12, 2 (1972): 3-13 and in JAR Special Issue--How Advertising Works (1983): 39-51.

Baldinger, A., and J. Rubinson. "Brand Loyalty: The Link between Attitude and Behavior." Journal of Advertising Research 36, 6 (1996): 22-34.

Broadbent, S. "456 Views of How Advertising Works--and what if anything, they tell us." Admap, September 1992.

--. "456 Views of How Advertising Works--and what if anything, they tell us. Part 2: The Findings." Admap, November 1992.

Dyson, P., A. Farr, and N. Hollis. "Understanding, Measuring, and Using Brand Equity." Journal of Advertising Research 36, 6 (1996): 9-21.

Ehrenberg, A. "Repetitive Advertising and the Consumer." Journal of Advertising Research 14, 2 (1974): 25-34 and in JAR Special Issue--How Advertising Works (1983): 29-38.

Ehrenberg, A., N. Barnard, and J. Scriven. "Differentiation or Salience." Journal of Advertising Research 37, 6 (1997): 7-14.

Farr, A. "How Advertising Builds Brand Equity." Admap, April 1996.

Jones, J. P. "Advertising: Strong Force or Weak Force? Two Views an Ocean Apart." International Journal of Advertising 9 (1990): 233-46.

--. "The Double Jeopardy of Sales Promotions." Harvard Business Review 68, 5 (1990): 145-52.

Joyce, T. What Do We Know About How Advertising Works? London: J. Walter Thompson Co., 1967.

Miller, S., and P. Georgiou. "Advertising Accountability: 10 Years of Advertising Tracking in the Rent-A-Car Business." In Transcript Proceedings of the ARF Advertising and Brand Tracking Workshop. New York: Advertising Research Foundation, 1996.

Moran, W. "Brand Presence and the Perceptual Frame." Journal of Advertising Research 30, 5 (1990): 9-16.

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Sutherland, M. Advertising and the Mind of the Consumer. Australia: Allen & Unwin, 1997.

--, and J. Galloway. "Role of Advertising: Persuasion or Agenda Setting?" Journal of Advertising Research 21, 5 (1981): 25-29 and in JAR Special Issue--How Advertising Works (1983): 52-56.

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Author:MILLER, STEPHEN; BERRY, LISETTE
Publication:Journal of Advertising Research
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 1998
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