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How to advertise

Why read this? : We look at how adverts actually happen. Learn the key steps in the advertising development process. How to set business objectives, and write great briefs. What your agencies actually do. And what happens after your advertising goes live. Read this to learn the basics of how to advertise. 

How to advertise

How this guide raises your game :-

  1. Learn the key steps in the advertising development process.
  2. Understand what’s needed to write a great advertising brief.
  3. Learn how to get the most out of your advertising and media agencies.

Advertising surrounds us every day. Recent estimates suggests we’re each exposed to more than 5,000 adverts on average, every day. 

It’s no wonder that leads to advertising information overload. We just can’t cope with that much advertising. So we tune it out. Ignore it. 

So the onus is on you, if you’re an advertiser, to make your adverts count. To use them to offer the customer something of value. When customers do notice your adverts, you want it to be a worthwhile experience. For them, and for you.

That’s why this guide focuses on the key steps that help create great adverts. It’s about learning how to advertise, so you delight, rather than disturb your customers. 

Young man standing in Times Square at night looking up the bright media advertising billboards

Ready to test your knowledge?

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Take the 2 minute, 5 question Three-brains how to advertise quiz and see how much you know about how to advertise already.

The advertising development process

Adverts don’t just happen. They’re a result of a process. Following the steps in the advertising development process helps you avoid mistakes, and make better adverts. 

The advert going live happens at the end. There’s a lot of planning and preparation you have to do first. 

For example, you need insights into your target audience. A clear brief for your agencies. An understanding of what makes a great advert a great advert. Plus you need to be able to evaluate your advertising’s impact so you can apply the lessons to future campaigns.

The process of how to advertise starts with deciding on your business objective and budget. 

 

The advertising development process - a guide on how to advertise successfully

How to advertise : Step 1 - Business objective and budget

The need to advertise is often trigged by your marketing planning process.

You identify you need to communicate with customers as part of the promotion part of your marketing mix.

You want them to think, feel or do something differently about, or with, your brand. That change is what helps you deliver your business objective. 

The dictionary defines advertising as the act of calling attention to a product or service, usually done though paid placements in media.

There’s a lot going on in this definition. Let’s break it down into smaller chunks.

Marketing mix 4Ps and 7Ps example variables

Calling attention to a product or service

Customers need to know your brand, before they’ll buy it. They need to know who you are, and what you stand for.

These are the early stages of the brand choice funnel (see our marketing plan guide for more on this).

You need to grab their attention, and that’s what advertising is great at. 

Its normal focus is on building awareness. 

Customers are unaware of your brand, until advertising (or something else) makes them aware. It grabs their attention, so they know who you are. 

Advertising also plays a role in building trust.

The brand choice funnel - trust - aware - consider - trial - loyalty - repeat purchase

It can add to trust levels by sharing endorsements and influencer recommendations. Or, it can point customers where to look to dig into a brand’s credentials. These all help build trust. 

Advertising also helps drive consideration. This is about making advertising that’s relevant to a specific target audience and a specific need. Customers see or hear the advert’s key message, and consider this brand could be something which meets their need.

These communication objectives feed into your overall business objective by helping you drive changes in customer thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

Paid placements in media

But customers also need to see or hear your advertising. This is where paid placements in media come in.

You work with your media agency, and sometimes directly with media sales teams, to buy space to place your media. 

Your adverts then appear among the content media suppliers put on to pull in their audiences. It’s your advertising money that mostly pays for their content. Advertising is how most media companies make their money. 

There are other channels where you may not always have to pay (PR, for example), but advertising is always paid for. 

The advantage of that is it’s a transaction. You get some guarantees for what you pay for. That your message will go to the right audience, at the right time, and be delivered in the right way. 

The downside (other than paying, obviously) is this transaction is time-limited. Your advertising campaigns only appear on a TV screen, a billboard, a website and so on for a fixed amount of time. So you need it to work hard, and drive the result you need.  

You need to work out what your advertising’s impact will be. You adjust your forecast and profit and loss accordingly, and work out how much budget you can afford to get the results you need. 

Measuring performance and ROI

The business objective and budget set your goal for the advertising. It’s how you measure the advert’s performance. It’s how you measure the ROI on your spend. 

Whatever change in attitude or behaviour you need the advertising to drive, that needs to then drive a sales and profit impact. And that profit impact needs to be more than you spend on making the advert and buying the media space. 

(Check out our advertising evaluation guide for more on the finances of advertising).

Budget - production : media ratio

Finally, on budgets, many businesses use a ratio to balance their spend between making adverts (production) and placing them into media channels. Typically, it’s around 15% on production, and the rest on media. 

That’s to avoid creating a flashy but expensive advert, but not having enough media budget left for enough people to see it. You generally spend more on getting the advert in front of people, than you do making it.

This 15:85 split is most common with TV and other traditional media channels. Digital media can be a little more flexible on the ratio, because the media buy is usually cheaper and more targeted. Plus, social media content can get extra reach if customers like it and decide to share it.  

How to advertise : Step 2 - The brief 

Now you know what you’re try to achieve (objective) and how much money you have to spend (budget), the next step is the brief.

You normally write a separate brief for each campaign. This should build on what’s been achieved in previous campaigns. It should also integrate with other relevant activities from your marketing plan

Writing briefs can be tricky.

You need to be specific about what you want, so the agencies understand what you need them to do.

But not so specific, the agencies can’t apply their creative and media skills to the brief.

Marketing Communication brief - blank template

It needs to have enough detail to get the agencies thinking in the right direction.

But not so much detail that the task becomes unclear or confusing.

And most of all, it needs to be written. There should be no such thing as a verbal brief. It becomes a reference document against which you judge the project and the agency’s work, so it’s important to take the time to craft it properly.

Role and scope of the brief

The advertising brief summarises the job to be done. It sets out goals, guidelines and expectations for what needs to happen. It’s the reference point for future decisions, including creative evaluation and approvals. All involved parties need to agree on it before you can go further in the process.

Writing a great brief is part of learning how to advertise successfully. The specific format of a brief can vary, but it usually coves these areas :-

  • Brand.
  • Objectives.
  • Communications.
  • Rationale.
  • Project. 
Person wring at a table - close up of their arm with a coffee mug in front of them

Brand

Brand usually refers to brand identity. This section is usually consistent across different campaign briefs, unless you’re changing part of your identity.

Using a consistent brand identity in your advertising helps build the connection customers have with it. 

You reinforce key symbols or associations by using the same brand assets across all your adverts.

Those can be tangible assets like your logo, colour palette and brand typography. But, they can also include intangible assets you want the advertising to convey such as your :-

Three-brains Market Leader Facebook advert with Learn more call to action button
  • brand vision : why your brand exists, its purpose and / or its end goal.
  • brand essence : a short summary of the heart of your brand.
  • personality : adjectives or statements which bring your brand to life. 
  • values : verbs or nouns which define your brand behaviours.

Objectives

Next, you cover your business and marketing goals and objectives.

You already have the business goal from the previous step of the process. Your marketing objective and growth target covers the specific marketing activities you’re doing. These are “how” you expect to hit the business goal, and measure performance. These should all be SMART. SMART stands for specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-bound. You assess each goal to make sure they fit these criteria. 

Example marketing objectives can include :-

Brand choice funnel

You often want your advertising to move people along the brand choice funnel. To drive more awareness for example, or to convert awareness to consideration. Sometimes, the advertising can even be aimed at increasing loyalty. These SMART objectives would be documented here.

Brand equity measures

Another common advertising objective is to shift the target audience’s perception of the brand. To make them think or feel differently about the brand. This could be a specific value, style or performance statement the brand wants to improve. eg. this brand is high quality, or popular, or reliable and so on. You’d measure these with your brand equity tracking, and set the objective for change in this section.

Innovation measures

Advertising is often used to support the launch of innovations. Here, you’d likely have brand choice funnel or brand equity objectives, but they’d be different from advertising on your core brand. New products have no awareness or consideration until you start advertising, for example. They often introduce new features or benefits, so advertising focuses on highlighting those.

Communications

The next section gets more focussed on communications. It covers the challenge, imperative and objective the communication needs to deliver, as well as the insight.

Communication challenge

The communication challenge sets the scene and context for the brief. It shares relevant facts about customers, competitors or the wider category.

For example, those could be changing trends in customer attitudes and behaviours which have created an opportunity or issue. Are customers looking for more quality? More value? Higher levels of service or sustainability? If you’ve done something to address this trend, the communication challenge is to convey that to customers. 

Or, it could be that a competitor is now doing something differently and you need to respond. Or, that something’s changed with a retailer, or in the way your category works. For example, look at how brands responded to the COVID-19 pandemic when it hit. Many had to change the way they interacted customers, and used advertising to keep customers updated on the changes.

Communication imperative

The communication challenge sets the context, but the communication imperative asks you to identify the most important thing the advertising needs to do. 

Advertising only has the customer’s attention for a short space of time. (see our advertising evaluation guide for more on this). The imperative is the one thing your advertising must deliver, above everything else. This part of the brief helps you and the agency prioritise what’s most important. 

Communication objective

The communication objective is the specific measurable goal the advertising has to deliver. It can be, but isn’t always the same as the marketing objective.

For example, it may go more specific such as number of views, clicks, likes or impressions. 

Insight

You usually have an overall insight which supports your brand identity. Something you know about your target audience and how they decide what to buy. 

The advertising agency’s job is to bring that insight to life. They need to make the advert seem relevant to what drives the customer’s attitudes and behaviour. The insight can also help the media agency get more creative in when, and where they place the adverts. 

Rationale

The rationale covers the Point of Difference justification from your positioning statement. These are the :- 

  • Reason Why –  helps customers understand your message. 
  • Reason to Believe – helps customers believe your message.

These prove how and why your brand can meet customers needs. They’re often built into the advertising to help drive trust and consideration. 

In this section, you should also cover how you expect the target audience to respond to the rationale. What do you expect them to think, feel or do differently when they see or hear the rationale?

Reason why and reason to believe definitions RW = help consumers understand RTB = help consumers believe

Project

The final part of the brief covers project specifics.

As a minimum, it should cover the expected timeline and budget. But it can also include any project specific measures and KPIs not covered in other areas. For example, these could relate to how the agencies manage the project. e.g. delivery on time, delivery on budget, compliance with regulatory, IT or retail customer constraints and so on. 

Writing a brief isn’t easy. You have a lot to cover in a short space and time-frame. Check out our writing briefs article for more specific tips on how to improve the way you write briefs. 

How to advertise : Step 3 - Agency briefing

The next step is to share your brief with your advertising and media agencies.

Ideally, this session is done face-to-face. Though you can send the brief out in advance to give them time to prepare.

When you meet, you talk through all the above sections and give the agency a chance to ask questions.

Though you will have put a lot of thought into the brief, it shouldn’t be set in stone at this point.

You want to come out of this interaction with the agencies with a brief which you both agree to. 

Business meeting round with a man presenting in front of a screen to 5 colleagues

Agencies often have relevant ideas and insights which can improve your brief, so it’s important to see this as a collaborative part of the process.

Typically, agencies will ask to clarify parts of the brief they don’t understand. They’ll check for how fixed or flexible you are about specific requirements. I some cases, the brief can inspire ideas quickly, and they may want to test out how you feel about initial ideas before doing more work on them.

The briefing is an important milestone in the process of learning how to advertise. You hand over responsibility for the advertising to them at this point, so you should see it as your chance to inspire them. 

So, bring your product into the session if you can. Show what your target audience looks like. Tell their story with videos and feedback quotes from them. The more inspiring your brief, the more inspired the agency response will be.  

Who’s in the briefing?

You want the key functions from each agency to be there. So account management and strategy and planning from both advertising and media agency. But, most importantly, you want the creative team from the advertising agency to attend. They need to hear your requirements first hand. Their ideas are what drives the next step in the process.

Each of these teams then gets together to review the brief, and it’s on them to come back with a collated response.

How to advertise : Step 4 - Agency Proposal 

The agency proposal covers how they recommend taking the business, marketing and communication challenges you’ve given them.

There’s sometimes an intermediary step called a ‘reverse brief’, where the agency writes a new brief based on your original brief. They’ll say this is to check they’ve understood what you want, and to make the process faster on their end. 

However, there’s a danger here that the intent of your brief gets lost. You should agree at the start on the format for the brief, and which version of the brief becomes the master document. If agencies keep reverse briefing your briefs, it’s usually a sign your briefs aren’t clear enough for them. 

What should follow in any case, is then a fuller proposal which covers the :-

  • advertising idea.
  • media plan.
  • project implementation plan.

The advertising idea

The advertising idea is the creative response. It’s how they propose to communicate the message to your target audience. This idea needs to be persuasive enough for customers to change their attitude or behaviour. 

You should be able to see the links back to your brief. For example, how the idea brings the insight, benefit and rationale to life.

But it’s also more than this. It should cover insights into how customers interact with communications, for example. (see our behavioural science and design psychology articles for more on this). Plus, it should also show the style, tone and story behind the advert.

Yellow post it with illustration of a lightbulb pinned to a wooden pin board

Advertising idea - examples

For example, look at Lynx deodorant advertising. Their insight’s that younger men worry about how they smell. If they smell better, they’re more attractive to women. So their advertising ideas relate to attracting women by smelling better.  

But younger men also respond well to content that’s bold, humorous and pushes the boundaries of acceptability. So the advertising idea also plays out in the style of those adverts. 

Compare that to a brand like Berocca. There the insight is that tiredness can catch up with you anytime. So the advertising idea shows how quick access to an energy boost helps you make it through tough days and nights.

How to evaluate the advertising idea

You start evalauting an advertising idea, by looking at how it will deliver your objectives. 

It has to be relevant to the target audience, for example. If you were in their shoes, would you get what the advert is trying to say? Would it make you think, feel or do something differently?

Can you see how the idea will have an impact? Think about when and where it’ll appear. Will it stand out enough to capture the customer’s attention?

Finally, does the idea seem unique? Does it speak in your brand’s tone of voice, and seem like no-one else could use that idea? It has to feel specific to your brand.

if you have the time and budget, you could test the idea with some qualitative research with actual customers. Check our advertising evaluation guide for more on advertising pre-testing. 

Watch outs with the advertising idea

The advertising idea has to work for the customer. Remember though, that customers don’t know the brand like you and your agency do. So, try to look at the advertising idea like a “normal” person, rather than a “marketing” person would. It’s harder than it sounds.

Watch out also for advertising ideas which duplicate words from your positioning statement or brand identity. These are often “marketing” type words, which sound artificial or jargon-y to actual customers. Try to use words they would use. Keep your message clear and simple.

(Check out our giving creative feedback article for more on this topic. Also, our marketing to non-marketers article has more on avoiding marketing-type words). 

The media plan

Our media planning guide covers the ins and outs of media.

In terms of the process though, the media plan should be presented alongside the advertising idea as part of the agencies’ proposal.

Often, you can use the location and timing of an advert to enhance the creative ideas for the message. 

For example, you can link the timing to relevant consumption times.

That’s why there’s breakfast cereal adverts in the morning. And alcohol adverts don’t appear until evening. 

Young man standing in Times Square at night looking up the bright media advertising billboards

Or you link them to purchase occasions. If it’s part of a weekly shopping cycle, for example. Or tied to a specific time of year like Christmas or the summer holidays.

The advertising idea needs to sit within the context of when and where it’ll be seen by the target audience. You want to reach the right people, at the right times, and in the right places.

How will the media be delivered?

Think also about the physical delivery of the advertising idea through the media channel. Is it via a a screen, like a TV advert or website video? Or via a printed image for a billboard, or magazine advert?

The media agency should bring to life the context in which the advertising idea will be seen. Ideally, they mock up an idea of what the advertising will look like “in situ”. (easy to do with Photoshop). This gives you a feel for what the end result will look like.

Reach and frequency

The media plan in the proposal should also give you a top level view of the media budget allocation. It should cover “-

  • reachhow many of your target audience will see your adverts.
  • frequencyhow often they’ll see them.

While reach is obvious, frequency isn’t. It’s driven by a lot of advertising research that adverts need to be seen multiple times before making an impact. Repeated exposure to an advert increase the chances of customers responding to it.

Frequency recommendations vary, though it’s usually between 5 and 7. i.e. your target audience is exposed to each advert between 5 and 7 times. 

The project implementation plan

Finally, comes the project implementation plan. Often the agency will want to agree the advertising idea and media plan before before presenting the final detail of the whole plan.

This plan lists all the key actions on the project. It’s usually detailed because it directs what’s going to be delivered, who’s doing it, and when it’s due. You should review it closely to make sure your money will be well spent.

How to advertise : Step 5 - Production

Next step in the process is production. Great.

This is when you actually make the advert based on the agreed project plan. 

So, for TV adverts or videos, for example, filming takes place, with a director, crew and cast.

For print or outdoor adverts, you work with the agency as they do the  photography, graphic design and copywriting to make the advert.

All production needs to stick to the agreed media specifications. Everything needs to be produced in the right size and format to make sure it fits the media plan.

Two cameramen and a sandman posing on a lawn in front of some trees

For example, does your TV advertising need to be a certain length? Does your photography need to be in portrait and landscape? For online digital media formats, there can often be multiple sizes of where adverts will be placed. The agency needs to make sure what they produce ‘fits’ the media. 

Production can be expensive. Ask for clear timings and a budget breakdown. Also, check what’s expected from you during this step. Do you need to be at the shoot, for example? Do you need to give feedback at certain points in time? If you’re needed, you must make yourself available. 

Step 6 - Post-production and Go Live

The timeline should also cover what happens after you make the advert. Editing to make the advert look and sound good, for example. That could be making sure the story flows well. Adding music and extra graphics if needed. Finessing photography with Photoshop. These all add time to the process, and add to the cost. And it’s likely you’ll need to give lots of feedback on these elements too. 

Finally, before the advert launches, there’s usually an approval stage. 

For example, external approval from the media provider or industry bodies. You need to make sure  the advertising complies with all relevant advertising standards. Plus, there’s usually an internal approval too. To make sure all stakeholders in the project are happy for the advert to go live.

Step 7 - Review performance

Once your advertising goes live, it can feel like the job’s done. But, there’s one last step still to go.

You have to track and monitor the impact of your advertising. This is usually a joint effort between you and your agencies. 

You look at the sales data since the adverts went live, for example. You check for shifts which you can attribute to the advertising campaign timing.

Note, that as we discuss in our how to evaluate advertising guide, advertising can have both a short-term and long-term impact. 

Three different types of rulers seen from above on a plain background

Your market research agencies often also get involved at this stage. You use them to track changes in the brand choice funnel, and your brand equity measures. 

You also go back to the specific objectives in the brief. Did the advertising do what you wanted it to do? If it didn’t, you think about what you’d do differently the next time.

Conclusion - how to advertise

You improve the impact of your advertising when you follow a clear process. It starts with a strong understanding your target audience, and having a clear brand identity. You need a clear brief, and to work with your agencies to tap into their creative, media and production expertise.

Following this process gets you to a decent quality of advertising. But it’s an on-going process to learn how to improve the way you advertise. Check out our guide on how to evaluate advertising for more on this topic.

Three-Brains and marketing communications

We’ve worked on many marketing communications projects and that includes advertising.  We’ve good experience linking advertising back into marketing plans. And, we know how to connect how you advertise to driving your brand identity and growing your sales. 

Contact us to learn more about how we can support your advertising activities to grow your business  through our coaching and consulting services.

To achieve clear and consistent marketing communications, the first step is pulling together a clear brief for everyone involved in creating your activity.

That includes key elements of your target audience understanding and brand identity as well as stating your business and project goals. 

Download our blank template with accompanying notes to get your started on the process of creating a great marketing communications brief. 

Download it here or from our resources section. 

Powerpoint and Keynote versions of this document available on request. 

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