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What is Image Advertising?

July 24, 2009

In January of every year, I sit down with my advertising people to set up our advertising schedule for the year. We advertise on television mainly, but also have some print ads. Our television commercials are event oriented; Spring Sale, Memorial Day Sale, things like that. The print ads are equally split between event and institutional advertising. Our event ads show discounts related to specific sales and appear in a weekly newspaper insert. Our institutional ads appear monthly in another newspaper insert and bi-monthly in a glossy local magazine. These ads use beauty shots supplied by manufacturers and there is a lot of white space with only a headline at top and our logo and contact info at the bottom. We these ads build an image of a place where a consumer can find beautiful and unique designs.

This year, in the face of a declining economy, I knew advertising would be more important to us than ever before, but I had to make some tough decisions about it I had to make sure my advertising had to bring in shoppers immediately. With this in mind, I decided to cut my institutional advertising and put all of my money in event advertising.

I never looked back after making that decision until I read a recent article in a trade magazine about image ads. The point of the article, written by an advertising manager, was that an image ad shouldn’t be pretty without saying anything. In fact, it should be pretty and say everything a company needs to convey. It should say who you are and why you are better than your competition. And, if the only reason you are better than your competition is because your discounts are bigger, you are in a lot of trouble.

My first take on this was, “Boy, this advertising manager would sing a different song if the money for the ads was coming out his/her own pocket!” With a little more reflection, I realized I was equating image ads with institutional advertising. I began to realize I had been running image ads without even knowing it.

Institutional advertising plants a seed that could mature in as little a few days or take as long as a few years. Event ads have immediacy and can tend towards schlock. As I looked back on the television commercials we have been running, I realize I had reached a happy median between the two. Our advertising includes lots of video taken within our store. We show furniture (with people sitting in it) along with the accessories we use to “pretty” the furniture up. The video has lots of energy and a warm ambiance. It creates a wonderful image of our store. We also incorporate video from our vendors showing their product in lifestyle situations, i.e. people are in the shots having a lot of fun. We also have a catchy jingle that manages to be upscale, too; just the right note for the image we are trying to convey.

 

So we have the base of what the advertising manager would call an image ad. We use that base to create event ads. All of our commercials are oriented to specific sales. The voiceovers and the crawls tell what the event is, what the discounts are, and how long the sale lasts. By themselves, these pieces of information could come across as schlocky. However, when we edit them in with our video, our ads create the image of a fun place to shop where consumers can find unique product that is within their budgets. Like the advertising manager said, our commercials are pretty and say everything we want to convey.

If you have the wherewithal to run institutional advertising, I don’t suggest you stop. Believe me, I used to get a kick out of seeing our “high design” institutional ads when they came out. And, as the economy improves, I will probably start running them again. But if your event ads have a different tone (read: low end) than your institutional ads, perhaps you should rethink them. A commercial that creates an inviting image to your customer can still include enough information that makes them want to come in that day, or, at least that weekend.

Yours in confused retailing, Bruce