Knowledge and documentation needs in the development of advertising campaigns

José Fernández-Cavia

Citación recomendada: José Fernández-Cavia. Knowledge and documentation needs in the development of advertising campaigns [en linea]. "", num. 6, 2008. <>

  1. Introduction
  2. The stages of an advertising campaign and the agents involved
  3. Proposal of an advertising campaign model and its information needs
  4. The importance of documentation in advertising
  5. References


1. Introduction

Advertising should not be considered an intuitive activity, subject to the inspiration of eccentric professionals - the copywriters. But on the other hand, it is without a doubt a discipline dealing with so many variables that any reductionist theory or model rarely reaches a satisfactory level of exactness or predictability. In other words, commercial communications require a key artistic, intuitive and creative element, but always with a minimal scientific and technical base that guarantees the opportunity and suitability of an advertisement solution. This is where the role of documentation plays an essential role in advertising.

Advertising can not reach its effectiveness - thus its raison d'être - without a sufficient level of information. That is, without a sufficient amount of knowledge; knowledge on a wide variety of aspects. Like, for example, the consumer: who s/he is, how s/he is, how s/he thinks, what s/he likes. Or on the product and brand - the protagonists in advertising - as well as on the market and the competition. Or on the communication media: Which ones? Which are more appropriate in each case? How to use them? What formats they allow. Or on the profession itself: the most convenient strategies to plan a campaign; the creative tendencies; the registries; narrative formulas; what really works and what does not in specific market situations.

However, in terms of the knowledge needs, advertising often confronts a problem not often faced in other disciplines: the privacy and confidentiality of the information. The data, statistics, trends and findings are often reserved for the private use of the companies having developed or financed the research, avoiding the competition - whether other advertisers, other means of communication or other advertising agents - from taking advantage of the knowledge obtained. This is, without a doubt, an absolutely understandable attitude, but in any case, it does not promote the evolution and development of the profession as a whole.

And in this context, advertising in Spain continues to live what seems like a pre-scientific era, in which the necessary gears of the university / company and theory-practice relationships are not well lubricated, and usually can not even reach the profession. This, without a doubt, is a wonderful opportunity for the future.


2. The stages of an advertising campaign and the agents involved

In an advertising campaign's creation process, whether it is to be broadcasted through conventional media, unconventional media, or the most common: a combination of both, there is a large number of professionals that intervene from different specialities. All of them provide their collaboration, large or small, and all can be considered as part of advertising, and all require a documentation and research phase, otherwise known as a "knowledge generating" phase.

These professionals´ information needs are very different relative to their workplace (advertising agency, media agency, an internal department of the advertiser, etc.), their position within the company (copywriter, account executive, art director, media planner, research technician, etc.) and the aims posed (a new brand launch, a promotional campaign of an existing brand, a contest awarding the campaign, the design of media plan, writing up a research report, evaluation of the competition's marketing or advertising actions, etc.).

Since we can not fully cover all of the possible scenarios, here we will propose a general theoretical model that will work to describe the intervention of each of these specialists, and what their documentation needs are in each case.

First of all, it is worth noting that an advertising campaign, from the point of view of its documentation, could be cyclical, as we can see in table 1. This process would begin with a knowledge generation process where the company advertising, with help from the advertising agency, sometimes by the market research company, and occasionally by the media company or communication company, establishes the campaign's aims and the actions´ framework that sets its course; this first phase basically consists in collecting information, selecting it, evaluating it and deciding on what seem like the most appropriate.

In the second phase, the product is generated: the specific messages for each medium to be used (television or radio spot, brochure, webpage, etc.) and a service is generated, the planning and purchase of the media's space and time.

The third phase is also strictly for generating knowledge, where the goal is an evaluation of the results from the actions taken, relative to the data available.


Table 1. The advertising campaign

Table 2 includes the key agents commonly intervening in an advertising campaign. The company or institution advertising is the leading agent, the one starting the process, the one financing it and the only one completely responsible for it. As a passive agent we can characterise the campaign's product or service and its corresponding brand. They are previously provided, and while of the utmost importance, do not actively participate. The consumers are a sort of absent agent, while they are the focus and guide for all actions developed, their influence is from afar and noted from the information that the other agents have on them.


Table 2. Agents intervening in an advertising campaign

We labelled all companies that supply the company advertising as secondary agents: the advertising agency can provide knowledge and communication strategy, but its main function is to create advertising products (ex. television commercial, webpage, advertisement in a metro station) capable of transmitting the desired message to the target audience; the media agency supplies the planning, purchase and tracking of the diffusion of these advertising products (ex. television broadcasting time, space in a newspaper); the market research company only supplies information on markets and consumers; and finally, and equally important, the communication medium provides the advertiser the audience to receive the advertisement product (ex. a TV station, radio broadcasting station, a newspaper or magazine all sell an audience - by quantity and with specific characteristics - to the advertisers so as have their messages viewed or listened to.


3. Proposal of an advertising campaign model and its information needs

At the beginning of this type of campaign, the company advertising must supply the advertising agency with the necessary information to carry out the order. This information can be transmitted orally in meetings, but it is strongly recommended that they be delivered in writing in a briefing.

The briefing usually includes data concerning the company and its product portfolio, the specific product for which the campaign is to be designed and the corresponding brand, explaining the specific market characteristics in which this brand operates, who the main competitors are, their positioning, market share, advertising, description of the brand's potential consumers, establish the marketing objectives and the strategy to follow, defining the advertising campaign's objectives, target audience, budget, deadline and other various indications like the tone and style, brand image to be respected, legal restrictions, parallel promotional actions or public relations, etc. [See different briefing models in the following texts: Ricarte (1998), Hernández (1999) or Baños (2001).]

The advertiser's marketing department, research department and communication department must collaborate in creating these general guidelines, providing any information that correspond to them as defined by their position. For this they may use internal data within their sales department, already completed research on the product, the marketing of similar products in the country or surrounding countries, reports on the competition's actions, the sales indexes and market share, general population statistics, consumption, revenue levels, research on the consumer needs and a wide array of other documents. Common sources in this stage include statistical yearbooks and general market research by companies such as AIMC, TNS or Nielsen.

Moreover, if specific research is deemed necessary for any of these or other aspects, a market research company can be contracted.

The market research company, at the service of the company advertising, may carry out specific research relative to how the product may be perceived by consumers, what type of attributed or characteristics may be relevant, the convenience of specific types of packaging and presentations, etc.

All of this information is usually given to the account executive of the advertising agency, which must review its validity, see if anything important information is missing, negotiate a communication strategy with the advertiser and synthesize the complete data flow into simple and concise coordinates that serve as guide to the agency's creative department.

During the second stage the advertising agency must create the specific messages that will be presented to the public through the different media. For this, the agency must base themselves on the basic, synthesised information from the previous phase. But it is also time to include other complementary data like the following:

  1. General knowledge on communication and persuasion tactics An advertising professional must also be an overall communication and persuasion expert. Know the basic rhetoric, oratory, lines of argument and be able to apply them in favour of commercial brands in market contexts.

  1. Theoretical and practical knowledge on commercial communication. This knowledge is essential for the agency, providing its basic know-how, raison d'être or core business. The advertising agency is suppose to be a company specialised in commercial communications, and must be capable of consulting and guiding the advertisers on the subject. The agencyâ€TMs professionals must be capable of deciding how to focus their brand communication, how to appeal to the target audience, what information or messages to highlight, how to make the adverts attractive and effective, how to optimise the budget, and what message combinations are most persuasive, etc. This knowledge must be part of the agencyâ€TMs intellectual property, and are acquired with the initial and continuous training of its workers and with the practical experience of the profession.

  1. Knowledge of advertising media. The advertising agency must be up-to-date on the latest tendencies in using communication media as means of diffusion of the commercial messages, knowing what can be done with the conventional media - newspapers, radio, television, internet, outdoor - and what can be achieved through unconventional media - events, ambient, viral marketing, creative media.

  1. General knowledge on social tendencies. A famous, brief and useful classic advertising book, A Technique for Producing Ideas , states that there are five phases in producing ideas, the first of which is 'gathering the raw material.' And there are two kinds of this raw material: specific and general. The specific material is what we have already mentioned for the advertising agency in the first stage of the campaign: Knowledge of the product, brand, market, competition, consumer, etc. The general materials, according to Webb Young, are equally important, and they consist in a wide variety of information on any subject matter apparently not related to the profession and the specific campaign order. This general knowledge permits the copywriters to generate new ideas that agree with the tastes and evolution of society. This is why it is especially important to remain updated in terms of social and artistic tendencies, new fashions, codes, matters, interests or problems that attract consumerâ€TMs attention, and that entertain, worry or seduce them. They may be the starting point for creating an original and effective advertising campaign - that is, a truly creative one.

  1. Technical knowledge about producing persuasive messages. Another key field of knowledge for creating an advertisement campaign concerns the specific production of persuasive messages. That is, of the adverts for each of the selected conventional or unconventional media to disseminate the campaign. The copywriters must be well-trained in handling all texts: verbal, iconic and graphic. This is when references are checked, like on-line dictionaries or image / advert databases that may be useful.

The third stage in developing an advertising campaign is planning and purchasing the medium through which the ads will be disseminated. This stage must logically come after the second phase (producing the campaign) but the time restraints usually force them to be developed parallelly. That is, while the advertising agency is discussing what type of advert is most suitable, the media agency is contracting the TV broadcasters, for example, a specific number of twenty-second spots.

This way the campaign's deadline is shortened, but it adds risks and creates problems. One of the main problems is that it may limit the advertising agent's creativity in using unconventional media or formats, since if the conventional medium is already contracted, the messages must be adjusted to the conditions agreed to, and not vice versa.

The media agency's information needs, besides the campaign's specific instructions, include a general understanding of the media's function, characteristics, evolution and possibilities of the mass media and specific knowledge of each medium - a news headline, radio broadcast or programme - and matters involving audience profile and contractual conditions: fees, discounts, promotions, etc.

For their work they also have access to general sources on diffusion, audiences or investments-EGM, OJD, TNS, Nielsen, Infoadex - with specialised databases and software for planning media such as TOM Micro, GALILEO or CHOICES3.

Finally, an advertising campaign must conclude with a result's evaluation stage to get to know the effects produced and help make future decisions. For this evaluation four agents can participate: the advertiser, their advertising agency, the media agency and a market research company.

The advertiser may also have internal sources that orient the evolution of the campaign's achieved effects through sales data, profit margins or information gathered from shops and distributors. They may also obtain information on the evolution of the market share or the consumer's level of satisfaction through external sources. And they may also contract the services of a market research company to analyse the campaign's effectiveness and the changes in the audience's brand recall or overall perception, or that of the current or potential consumers.

The advertising agency also needs to know the results of the campaign to know if their work has provided the expected results or not. This information must be incorporated into the theoretical and practical knowledge of the commercial communication noted in the second stage, such as the know-how of this type of company.

The media agency must also process the information from the evaluation of their performance efficacy into specialised knowledge to be applied to future plans.

This complete process, specified by stages, the agents involved, their knowledge needs and information sources, can be summarised in table 3 (see PDF file).


4. The importance of documentation in advertising

After this analysis on the general workings of the advertising campaign production process and the specific information needs generated, we have shown the vital importance of documentation for the success of this process.

An effective advertising campaign necessarily results from management and proper assimilation of a flow of extensive and complex knowledge. The basic agents implicated - the advertiser, advertising agency, media agency - must base their decisions on solid data and a deep understanding of the context in which they work in.

However, despite this evidence, the reality is that most advertising agencies, media agencies and advertisers lack the professional management of documentation. This lacking is often converted into a loss of opportunities and a lack of quality of the final product - that is, in the adverts. Sometimes this may even produce the paradox of a profession characterised by its creativity, its ideas, to repeat themselves simply from a lack of knowledge.

In a profession so overly saturated with data, the lack of documentation management experts brings out deficiencies and avoidable errors. Trapped in a dynamic of cost reductions and outsourcing services, the few advertising agencies that used to have a specific centre and head of documentation on staff, have gone on to work without them. The effects of this behaviour on the quality of advertising have been evident.

The profession may continue to depend on general sources, media or markets, but information on the consumer or on advertising itself usually remains within the realms of confidentiality, is not shared, and thus does not generate common knowledge that may help improve the profession as a whole. Going against the official lectures in any sector, knowledge in advertising does not seem to be profitable enough.

But the profitability of documentation must surpass three filters: speed, effectiveness and cost. Documentation management in advertising must be extremely agile in order to adjust to the increasingly shorter deadlines and production times. They must also show that qualitative improvements of the campaign's efficiency resulting in producing more creative messages. Finally, this speed and effectiveness must be obtained at a reasonable cost for advertising companies.

From an academic point of view, there is a lack of research on document management in advertising companies and the advertisers. From all of these shortcomings, we must keep in mind the presence of required courses that include document and knowledge management in the academic plans for the new Advertising and Public Relations degrees from the European Higher Education Area to not worsen the profession's existing wrongs.


5. References

Baños, Miguel (2001). Creatividad y publicidad. Ediciones del Laberinto, Madrid.

González, Enrique (2005). "Escritores, directores de arte, planners... La profesión publicitaria por dentro". Telos, n. 64, julio-septiembre. Available online:

Hernández Martínez, Caridad (1999). Manual de creatividad publicitaria. Editorial Síntesis, Madrid.

Herreros, Mario (1995). La publicitat. Pòrtic, Barcelona.

Ricarte, José M. (1998). Creatividad y comunicación persuasiva. Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Col. Aldea Global, Bellaterra.

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