Consumer Psychologist Facebook Forum


Lars Perner, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Clinical Marketing
Department of Marketing
Marshall School of Business
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA 90089-0443, USA
(213) 740-7127


Promotion: Integrated Marketing Communication

Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) involves the idea that a firm’s promotional efforts should be coordinated to achieve the best combined effects of the firm’s efforts.  Resources are allocated to achieve those outcomes that the firm values the most.
Promotion involves a number of tools we can use to increase demand for our  The most well known component of promotion is advertising, but we can also use tools such as the following:


Generally, a sequence of events is needed before a consumer will buy a product.  This is known as a “hierarchy of effects.”  The consumer must first be aware that the product exists.  He or she must then be motivated to give some attention to the product and what it may provide.  In the next stage, the need is for the consumer to evaluate the merits of the product, hopefully giving the product a try.  A good experience may lead to continued use.  Note that the consumer must go through the earlier phases before the later ones can be accomplished.

Promotional objectives that are appropriate differ across the Product Life Cycle (PLC).  Early in the PLC—during the introduction stage—the most important objective is creating awareness among consumers.  For example, many consumers currently do not know the Garmin is making auto navigation devices based on the global position satellite (GPS) system and what this system can do for them.  A second step is to induce trial—to get consumers to buy the product for the first time.  During the growth stage, important needs are persuading the consumer to buy the product and prefer the brand over competing ones.  Here, it is also important to persuade retailers to carry the brand, and thus, a large proportion of promotional resources may need to be devoted to retailer incentives.  During the maturity stage, the firm may need to focus on maintaining shelf space, distribution channels, and sales. 

Different promotional approaches will be appropriate depending on the stage of the consumer’s decision process that the marketer wishes to influence.  Prior to the purchase, the marketer will want to establish a decision to purchase the product and the specific brand.  Here, samples might be used to induce trial.  During the purchase stage, when the consumer is in the retail store, efforts may be made to ensure that the consumer will choose one’s specific brands.  Paying retailers for preferred shelf space as well as point of purchase (POP) displays and coupons may be appropriate.  After the purchase, an appropriate objective may be to induce a repurchase or to influence the consumer to choose the same brand again.  Thus, the package may contain a coupon for future purchase.

There are two main approaches to promoting products.  The “push” strategy is closely related to the “selling concept” and involves “hard” sell and aggressive price promotions to sell at this specific purchase occasion.  In contrast, the “pull” strategy emphasizes creating demand for the brand so that consumers will come to the store with the intention of buying the product.  Hallmark, for example, has invested a great deal in creating a preference for its greeting cards among consumers.

There are several types of advertising.  In terms of product advertising, the “pioneering” ad seeks to create awareness of a product and brand and to instill an appreciation among consumers for its possibilities.  The competitive or persuasive ad attempts to convince the consumer either of the performance of the product and/or how it is superior in some way to that of others.  Comparative advertisements are a prime example of this.  For instance, note the ads that show that some trash bags are more durable than others.  Reminder advertising seeks to keep the consumer believing what other ads have already established.  For example, Coca Cola ads tend not to provide new information but keep reinforcing what a great drink it is.



Developing an advertising program entails several steps:

It is essential to pretest advertisements to see how effective they actually are in influencing consumers.  An ad may have to be redesigned if it is found not be to be as effective as targeted.  Note that selecting advertisements is often a “numbers game” where a lot of advertisements are created and the ones that “test” best are selected.


          Depending of the promotional objectives sought by a particular firm, different advertising strategies and approaches may be taken.  The following are some content strategies commonly used.



A significant objective of advertising is attitude change.  A consumer’s attitude toward a product refers to his or her beliefs about, feeling toward, and purchase intentions for the product.  Beliefs can be both positive (e.g., for McDonald’s food:  tastes good, is convenient) and negative (is high in fat).  In general, it is usually very difficult to change deeply held beliefs. Thus, in most cases, the advertiser may better off trying to add a belief (e.g., beef is convenient) rather than trying to change one (beef is really not very fatty).
Consumer receptivity to messages aimed at altering their beliefs will tend to vary a great deal depending on the nature of the product.  For unimportant products such as soft drinks, research suggests that consumers are often persuaded by having a large number of arguments with little merit presented (e.g., the soda comes in a neat bottle, the bottle contains five percent more soda than competing ones).  In contrast, for high involvement, more important products, consumers tend to scrutinize arguments more closely, and will tend to be persuaded more by high quality arguments.

Celebrity endorsements are believed to follow a similar pattern of effectiveness.  The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) suggests that or trivial products, a popular endorser is likely to be at least somewhat effective regardless of his or her qualifications to endorse (e.g., Bill Cosby endorses Coca Cola and Jell-O without having particular credentials to do so).  On the other hand, for more important products, consumers will often scrutinize the endorser’s credentials. 

For example, a basket ball player may be perceived as knowledgeable about athletic shoes, but not particularly so about life insurance.  In practice, many celebrities do not appear to have a strong connection to the products they endorse.  Tiger Woods might be quite knowledgeable about golf carts, it is not clear why he has any particular qualifications to endorse Cadillac automobiles.



The effectiveness of advertising is a highly controversial topic.  Research suggests that in many cases advertising leads to a relatively modest increase in sales.  One study suggests, for example, that when a firm increases its advertising spending by 1%, sales go up by 0.05%.   (The same research found that, in contrast, if prices are lowered by 1%, sales tend to increase by 2%).  In general, it appears that advertising is more effective in selling durable goods (e.g., stereo systems, cars, refrigerators, and furniture) than for non-durable goods (e.g., restaurant meals, candy bars, toilet paper, and bottled water).  Also, advertising appears to be more effective for new products.  This suggests that advertising is probably most effective for providing information (rather than persuading people).  Note that many advertising agencies make a large part of their money on commissions on advertising sold.  Thus, they have a vested interest in selling as much advertising as possible, and may strongly advise clients to spend excessive amounts on advertising.

Research suggests that advertising effectiveness follows a sort of “S-“ shaped curve:

Very small amounts of advertising are too small to truly register with consumers.  At the medium level, advertising may be effective.  However, above a certain level (labeled “saturation point” on the chart), additional adverting appears to have a limited effect.  (This is comparable to the notion of “diminishing returns to scale” encountered in economics).

There are several potential ways to measure advertising effectiveness.   Two main categories include:



Consumers will often perceive what they perceive to be “independent” media news stories as more credible than paid advertising.  Therefore, getting favorable media coverage can be quite valuable.  One downside, of course, is that the marketer does not get to control what the media will say.  This type of coverage is not necessarily less expensive than traditional advertising, either, since a lot of labor is often needed to generate media interest.

News releases should generally be brief.  Ordinarily, these should not exceed two double spaced pages in length although additional information can be made available.  The media will generally react negatively to “advertising” or sensational language such as “revolutionary” or “breakthrough.”  There is generally a preference for precise, factual information although a human interest story may also be of interest.  It is important to quote actual people—whether customers, neutral experts, or employees of the firm.  This may mean “drafting” a quote and asking the appropriate person for permission to quote him or her saying this.