The notion that there is no objective reality and that people trade in the realms of perception and image represents one of the most important tenets of human understanding. Nowhere is this more true than in the area of human relationships with business organizations, i.e. the domain of marketing. Indeed images at all levels of marketing have taken on an increased importance in recent times. Corporations have become obsessive about public perceptions of their activities while at the level of the product/brand there has been a “shift in attention away from the physical aspects and functional benefits of products to their symbolic associations, expressiveness” (Poiesz, 1989, p. 461). A variety of reasons for this increased emphasis on image in marketing can be suggested:
qmarketing’s increasing cognizance of the behavioral aspects of consumer decision making;
qaffluent society’s predilection with symbolic rather than purely functional aspects of products;
qan increasing variety of relatively homogeneous products often involving high product complexity and confusing messages which increase consumer reliance on the image aspects of products; qthe fact that technological innovation, increasingly susceptible to rapid imitation, may no longer offer previous levels of sustainable competitive advantage (King, 1991; Parker, 1991; Wells, 1989).
The purpose of this article is to examine the role which advertising plays in developing brand image. It commences by examining the various levels of marketing imagery and focuses on those elements which the company controls in the image formation process. The concept of branding is reviewed as is the relationship which the brand forms with the consumer. The two main schools of thought with regard to advertising effects are examined in terms of their effects on brand imagery.
Levels of marketing imagery
Businesses conjure up a multitude of images with their many publics, with much attention focussing on the corporate/product relationship. That is the approach a company follows in communicating to its publics the relationship of its products to one another and to the overall corporate entity (Olins, 1989). While this and similar classifications (Gray and Smeltzer, 1985) focus on the producer’s corporate/brand relationship, three key levels of imagery pursued by business entities, namely corporate, retail and product/brand, are briefly examined for the purposes of this discussion. Various definitions of corporate image are suggested (Bernstein, 1985; Olins, 1989), however, that proposed by Gunther (1959) captures the essence of corporate image: “The corporate image may be defined as a composite of knowledge, feelings, ideals and beliefs associated with a company as a result of the totality of its activities” (p. 62). While it is believed that “each individual of the public with which your company comes into contact has a mental picture of your company” (Messner, 1963, p. 63), it is common practice to categorize individuals into various groups or corporate publics, each of whom will, as a result of seeing a different face of the organization, form different images. Various numbers and labels for these corporate publics are proposed in the literature (Evans, 1973; Gray and Smeltzer, 1985; Martineau, 1958).
Retail or store image, defined by Martineau as “the way in which the store is defined in the shopper’s mind partly by its functional qualities and partly by an aura of psychological attribute” (1958, p. 47), represents an important level of marketing imagery. Martineau’s definition manages to embrace what has become the two major strands of explanation of retail image formation, the cognitive approach (Mazursky and Jacoby, 1986) and the behavioral approach (Kunkel and Berry, 1968), with these perspectives being combined to form explanations of how consumers build and receive images of retail organizations (Brooks and Davies,...