For most of the twentieth century, advertising was branding. It is still a critical tool for shaping how brands are perceived. James B.Twitchell, in Twenty Ads that Shook the World, describes the Absolut vodka campaign that began in the 1980s, and the effect those ads had on the world’s ideas about vodka. The clear, almost flavorless spirit went from being an undistinguished, fairly generic form of alcohol to one of the most desirable, glamourous, and differentiated drink categories, practically overnight. Although he understates the role of product quality (Absolut is purer than other vodkas, and distilled by a slightly different process from most other brands), Twitchell rightly attributes the brand’s success to its triumph in advertising and packaging.
Brands that are advertised in print media (such as magazines and newspapers) can make certain assumptions about the people seeing the ads. With the long-term trend away from general-interest publications and toward niche titles, it is possible to focus an ad very carefully on a small group of people with a high degree of interest in one subject. For example, a maker of kayaks can place an ad in Sea Kayaker magazine (or one of several competing titles) to reach precisely the sort of people who might react to the ad by buying a kayak in the near future.
What isn’t necessarily known is how much time each reader spends looking at an ad, or whether seeing an ad results in the reader buying a product soon, or having a more favorable opinion of the brand in the future. For this reason, advertisers are constantly testing audiences to see if they have noticed particular ads, and if so, what their impression of the brand was.
As well as trying to reach a particular market segment, each brand forms an association with the brand of the magazine or newspaper in which the ad appears: Canon advertises its cameras in National Geographic magazine; Jack Daniels advertises in Playboy; Macy’s in The New York Times. The reputation of each title affects how readers perceive the brands in the ads too.