Ambient advertising: An innovative form of advertising?

News routes for communicating with customers and consumers are being sought, every day. And this doesn’t happen by chance. Jim Blythe explicates in his seminal book “Consumer behavior” the reasons behind this: “traditional marketing communication techniques are becoming less effective as markets fragment, costs increase, audience diminish, and clutter worsens”.

This gives rise to ambient advertising, which is known to many as the advertising that becomes part of the environment, where the message itself becomes the medium, and which includes advertising on eggs, elevator panels, and public fountains (e.g. Biraghi et al. 2015, Gambetti 2010).

Denver Water Campaign “use only what you need” is one such typical example.


Simple, yet stimulating and powerful, isn’t it?

That’s why ambient advertising is argued to be more effective in today’s market, for it can enhance persuasion, create long-term effects on brand perception, and increase the consumer-perceived value of advertising.

In a 2005 study on the “medium as a contextual cue: effects of creative media choice,” Micael Dahlen reported that his study’s participants didn’t really view the message in the ambient advertising as a piece of advertising. The media context actually influenced their perception of the message communicated in the ad, thereby allowing them to reach their own conclusions but mostly leaving a high potential to influence them.

In a similar study conducted in 2009 that tested the effects of a creative media choice (ambient media) versus ad placement in a traditional medium, Dahlen and colleagues reported that ambient advertising produced more persisting brand associations than ad placement in a traditional medium. This type of advertising could also serve as a cue that spontaneously reminds consumers of the brand, and may transfer new associations onto the brand, even after the brand is no longer featured in it.

Also in a separate but similar study carried out in the same year, Dahlen and his colleagues reported that ambient advertising that employed non-traditional media enhanced the consumer-perceived value of the ad and brand because of the novel elements the ad gave them. Consumer-perceived value also led to a higher purchase and word-of-mouth intentions.

Equally important, perhaps, is the fact that ambient advertising can engender a battery of surprising elements to those who are exposed to it. In their 2014 large-scale, empirical study, Hutter and Hoffmann demonstrated that ambient advertising, not its traditional counterpart, generated a higher level of surprise among their study subject. This surprising effect led the subject to feel positive about the ad and the brand, which, the authors concluded, proliferated purchase intention and sales revenue.

But since every coin has two sides, Blythe (2008) and Valenzuela and colleagues (2010) have warned us to be mindful of cultural differences and different (negative) implications that can result from ambient advertising and unexpected marketing incentives among different groups of audiences across nations. Velenzuela et al. argue that what may be a positive surprise in Western culture may be a negative one in East Asian culture.

In short, I can see that it seems likely that ambient advertising will grow due to its value offered to both consumers and the brand. But great care and measure must always be taken when it comes to executing this advertising in different cultures.


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