Critical Analysis of the Integrated Marketing Communications in the UK
Over the last decade, product marketing and ways through which communication takes place between manufacturers and consumers has changed tremendously (Belch & Belch 2004). Due to the technological revolutions and the rise of innovations such as the mobile phones and the internet, control over information has shifted apparently from the manufacturer’s hands to the hands of consumers (Belch & Belch 2004). The market environment has also changed due to globalization of marketing strategies, loss of confidence in mass media advertising, increased reliance on targeted communication methods, and media fragmentation and so on (Belch & Belch 2004).
Given the changing market environment, the need for more efficient and cost effective marketing strategies has induced changes to the way marketers conduct their marketing activities and led to the adoption of more integrated approaches (Dewhirst & Davis, 2005). The consequence has been the adoption of a more holistic customer oriented approach to conducting marketing communication activities, a process often known as Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) (Dewhirst & Davis, 2005).
A vast number of studies have made attempts to define the term Integrated Marketing Communications. One of the most succinct and widely accepted definitions of the IMC concept is that defined by the American Association of Advertising agencies (AAAA). That is, “a concept of marketing communications planning that recognizes the added value of a comprehensive plan that evaluates the strategic roles of variety of communications disciplines (for example, general advertising, direct response, sales promotion, and public relations) and combines these disciplines to provide clarity, consistency and maximum communications impact” (Arnott & Fitzgerald 1999: p.4).
RATIONALE OF THE STUDY
IMC has moved beyond simple communication to the use of promotional elements in a unified way in order to create a synergistic communication effect (Cornelissen 2001). It has become a powerful tool for developing and implementing marketing communications consistently and more effectively; and is certainly one of the most innovative marketing functions endorsed by advertising and marketing practitioners (Cornelissen 2001). Despite its continuing appeal, this concept has become a subject of great controversy with regard to its merits and validity.
In the recent years, a controversy has emerged between the proponents and opponents of the IMC concept. While the proponents suggest that the concept represents a revolutionary way to organizing marketing efforts and enhancing the brand awareness, critics argue that the concept is simply a “pop management theory” without a solid theoretical base (Duncan, 2002). Others contend that the IMC concept suffers from ambiguity in its definition and practice (Eagle & Kitchen 2000). It is thus the sole purpose of this analysis to critically explore on the IMC concept and its synergetic communication effects in relation to advertising strategy and planning in the UK.
HISTORY OF THE IMC CONCEPT
The origin of the IMC concept can be traced back to the 1990s when Prof. Don Schultz first introduced it at Northwestern University (Kitchen & Schultz 1998). Back in the 1960s and 1970s, marketers relied primarily on the advertising agency for the development of all marketing communication activities (Kitchen & Schultz 1998). In the recent years, two strands of change have however occurred. That is, the wider appreciation of techniques and the creation of specialist companies that deal with specific marketing communication areas (Dewhirst & Davis 2005).
As a result, there has been a progressive fragmentation of provisions in this field. Initially, there was an emergence of specialists in the various fields of marketing communications such as direct marketing, public relations, and sales promotion among others (Duncan & Moriarty 1997). Today, there are various companies with the ability and expertise to advertise their brands using a wide range of communication medium (Dewhirst & Davis 2005).
As a result of the IMC concept, marketers are increasingly employing several devices which were once the domain of dedicated and specialist companies (Dewhirst & Davis 2005). This concept has been embraced in practice by many companies not only due to the acquisitions and mergers which have resulted in consolidation of the advertising industry but also due to the synergies that have emerged from the integration of the various communication activities within the IMC framework (Dewhirst & Davis 2005).
The IMC concept has also received greater attention in the academic sphere. Several academic journals have devoted space to explore on the deeper implications of IMC in advertising and planning (Low & George 2000). These include: journal of marketing communications, journal of Advertising research and journal of Business research among others. Scholarly work on IMC, however, seems to be evolving from the limited view of effective coordination to a strategic process (Low & George 2000). The depth and breadth of research in the field of IMC has also evolved since its initial inception in the late 1980s.
A review of the various publications and scholarly work on IMC shows recurring themes, in particular, themes related to the definitional issues of the IMC concept and its theoretical development (Low & George 2000). Several scholars have undertaken and sufficiently discussed on the IMC concept by providing more in-depth literature reviews, which will not be repeated here. Of particular interest is the work undertaken by Shultz et al., (1993).
CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF THE IMC CONCEPT IN RELATION TO ADVERTISING AND PLANNING IN THE UK
According to Shultz et al (1993), the IMC concept is based on a holistic view of marketing communications whereby brands capitalize synergies among advertising, public relations, direct response and sales promotion; and combines these communication disciplines to provide consistency, clarity and maximum communication impact.
Each of these promotional elements plays a major role in marketing communications.
Advertising: – due to its amplified expressiveness, persuasiveness and public presentation, advertising campaigns have become extremely important in creating awareness about the product, company or brand (Peltier, et al 1992).
Sales promotion: – campaigns for sales promotions offers some kind of stimulus (free sample, discount etc.) and are more preferable in cases where new products are being launched (Hutton 1997).
Public relations: – since public relations are characterized by high credibility, PR campaigns enjoy a high level of trust among the potential customers (Riley & James 1991).
Direct marketing: – this approach is based on databases that contain information of potential customers. Therefore, direct marketing offers greater opportunities to reaching the target audience (Peltier, et al 1992).
As Shultz et al (1993) asserts; the coordination of these promotional activities is necessary to deliver a clear, consistent and competitive message about the brand. It is important to recognize that consumers often combine information from various media. In order to prevent them from integrating this information inconsistently, marketers must take charge of this process so as to deliver clear and consistent information about the brand (Schultz, 1996). The overriding purpose of the IMC framework is managing all marketing activities that impact profits, sales and brand equity (Schultz, 1996).
A good example in the UK can be seen with Wrigley Company which developed an integrated marketing communications program in January 1998 that brought with it tremendous effects in terms of the cost and time devoted to the campaign (Anon 2000: p.89). The program cost the company approximately 500,000 pounds in the first 18 months. The aim of the program was to persuade the dental profession to recommend the use of sugar free chewing gum by raising awareness of the role of saliva in dental health (Anon 2000: p.89).
Among the promotional elements included in the program were advertising in the trade press, a quarterly magazine, a patient education action pack, posters and leaflets (Anon 2000: p.89). The results were amazing with about 73% of the dentists recommending sugar free gum to patients, up from 44% before the campaign (Anon 2000: p.89). This provides a good illustrative example of the synergetic effect of combining several communication instruments (advertising, personal selling, sales promotion, and public relations) in a solid integrated campaign.
COMPARISON OF THE IMC MODEL TO THE STANDARD MODELS
The main advantage with the IMC model over other models is that it provides for the joint effects or synergies which are generated by the orchestration of the multiple marketing activities discussed above (Duncan & Everett 1993). The major difference between the IMC model and the standard models is that, unlike traditional marketing, the effectiveness of each activity depends entirely upon the other communication activities (Eagle & Kitchen 2000). Also, while traditional marketing employs a “push” strategy whereby communications are designed to promote the firms products, the IMC model on the other hand employs both the “push” and “pull” strategies by incorporating feedback from the customers so that the firm’s products and communications can be adjusted to meet the needs of the end user (Eagle & Kitchen 2000).
Clearly, we have established that the major benefits of the IMC framework is its ability to create synergies among the various marketing communications disciplines and to combine these disciplines to provide clarity and consistency of the set of messages conveyed to target audiences.
It therefore follows that, in order for firms in the UK to remain successful in the competitive environment, they must adapt to this new approach to marketing. All marketing communications must be designed from the view point of the customer and interwoven together in a manner that forms a coherent whole. Undoubtedly, the integrated planning and implementation of the various communications mediums is far more effective in achieving maximum communications impact than their separate usage.
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