Lord Leverhulme, the founding father of Unilever, famously grumbled that half the money he spent on advertising was wasted; the trouble was, he didn't know which half. If the head of one of the world's biggest advertisers, with all the mighty resources at his command, could feel that way, it's hardly surprising that many small and start-up companies find advertising a challenge. The sheer range of options for anybody contemplating advertising for the first time is bewildering, from local newspaper ads to mobile text messages, banner ads on the internet, or a fully fledged national TV campaign. And unlike many other aspects of running a business, advertising has an aura of smoke-and-mirrors about it, an indefinable characteristic called creativity whereby it seems that success cannot be guaranteed through process, method or scientific evaluation.
Yet, in the right hands, advertising has immense power to propel brands from zero to hero in a short space of time. Would the number 118118 hold any resonance if it weren't for that pair of moustachioed runners? Would budget airlines have taken off without those newspaper ads cluttered with bargain flights?
The first thing to understand about advertising is what it is and it isn't. Unlike other forms of communication, such as PR or sponsorship, it's a message that you can control. Says Ben Kay, managing partner at advertising agency Swarm: 'Advertising is the easiest way to make sure you can get the right people to hear about your product at the time you choose, in the place you choose and in the way you choose. Done well, it can spread new news, build understanding, change attitudes and ultimately drive different behaviour.'