The primary purpose of advertising is to sell products or services. The company pays a fee or expense to have a message that simultaneously explains its brand or product distributed to as many people as possible. But sometimes it is designed to do something else: to win an audience over to a point of view. Such advertising is called institutional or corporate advertising.
Advertising can be national or local; it can address itself to any kind of audience; it can use any medium. When designed it often resembles editorial matter in the newspapers and magazines, offering an opinion or point of view. An obvious example of institutional advertising is a full-page ad in the Sunday New York Times urging some political action or appealing for funds. Often such advertising is an exercise in self-praise. It attempts to build a favorable image for its sponsor.
When Wells Fargo Bank in California merged with American Trust Company, company officials were ready to go with the name "American Trust," but designer Walter Landor convinced them that "Wells Fargo" would give them a more distinct image as the bank of the West. With an easily recognized symbol – a stage coach encased in a diamond shape – and some skillful advertising infused with an Old West flavor, the bank tends to appeal to newcomers, who pick it simply because it seems to come with the territory.
Image is particularly important among organizations whose products or services are relatively uniform. How a company advertises projects that image. The image must be concise, express the mission of the company, and its delivery must be consistent each time it is used.
If an attempt to sell a product creeps into institutional advertising, it does so in a passive voice. It can be aimed at a business, a consumer, or involve two businesses and slanted as a cooperative advertising. No matter its form, corporate advertising is meant to highlight and publicize the actions, products, or services of a company.
Corporate Advertising Techniques
Media such as direct mail, TV, radio, print, and online delivers advertising from corporations and institutions to the public or a targeted consumer group. Conventional ads, such as those seen in newspapers or magazines, banner ads online, and commercials heard and seen on TV and radio, communicate corporate messages to the public in the hopes that the desired action is taken; a sale, an enrollment, an inquiry, etc. Corporate advertising can take the form of advice, offer helpful information in times of crisis, congratulate a public or political figure, or announce a special event or occurrence that is of interest to a well-defined group or demographic. It is passive advertising that guides with an implied called to action that is subtle, unconventional, and never clearly stated, but the desired results is always the same; to get someone to take action or pay attention to something that is advantageous to the corporation or institution.
Institutional advertising use the same approaches and techniques that apply to product-oriented advertising: image, branding techniques, clear messaging, a call to action, and selling benefits as opposed to features. These characteristics are applicable to commercial as well as to social marketing activities. It is part of the "promotional mix" that exists within the discipline of marketing.
Advocacy advertising is related to institutional advertising. The difference is that in advocacy advertising, the sponsor pushes a point of view that may have nothing to do with selling the product or building an image.
According to Professor Robert Shayon of the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg School of Communications, corporations have taken to advocacy advertising because they feel they are not getting a fair shake from what they believe to be a generally hostile press; and because they are convinced that the business world can make significant contributions to public debate on issues of great importance-energy, nuclear power, conservation, environment, taxation, and free enterprise, among others.
Some state legislatures have drafted laws to restrict this kind of advertising, and the Internal Revenue Service does not regard the advertising as a necessary business expense. However, it is difficult to identify the difference between advocacy advertising and institutional advertising, which is a tax-deductible expense.