12 Formats of Advertising

I have been thinking about the advertising world a lot lately. Our recent experiment in running blog ads has left me mulling over a field I have long been curious about. In College, advertising was on the short list of potential careers (the creative side).

Then I came across this Slate article on the subject. Its essentially a crash course in the 12 advertising categories — "master formats — identified by Donald Gunn, creative director for advertising agency Leo Burnett.

Gunn decided to inject some analytical rigor into the advertising business:  He took a yearlong
sabbatical, studied the best TV ads he could find, and looked for elemental

Here are the master formats:

12 Formats of Advertising

1. Demos
2. Show the need or problem
3. Symbol, analogy, or exaggerated graphic to represent the problem
4. Comparison
5. Exemplary story
6. Benefit causes story
7. "Tell it"
8. Ongoing characters and celebrities
9. Symbol, analogy, or exaggerated graphic demonstrating a benefit of the product
10. Associated user imagery
11. Unique personality property
12. Parody or borrowed format

Fascinating stuff . . .



There Are 12 Kinds of Ads in the World
Seth Stevenson
Slate, Monday, July 23, 2007, at 12:19 PM ET

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. Sven commented on Aug 6

    Dang! I just saw Matt Nesto (formerly of Bloomberg) on CNBC. Another Bloomie defector. Whoops…sorry to be off topic.

  2. Tim commented on Aug 8

    “a yearlong sabbatical to study TV ads”

    …Honey, I’m gunna lay on the couch and watch TV for a year, it’s for work, it’s…
    uh, Honey…Why are looking at me that way?

  3. donna commented on Aug 8

    12 kinds of ads, and I hate them all….

  4. Red Ocean commented on Aug 8

    Was it just me or did knowing the list of 12 not really provide much earth shattering enlightenment?

    I thought that once I saw the 12 formats I might find it easier to see the crafty wayes of the advertisers’ techniques. But I came away thinking the formats were pretty basic. Nothing there that didn’t seem pretty straight forward and obvious.

    The advertiser wants to convince you that you need/want their product and to buy it from them. The real trick is to determine whether or not you really do need/want the product or whether they tricked you into thinking you do, and then whether they really are the best place to get said product.

    I guess I am not sure how knowing the 12 different formats helps me answer those two questions. Any thoughts on that.

  5. michael schumacher commented on Aug 8

    FWIW Apple does the best job at all of those that I’ve EVER seen. Creating a market where the motto is “We’ve decided this is what you want” and then people following through on it based on the perception they have created and got the public to buy in on. Kudo’s to Apple for that.

    Gee what spooked the market all of a sudden. Another BSC memo get leaked??


  6. Frank C. commented on Aug 8

    Why is this “fascinating”? Seems really obvious. And this guy is now paid to give speeches on this?

  7. cm commented on Aug 8

    I don’t know whether any of the 12 categories is supposed to cover it, but how about associating the advertised product with the prospect of hooking up with attractive significant others (significant same) and getting laid? For more mature audiences who have gotten their share of that, associating the product with attaining the lifestyle of your dream, and/or beating the pesky Joneses to it.

  8. Richard commented on Aug 8

    Where are Sex and Death?

  9. Kai Middleton commented on Aug 9

    I pretty much detest commercials. Ever since I was a kid, my father pointed out how they cleverly try to suck you into buying something whether it’s useful or not. The ends justify the means, is that it? When commercials come on TV I change the channel, press mute, or simply leave. Every now and then a commercial rises above the vast cosmos of banality and kitsch to actually give me pleasure. The Geico cave man commercials would be my current example. Other than that I see them as representing the worst part of America’s (and much of the world’s) culture. I watched the 12-categories video and thought about the guy’s closing comment: now you have something to do (analyze, categorize) while you’re waiting through a commercial break. No, I don’t think so.

  10. cm commented on Aug 9

    BTW, as much as I try to restrict my ad exposure to minimize annoyance, I noticed how the same product gets targeted to starkly differing groups, by ads using different approaches.

    My all-time favorite ad campaign was the “office monkeys” series by careerbuilder.com. Quite spot on, metaphorically of course.

  11. Paul commented on Aug 9

    Shouldn’t sex be #1?

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