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What is Image Advertising?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Image advertising is an approach to advertising that is designed to cultivate positive attitudes about a brand, company, or concept. Rather than advertising a product based on what it does, image advertising promotes ideas about a brand, creating mental images for consumers that will encourage them to buy the product. This type of advertising is most commonly used to sell products with numerous similar competitors. Since the products cannot be distinguished by what they do, advertisers focus on distinguishing them by creating evocative images for consumers.

With image advertising, companies design campaigns that are intended to appeal to people with certain values and lifestyles. A company might promote a brand or product family with associations such as reliability, luxury, affordability, or more abstract concepts like fun and flirtation. When consumers are exposed to the advertising, it builds brand awareness, creates familiarity, and contributes to the development of a mental picture of the brand or product.

Consumers exposed to image advertising generally have ideas about products even if they are not familiar with product specifications. When consumers are faced with purchasing decisions, these ideas come to mind and the consumer may be drawn to specific products and brands. This translates into increased market share for the company doing the promoting.

Companies typically mix their advertising strategies. A beer company running an image advertising campaign to get consumers associating their product with fun outdoor activities, for example, might also run a product campaign touting the smooth flavor and high quality of the beer. Running simultaneous campaigns covers more advertising ground and embeds a brand in the minds of consumers. People who may not be won over by one advertising style a more likely to respond to multiple campaigns.

When developing an advertising campaign based on images about products, companies use considerable care. They want to be sure that the campaign is consistent with other messages sent about the same product and that it appeals to the right demographic. They also consider the campaigns being run by opponents, as they do not want to have an ad campaign that is too similar to a campaign for a rival product. Image advertising is used to distinguish between products that may be hard for consumers to differentiate, and thus campaigns that blend together in memory are not desirable. Companies also evaluate what has and has not worked for them in the past, and consider existing attitudes and beliefs about their products.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a SmartCapitalMind researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By GreenWeaver — On Jul 01, 2011

@Bhutan - I agree and I wanted to add that many advertisers use celebrities to endorse their products because celebrities have a way of adding instant credibility and creating the ideal image that the advertisers are looking for.

I think that many consumers are influenced by celebrities which make them want to buy the product that the celebrity is endorsing. Advertising management revolves around how well the celebrity is received and maintains the visual image in the advertising campaign.

Usually if a celebrity model puts on a pair of sunglasses or wears a specific brand of mascara many women will want to align themselves with the image of that celebrity and will buy the product for that reason. I think that this is why celebrities are used to sell products.

This also works if the celebrity is well liked and popular. If they offer a slight testimonial in the advertisement then people are more likely to try the product and trust the celebrity. I like to think that I am an independent thinker, but I am also influenced by celebrity endorsements. I does enhance a product's image in my mind.

By Bhutan — On Jul 01, 2011

@StarJo- Although I usually do not care for negative advertising, I do have to say that when it is done right in can be very effective. Building up a negative image of a politician can create a level of doubt that may cost him or the election.

In the 1988 Presidential campaign, President George H.W. Bush effectively created a series of negative campaign ads against his opponent Michael Dukakis that pointed out problems that arose from his furlough program that created a negative imagine in the minds of many Americans and Dukakis was unable to combat this image in time to win the election.

I also think that politicians have to be careful with negative ads because if they are full of personal attacks with no substance they might also backfire.

By Monika — On Jun 30, 2011

@JessicaLynn - Very true. When I was in college I took a course called "The History of Modern Design" and we actually talked a lot about the history of advertising. We obviously discussed it from an artists perspective and it was very interesting to watch the evolution of image advertising and the different designs that were used.

One image in advertising we discussed at length was the iconic IBM logo. This logo featured an eye, and bee, and an "M" and became very widely recognized. This impacted IBM's business and helped with their brand recognition.

By JessicaLynn — On Jun 29, 2011

I think image advertisements are very effective. When I was reading the article several examples popped into my head with my even trying to think of them!

These examples were the Apple logo with the apple and Geico gecko. These two companies have managed to make these images well known and synonymous with their brand. And the more you can get your brand into mass consciousness the more product you can sell!

By OeKc05 — On Jun 29, 2011

I worked for an advertising agency that specializes in local advertising. One of the major advertising techniques used by well-established businesses is portraying themselves as trustworthy and reliable.

They promote this image by always mentioning in their ads that they have been serving the area since a certain year, provided that year is around 20 years ago or more. They also like to mention how many combined years of experience their staff has.

This type of image advertising reminds people of who they can rely on, because so many happy customers have made the business succeed and sustain itself over the years. It must work, because these businesses seem to have plenty of money to continue advertising!

By StarJo — On Jun 28, 2011

A good example of image advertising is the ads that various politicians run prior to election time. They have no products to promote. All they have to offer is their reputation and personal qualities.

Some people don't like to vote for politicians that play dirty by running ads exposing the faults of their competitors. This type of negative image advertising could hurt their chances, as well as the chances of the person being exposed.

The best type of politician image advertising is the kind that sticks to the subject of the person the advertisement is promoting. If the politician focuses on creating positive attitudes about his abilities, then he might very well be successful in getting elected.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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