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Institutional advertising is still about selling. Is your audience buying it?

Show and Tell on Jun 14, 2024

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How do you sell something you can’t see, touch, or hold? 

Institutional advertising doesn’t aim to sell products, but it does ask audiences to buy something—a perspective, and we do that by sharing information that can change opinions.  

Ultimately, the approach you take will always require careful consideration of your unique audience and what it is you’re telling them. Effective Institutional advertising needs to stick to one guiding principle: It is still advertising. Have it draw on an interesting insight, express it in an evocative, emotional, or intellectually stimulating way and ensure it's compelling enough to make people care. These are the hallmarks of ads that inspire results. 

Before we get too deep into what makes for good institutional advertising, let’s look where many organizations go wrong so you can stay on the right track. 

The pitfalls of ineffective institutional advertising 

Playing it too safe 

True impact takes guts. Luckily, there are countless examples of effective, award-winning institutional advertising that proves taking a risk might be the fastest way to the outcome you want. This isn’t to say be reckless or tasteless, but being provocative – emotionally, intellectually and/or visually – does bring results.  

If you want to make the most of your marketing budget, then you need to make something that people want to engage with. That may not be easy, but it’s worth it. 

Information overload 

An institutional ad is not your corporate brochure. All too often, organizations want a laundry list of messages combining disparate topics like sustainability, breadth of offerings and the year they were established into a single communication. It’s better to say one thing in an interesting and relatable way. 

At the end of the day, your audience is completely content with ignoring every ad they see. That’s a harsh way of thinking about it, but that’s the motivation needed to create great advertising. Create something that will entertain people and make that one thought sticky. 

Forgetting your audience 

Although your institutional message reflects your corporation’s deepest values and beliefs, it can be easy to forget one thing: you’re not making the ad for you, you’re making it for your audience. In the daunting process of development, many get too focused on what’s going on between their four walls that they don’t realize how the ad relates to new and even existing customers.  

Consider what will be interesting to the next generation of clientele, not Jim from your HR department. Jim knows your brand, he’s worked here for years, but what resonates with him might not be what speaks to your audience. 

How to give institutional advertising life 

Know your vision 

At the beginning of the process, it’s important your organization – and the agency you’re working with (we know a good one) – understands where the brand is and where they want to go. Reflect on your goals.  

Is there an appetite for incremental moves or is there a hunger for bigger change? Work backwards from the end goal. That will provide a benchmark for measuring results, and evaluating the effectiveness of conceptual ideas. And it will inspire you and your team to rise to the challenge.  

Tell a compelling story 

Institutional messages are competing with the cacophony of other content, advertising and distractions out there. Finding a way through all that means finding an approach that will make them care. 

Effective institutional advertising needs to stick to one guiding principle: It is still advertising.

If it doesn’t engage, or feel relevant and true, the audience won’t care – even if what you’re telling them is the most important thing in the world. Seeing your ad isn’t enough – you need to make them notice it. If it’s not interesting to them, they’ll ignore it. There’s a reason the “skip this ad” button was created.  

The truth is, most organizations aren’t sharing compelling creative. That means there’s more space for you to be the exception, even in a noisy world of constant messaging. By taking the time to understand why audiences should care about your message, you can ensure that your creative expressions are always rooted in an important insight.  

Invest in yourself 

Changing perceptions, let alone getting people to act on your behalf or become an advocate for you, is an extremely high bar. If organizations are investing in a message showing on commercial channels, they need to break through. They need it to matter, or else their investment will fall short.  

You might consider evocative advertising to be risky. But just think, it’s only a risk if there’s a chance it doesn’t pay off. What’s worse than a risk? A complacent audience, an invisible message... and a wasted budget.   

If you have big goals for your organization, it’ll take some bold approaches to get there. That’s how results are achieved. We remember the first people to walk on the moon, not the ones who never tried. 

Our philosophy: change is inspired 

Creating compelling and effective institutional advertising is one of the areas in which Show and Tell excels. And it’s no accident. Our agency’s philosophy is built on the idea of inspiring change.  

Institutional advertising, at its core, is most often about changing beliefs and behaviour.  And people don’t change what they believe or how they behave simply because you tell them to (ask any parent, or any K-12 teacher – they’ll agree).  

When that change happens, it happens because your audience has been inspired – not instructed. That’s the challenge you and your marketing partner should aspire to with every institutional campaign. Now more than ever, brands need to do everything in their power to be relatable, interesting and above all – human. It’s not a risk. It’s a necessity.  

To discuss how we can make your institutional brand more interesting, reach out here