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Creating Better Advertising Through Laddering Asha Sen Alok Shanker INTRODUCTION

How would a new entrant advertise his brand in a cluttered market? Can one brand be differentiated from another through advertising in a product category where there is little or no real product difference between one brand and the other? Traditional research tools are good at mapping how existing brands are perceived by consumers and point to the dimensions on which brands are differentiated in the consumers’ mind, be they on product attributes or benefits or on imagery/personality. However, having told us what positions are occupied, and on what battlefronts the brand battles are being fought, they do not provide very much help on what can be done to differentiate yet another brand. In an attempt to overcome this problem, creative solutions are sought – either from creative people in ad agencies or from creative consumers in exercises such as creativity groups. However, the outcome of these exercises are not often empathised with by the “typical consumer” who thinks differently. One such technique which is capable of addressing this problem is laddering, which develops an understanding of how consumers translate the attributes of products into meaningful associations with respect to self, following the Means-End theory (Gutman, 1982). The linkages or ladders represent combination of elements (attributes, consequences and values) that serve as the basis for distinguishing between and among products in a given product class. This paper demonstrates with the help of an illustrative study on tea and edible oils, how laddering can be used to find winning consumer empathetic routes of differentiating a brand from the rest of the cluttered market, create better advertising and proactively segment markets using the consumer as the starting point rather than only the creative person. The paper is presented in two parts:Section 2 consists of the methodology and a description of the basic output from laddering.


Section 3 contains our interpretation of the findings and demonstrates the usefulness of the technique.

‘Why is that important to you?’ By causing the respondent to think critically about the connections between product attributes and personal motivations. most advertising for edible oils shout “features” about the oil.METHODOLOGY AND THE BASIC OUTPUT Methodology of Laddering Laddering involves a structured interviewing format using a series of directed probes. To elaborate with an example from our study: Respondents when asked to elaborate what they considered important in an edible oil – state attributes such as ‘taste’ ‘low fat’. This obviates the painful choice that often has to be made between the rigour of quantitative analysis and the sensitivity of qualitative information. But no link is made to the personal relevance of these features – advertisers forget to tell consumers what the product features mean to the user. Responses are recorded verbatim. The following chain would result: Self esteem Active / Fit / Look good Good health . The second attribute ‘low fat’ is then laddered. resulting in a hierarchical value map (HVM). ‘clear’. sets of linkages are determined between the key perceptual elements across the range of attributes. The first attribute ‘taste’ is taken up and by asking the question. and hence resulted in ‘good health’ which resulted in here being ‘active/fit and looking good’ and therefore ‘feeling good about herself – Self esteem’. Laddering does first that in the following manner. mainly the question. between the elements. Therefore. This results in a summary table representing the number of connections – direct (relations among adjacent elements in a ladder) and indirect. ‘refined’. is one of the unique aspects of laddering. but analysed in a structured manner. ‘Why is that important to you?” and by repeating the question for each subsequent response. If a respondent said she cooked in ‘Refined’ oil because it was ‘light’ and therefore ‘easily digested’. From this Summary table. This ‘crossing over’ from the qualitative nature of the interviews to the quantitative way of dealing with the information. the dominant connections are graphically plotted. laddered responses are obtained till no further responses are forthcoming from the respondent. For each respondent. the third and so on. consequences and values. the various individual attribute ladders are aggregated to give the Direct (Relations between adjacent elements) and Indirect (Relations between non-adjacent elements) relations between various elements. The questions are open-ended.

A part of the matrix is reproduced below.02 4.Easily digested Light Refined The linkage between ‘Refined’ and ‘Light’ would be a direct linkage as also ‘Light’ – Easily digested’ or ‘Good health – Active / Fit / Look good’. . showing number of direct and indirect linkages (the figure before the decimal point representing the number of direct relations. and how features and personality were interlinked. Similarly.00 As seen above ‘Refined’ has seven direct linkages with ‘Less / No fats’ and two indirect relations. Taj Mahal. 3000-5000.04 0. Flora. it has only four indirect linkages with ‘Do not have to heat’ and no direct linkage.02 Do not have to heat 0.01 0. but did not answer the question of how a new brand could differentiate itself from the rest of the pack or where. All relations above a cut off level are mapped resulting in the hierarchical value map (HVM). described in detail later in the paper.00 0. What emerged The two focus group discussions conducted to determine important attributes of the product class. we looked at users of Brooke Bond.00 0.01 1. also gave a good assessment of how these brands were not differentiated on attributes and somewhat differentiated on personality.00 0. Taaza and Tata Tea and for Oil. Red Label.00 Vitamins are not destroyed 0. However.01 1. which displayed the number of times each element led to each other element. The Study Details The rest of this paper is based on a study on edible oil and tea which was conducted in Delhi among 60 housewives in the income group of Rs. For tea. All such ladders are aggregated across respondents and all Direct and Indirect relations for each element summed resulted in a square matrix.02 0. users of Sundrop. Sweekar. and the figure after the decimal point the number of indirect relations): Less/ no fats Refined Light Pure Clear 7. and Vital since these brands are widely known to be competing brands in their respective product categories. the relationship between ‘Refined’ and ‘Easily digested’ or ‘Good health’ would be indirect.

The outputs (or the summary table) results of all the laddering interviews conducted subsequently for both the product categories are given in Figure 1 and Figure 2 .

Figure 1 Hierarchical Value Map (HVM) for Edible Oils Pride in being good mother Children Successful Look after children better Look after home well/raise std.P. / heart problems No heaviness / light Natural / pure Good food Eat well Feel like cocking Does not congeal Looks good Light (A3) Refined (A1) Pure (A2) Clear (A4) No/ light colour (A5) No smell (A6) Taste (A7) . Of living Work done properly / in time Social circle widens No tension stress No medical expenses Praise Good health Satisfaction / Accomplishment Saves time Happiness / Contentment Can do other / more work Self reliance Rest / relaxation/ recreation Remain within budget Do all work by self Self esteem Save money Feel active / fit/ good looking No stomach problem Easily digested No cholesterol / B.

(A7) Strength (A5) Feel like drinking For guest (A1) Taste / flavour (A4) Aroma (A3) Packed fresh (A2) .Figure 2 Hierarchical Value Map (HVM) for Tea Satisfaction accomplishment Happiness / Contentment Importance Rest / Recreation Status Free time Belonging Praise Social circle widens Selfreliance Money saving Time saving Less quantity used/ lasts longer Good mood / Good day No hesitation in serving Everybody likes it Work done properly / in time Cheaper Economical (A8) No tension Look after home / family better Good health All work done by self Refreshes / relaxes Satisfaction Morning cup (A6) Good quality / reputed co.

YY) is given below: Elements Light Eat well Good health No tension Work done properly Happiness / Contentment No. and might be seen to be the core value of the product class.00 No.00 148. for edible oil.192 272. The second basic output after having drawn the HVM would be the identification of the dominant chains.252 141.214 150. one of the dominant chains is given below: .58 73. For example.102 3. the dominant chain that emerges is given below: Happiness / Contentment Work done properly No tension Good health Eat well Light (A) The summary of direct (XX) and indirect (YY) relations for each element (XX. having plotted all relations.238 226.398 74. both direct and indirect.The Second Level Output : As can be seen.160 82. of relations leading into 0. of relations leading from 63. Similarly for tea.362 64.506 In fact ‘happiness / contentment’ at the values level has the most elements leading to it among all the elements at the values level. the hierarchical value map (HVM) is structural in nature and represents the associations across levels of abstraction (Attributes – consequences – values). when we look at all elements in the map in terms of other elements leading into them and in terms of their connections to higher order elements.

303 65.135 89.236 87. the core value appears to be ‘Satisfaction / Accomplishment’ since it has the highest number of elements leading to it. of relations leading into 0.495 185.01 No. we look at the Direct and Indirect relations for each element. of relations leading from 54.180 214.257 .72 79.30 4. Elements Strength Refreshes/Relaxes House work done well in/in time Good mood/day Look after home/family better Satisfaction/ Accomplishment No.71 196.Satisfaction / Accomplishment Look after home / family well Good mood / Good day House work done well / in time Refreshes / Relaxes Strength (A) When.288 57.00 223.

If we were to look at the tea example. The following example illustrates how the same attribute could provide two different ways to differentiate a brand: Pride in being good mother Children successful Self Esteem Look after children better Feel active / fit / look good No medical expenses.e. Further. save money. In our example. which could be used as a basis for differentiating brands. Most of the ads today for Refined Oil brands in the market are still at the cholesterol/health stage. Differentiation by values backed by strong linkages to attributes is more stable in the long term (difficult for competitors to copy) than differentiation based on attributes alone. while another oil could still be ‘Refined’.P / Heart problems Refined (A) Thus. ‘no medical expenses’ and therefore. while both oils are equally “Refined”. but a different route. and “each unique pathway (i. enable you to ‘save money’ and ‘spend it on your children’ to make them ‘successful’ therefore making you ‘feel proud as a good mother’. remain within budget Good health No cholesterol / B. chain in HVM map) from an attribute to a value represents a possible perceptual orientation”. in terms of the way they are presented to the consumer. resulting in ‘good health’. they are in reality two absolutely different oils. each shouting louder than the other or all saying “good health” without taking the extra step of “what can it mean to me”. ‘prevent cholesterol build up / blood pressure / heart problems’ and be ‘good for health’ but make you ‘feel active / fit / look good’ resulting in feelings of ‘self esteem’. the data suggests ways of using the same attribute but differentiating your oil on the basis of different benefits or values by using the same attribute – value combination. you could have two different brands positioned as follows: . one “refined’ oil could ‘prevent cholesterol build-up / blood pressure / heart problems’.INTERPRETATION CREATING BRAND DIFFERENTIATION WHERE NO DIFFERENTIATION IS APPARENT The strongest chains in the map represent the dominant perceptions.

there is always the question of how does one communicate these values to consumers in a way that is meaningful to them. giving cues for creative execution.M. Scott and L. Lamont.E.E. 6 (1985) ‘Advertising is Image Management’. Such problems can be addressed by this technique. Jonathan Gutman. 2 (1982) ‘Depth Interview Techniques for Creative Advertising’. REFERENCES ‘Values through laddering’ – Journal of Advertising Research – February-March 1998 ‘Means-End Chain Model based on Consumer Categorization Processes’. accomplishment’ while the attribute ‘good Quality’ is tied more closely to ‘happiness / contentment’. Brand B: A tea with a ‘good flavour’ which ‘refreshes’ you and therefore. Conventional research methods do sometimes point out to values that are desirable to endow a brand with. D.Brand A: A tea wit a ‘good flavour’ which everyone who drinks ‘likes’ and ‘praises’ leading to the housewife feeling a ‘sense of accomplishment’.F. or are ‘self reliant’. enables you to ‘do the household chores quickly and well’ thereby ‘saving time’ and putting you in a ‘good mood’ to ‘look after the home and family better’ resulting in a ‘sense of accomplishment’. yet they are well differentiated. . Journal of Marketing 41 (1977). It is also possible to look at attribute – value connections. or who ‘feel a sense of accomplishment’. Once a segmentation scheme has been developed. looking active and fit. while the market is traditionally segmented by variables such as product attributes. CUES FOR CREATIVE EXECUTION This method not only uncovers ways / routes by which to differentiate your brand but simultaneously also stimulates rich insights among creatives. RESEGMENTING THE MARKET Perhaps one of the most powerful applications of laddering in the context of creating brand differentiation is its value in helping a marketer gain competitive advantage by changing the rules of the game by resegmenting the market. assessing them at the levels used in the HVM or in grouping them together. J. J. the attribute ‘For guests’ may be seen to be linked to more achievement-oriented values such as ‘status’ ‘important’. Thomas J. Journal of Marketing 46. For tea. As can be seen. while both brands talk about ‘Flavour’ and ‘Sense of Accomplishment’. Vinson. For example. Durgee. Reynolds and Jonathan Gutman. Journal of Advertising Research 25. However. one may look at consumer segment for edible oils in such terms as those ‘seek happiness /contentment’. user profile and lifestyle. The HVM obtained through the laddering procedure could serve as a basis for segmenting consumers. 1 (1984) ‘The Role of Personal Values in Marketing and Consumer Behaviour’. one of the ladders in the HVM suggests that the value of self esteem can be communicated through a creative execution showing glowing health. one could examine in each of these segments the performance and image of existing brands and assess what kind of competitive advantage would accrue should once decide to proactively change the rules of the game. In our example of edible oils. Journal of Advertising Research 24.