Integrated Marketing Communications

Why do advertisers need to understand this concept?

The topic of integrated marketing communications (IMC) has over the last two decades, developed into one of the most controversial areas of research within the marketing communications arena.  It has found increasing acceptance as a theoretical concept, idea, technique and common term of rhetoric amongst advertising and marketing organisations.[1] Yet as is often the case, with every new and innovative theory introduced, a number of disparate voices and differing opinions rise to the forefront of related discussions. With IMC, the debate as to its level of merit and legitimacy is now entering a critical phase, with extensive discussions surrounding its theory and practice provoking a heated discourse on the pros and cons of its implementation. This paper will outline IMC as a marketing communications function, its consequent importance to the discipline of advertising, and a selection of the more prevalent issues or concerns that contemporaries in the field are currently arguing in opposition to its assumed benefits.

Considered the imperative business communications model of the 21st Century,[2] IMC has become a broadly endorsed key marketing trend,[3] integral to the processes of marketing and corporate communications.[4] In a globalising marketplace wherein technological advancement through mass media, intensified brand competitiveness and consumer ideals are at the heart,[5] the way in which organisations target their audiences and fashion their marketing, advertising and promotion is changing accordingly.[6] The need to develop marketing and advertising strategies that reflect and respond to these changes, is integral to an organisation’s continued success.

IMC, although only a recent concept  that emerged in the 1980s, was born of the realization that an organisation’s objectives of effective marketing, were best accomplished through a more integrated approach;[7] namely the co-ordination of 9 specific marketing communication disciplines, of which advertising is one,[8] to convey one consistent persuasive strategy in a variety of differing forms.[9]  Although each discipline can be differentiated from the next, they all follow similar specialist paths. With the implementation of the IMC model, each is no longer merely a stand-alone mechanism, but a part of an integrated chorus of communications tools.[10]

Take for example, the correlation between advertising and public relations. Some sceptics of IMC will assert that it is merely a contrived excuse for advertising agencies to usurp public relations.[11]  If anything it is quite the opposite: with the downsizing of organisations, the restrictions on budgets and the increasing clutter of advertising beginning to fragment audiences and tarnish the reputation of advertising as a discipline, public relations practitioners are now being sought after to launch a brand instead of advertisers.[12] In support of this, Miller and Rose (1994) note that both advertising and public relations practitioners are now viewing their roles as encompassing the broader areas of communication, not solely advertising or public relations.[13] Whilst both groups recognise that practitioners of the specific disciplines require some different skills, it is commonly held that as a result of today’s unstable economy, not all organizations can afford the cost of advertising and as such, practitioners in both fields will need to augment and to an extent, amalgam their skill set in order to achieve success in reaching their objectives as cost-effectively and as efficiently as possible.[14]  Integrating closely-linked disciplines therefore under the one strategic marketing communication function – IMC – offers a number of benefits: not only may the strengths of one be used to offset the potential weakness of another, but parallel disciplines such as advertising and public relations, may be used in support of each other to enhance and reinforce not only their individual purpose, but the overall efficiency of their target outcome.[15]

Inherent to the understanding of IMC as a function, are several key features that provide foundation and legitimacy to its practice. Kitchen (2005) notes that communication is the delineating principle of IMC[16] and marketing communication is the collective term for the communications disciplines adopted to establish, maintain and add persuasive value to the integral relationships sought and acquired between organisation and stakeholder.[17]  Problems arise however when attempts are made to define ad infinitum, IMC as a management practice. Proponents of IMC each hold slightly different perspectives however one I find to best suit, for the purpose of the discussions voiced in this paper, is one expressed by Shimp (2010)

IMC is a communications process that entails the planning, creation, integration and implementation of diverse forms of marcom[18] that are delivered over time to a brand’s targeted customers. The goal of IMC is ultimately to influence or directly affect the behaviour of the target audience.

Characteristically defined by those[19] who implement it[20] it is the lack of clarity and absence of an overarching definition that has led to a tainted perception and much criticism of IMC as being an unnecessary marketing principle.[21] Cornelissen and Lock (2000) challenge IMC’s status as a theory by pointing out that there has been little theory construction and research into IMC; that studies have not progressed from concept to construct.[22] As such, IMC cannot exist as a theoretical concept, nor can its legitimacy, validity, operational success and effectiveness be confirmed or denied when gauged only by inferred observation of specific marketing communication disciplines.[23]Cornelissen and Lock further argue that practitioners of advertising and other assumed exemplars of IMC were adept in their ability to perform and co-ordinate their functions long before IMC became an in vogue fad[24] and latterly, a management fashion.”[25] Kitchen(2005) however rebuts this argument by making clear that IMC is not the only immeasurable marketing communication activity and that therefore any argument debunking it as such, is void.[26]

The second argument against IMC is to be found in the sceptics’ approach to IMC as a management fashion.[27] It is argued that IMC is merely a semantic management application; with its associated terms of ‘synergy’ and ‘integration’ it is nothing more than an appealing idea, substantiated by powerful rhetorics.[28] As such, it can be considered a tool adopted by organisations or practitioners of specific disciplines to justify their actions by appearing as having acted in a way that is rational, progressive and in the best interests of their consumers and other stakeholders. Another indication of IMC being nothing more than a management fashion is in its apparent transient pattern of influence.[29] Given the lack of academic rigor supporting the legitimacy of its theoretical construct, it is asserted that IMC has been accepted as “the business imperative of the 21st Century” [30] on such a wide scale, purely because it is deemed ‘up-to-date’ and a ‘trend.’ Shultz (1993) however rebuts the notion of IMC being a management fashion for advertising, by stating that advertising has entered a new age; an age where their outcomes are respectful, not patronizing; responsive and not formulaic: seeking to reach as a consequence, the highest point of common interest, not to deceive through rhetoric and trend conformity. [31]

The reality is that in our increasingly complex socio-economic environment, communications practitioners must possess the knowledge, skill and ability to function efficiently.  Advertisers need to continue taking a multi-disciplinary approach to their corporate communication planning; to not only save time and money but to also improve their ability to protect the integrity of their services and outcomes which as discussed, are under threat of usurpation by the field of public relations. After all, the key to business success is the establishment, maintenance and protection of mutually satisfying relationships founded on communication between organisation and stakeholder.[32] IMC provides the opportunity to consider marketing communication on a wider scale through the recognition of the value of individual disciplines. Therefore the integration of advertising with a host of other, interrelated marketing communication tools, is assured to not only reinforce a consistent proposal, but ensure that objective outcomes are not only seamlessly achieved, but accepted by an increasingly fragmented public.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Arens, WF, Weigold, MF & Arens C,. (2011) Contemporary Advertising, 13th Edition, McGraw-Hill Irwin, pp 219-23, 270-8, 595 – 656.

Belch, GE., & Blech, MA., (2002) Advertising and Promotion: An integrated marketing communications perspective,’  6th Edition, McGraw-Hill Irwin

Cornellison, JP. & Locke, AR, (2000), ‘Theoretical concept or management fashion? Examining the significance of IMC,’ in Journal of Advertising Research,40(5), 7-15. Accessed 1st June, 2012.

Kitchen, PJ, (2005), ‘New paradigm – IMC – under fire,’ in Competitiveness Review: CR, 15(1), 72-80. Accessed 2nd June, 2012, Emerald management-xtra database.

Miller, D. A., & Rose, P. B. (1994). ‘Integrated Communications: A Look at Reality Instead of Theory,’ in Public Relations Quarterly, 39(1), 13-16. Accessed 1st June, 2012, EBSCOhost Database.

Schultz, DE., Tannenbaum, SL., Lauterborn RF., (1993) Integrated Marketing Communications, NTC Business Books.

Shimp, Terrence A., (2010), Integrated Marketing Communications in Advertising and Promotion, International Edition, South-Western Cengage Learning.

Wilcox, Denis L., & Cameron, Glen T., (2009). ‘Toward An integrated Perspective,’ in Public Relations: Strategies and Tactics, 10th Edition, Pearson Education Inc.


[1] Cornellison, JP. & Locke, AR, (2000), ‘Theoretical concept or management fashion? Examining the significance of IMC,  in Journal of Advertising Research,40(5), 7-15. Accessed 1st June, 2012. pg 7

[2] Arens, WF, Weigold, MF & Arens C,. (2011) Contemporary Advertising, 13th Edition, McGraw-Hill Irwin, pp 219-23, 270-8, 595 – 656.  pg 27

[3] Cornellison, JP. & Locke, AR, (2000), ‘Theoretical concept or management fashion? Examining the significance of IMC . pg7

[4] Kitchen, PJ, (2005), ‘New paradigm – IMC – under fire,’ in Competitiveness Review: CR, 15(1), 72-80. Accessed 2nd June, 2012, Emerald management-xtra database. pg 74

[5] Belch, GE., & Blech, MA., (2002) Advertising and Promotion: An integrated marketing communications perspective,’  6th Edition, McGraw-Hill Irwin. pg 4

[6] Ibid. pg 5

[7] Wilcox, Denis L., & Cameron, Glen T., (2009). ‘Toward An integrated Perspective,’ in Public Relations: Strategies and Tactics, 10th Edition, Pearson Education Inc. pg 20

[8] Arens, WF, Weigold, MF & Arens C,. (2011) Contemporary Advertising, 13th Edition. pg 62. These disciplines are: advertising, public relations, direct marketing, personal selling, cyber marketing, sales promotion, databases, sponsorship and point-of-purchase communication

[9] Wilcox, Denis L., & Cameron, Glen T., (2009). ‘Toward An integrated Perspective,’ in Public Relations: Strategies and Tactics. pg21

[10] Kitchen, PJ, (2005), ‘New paradigm – IMC – under fire,’ in Competitiveness Review: CR, 15(1). pg 72

[11] Ibid. pg 76

[12] Wilcox, Denis L., & Cameron, Glen T., (2009). ‘Toward An integrated Perspective,’ in Public Relations: Strategies and Tactics. pg21

[13] Miller, D. A., & Rose, P. B. (1994). ‘Integrated Communications: A Look at Reality Instead of Theory,’ in Public Relations Quarterly, 39(1), 13-16. Accessed 1st June, 2012, EBSCOhost Database. pg15

[14] Ibid. pg 14

[15] Kitchen, PJ, (2005), ‘New paradigm – IMC – under fire,’ in Competitiveness Review: CR, 15(1). pg 72

[16] Wherein communication and the exchange of vital information, serves as the foundation of all human relationships.

[17] Kitchen, PJ, (2005), ‘New paradigm – IMC – under fire,’ in Competitiveness Review: CR, 15(1). pg 74

[18] Shimp, Terrence A., (2010), Integrated Marketing Communications in Advertising and Promotion, International Edition, South-Western Cengage Learning. pg 10 Marketing communication tools including advertising, sales promotions, publicity releases, events etc.

[19] Despite the fact that thus far, educators and practitioners have failed to agree on a precise meaning

[20] Shimp, Terrence A., (2010), Integrated Marketing Communications in Advertising and Promotion, International Edition. pg10. All definitions offered in addition to the one offered, highlight 5 key features as being significant and influential in affirming the validity of IMC as a management function: it 1)seeks to affect behaviour through targeted communication; 2)is consumer-centric, which works to establish unwavering brand reputation in the eye of the consumer; 3) is an umbrella term under which all communications disciplines are to be considered; 4) synergy is of integral importance to achieve objective consistency and 5) it establishes a relationship between brand and consumer.

[21] Kitchen, PJ, (2005), ‘New paradigm – IMC – under fire,’ in Competitiveness Review: CR, 15(1). pg

[22] Cornellison, JP. & Locke, AR, (2000), ‘Theoretical concept or management fashion? Examining the significance of IMC. pg9

[23] Ibid. pg 10

[24] Ibid.  Or “Fad,” meaning: a popular idea with no demonstrable long term positive impact.

[25] Cornellison, JP. & Locke, AR, (2000), ‘Theoretical concept or management fashion? Examining the significance of IMC. pg  9

[26] Kitchen, PJ, (2005), ‘New paradigm – IMC – under fire,’ in Competitiveness Review: CR, 15(1). pg 76

[27] Of the 5 arguments proposed to substantiate this approach, two will be focussed on in this paper.

[28] Cornellison, JP. & Locke, AR, (2000), ‘Theoretical concept or management fashion? Examining the significance of IMC. pg11

[29] Ibid.

[30] Arens, WF, Weigold, MF & Arens C,. (2011) Contemporary Advertising, 13th Edition. pg 27

[31] Schultz, DE., Tannenbaum, SL., Lauterborn RF., (1993) Integrated Marketing Communications, NTC Business Books. pg13

[32] Arens, WF, Weigold, MF & Arens C,. (2011) Contemporary Advertising, 13th Edition. pg 595

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