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Institutional Advertising: Definition, Tips, and Best Practices

By ZioSolutions


Who told you that pork was the other white meat?

Who told you that BP was working to restore damaged wetlands and employing thousands of Americans to get the job done?

Most likely it wasn't your evening news. It was probably a commercial or info ad in a trusted publication that helped to shape your perception of everything from fracking to the necessity of drinking milk for healthy bones and teeth.

While most advertising focuses on selling a product, institutional advertising's purpose is to help improve public relations.

These advertising schemes should be part of any company's crisis management plan. Because, let's be honest, misunderstandings and accidents happen.

In fact, poor public perception can come from unexpected places. The recent Pepsi ad featuring Kendall Jenner is a prime example of this.

The focus of institutional advertising is to repair public perception and trust with the brand as a whole.

In that vein, tobacco companies such as Phillip-Morris sponsoring anti-smoking campaigns and beer companies making ads that encourage consumers to drink responsibly and warn against drunk driving.

The objective of such campaigns is to restore public trust in the brand and improve their company's image.

What is Institutional Advertising?

Positive Public Perception Thumbs Up

Institutional advertising is advertising done to promote an industry or institution rather than a product or service.

It is designed to inform the public about changes within or reinforce the importance of industries and organizations that are in crisis.

The primary purpose is to restore trust and shape public opinion. Where traditional advertising focuses on informing the public about products and services while reinforcing the brand, institutional advertising focuses on recovering the brand and influencing public perception.

This is as important for a company going through a crisis as it is for an industry who, due to changes in the market, is seeing a sudden decline.

Often trade organizations, such as America's Dairy Farmers, will work together to produce an institutional advertising campaign.

In rare instances, you will see new companies engaged in this kind of advertising. This is usually true of new and emerging industries or companies moving into markets where their services and their brand is still new to the population. Again, the aim is to foster good will between the advertiser and the public at large.

Tips, Tricks, and Best Practices

So now that you know what institutional advertising is, what are the hallmarks of successful campaigns? Catchy slogans? Celebrity endorsements? Your ads may have all of those things and fail, or none of those tings and succeed.

Use the Same Methods You Would Use for a Product

The ideas behind advertising a product and your institution are the same. The same analysis to find your target audience and the most effective method of reaching them.

Although the execution will be different, the elements are the same: image, branding techniques, clear messaging, a call to action, and selling benefits as opposed to features.

Go Big or Go Home

Use television. Take out whole page ads. Try to position yourself in such a way that it looks important.

Newspaper retractions are some of the least effective forms of communicating because they are typically small and obscure. One or two well positioned large ads are better than a dozen small ones.


Whether you are establishing yourself as an authority or repairing broken trust, you should avoid obvious and blatant pandering.

The public's trust in you is already low, don't ruin it by being disingenuous. In this respect, institutional advertising differs from traditional advertising because you have the necessary copy space.

Institutional ads are longer and the people who watch or read them are interested in what you have to say.

Take Advantage of Passive Advertising

Not every call to action has to be explicitly stated. Ideally, you should design your ads to look like editorial content, serving as a way to inform the public about the actions, products, and services of your organization. In doing so, the invitation to engage with you should be implicit.

Is it Advocacy?

Public Speaker Advocate

Advocacy advertising can be considered a subdivision of Institutional advertising that wades into the murky waters of politics and public policy.

While some states have laws that restrict this kind of advertising, it can be hard to pin down. All advertising shapes public opinion to some extent, but advocacy takes it a step further. Rather than repairing your reputation, be clear about what you are doing.

Use Long Copy

The typical ad has lots of white space in order to direct the eye to the finely tuned message you are trying to convey.

In this case, less is NOT more. Less is just less and may serve to compound your problem as you strive to save your brand. The people who you want to reach will stick with you through 500 words of copy.

Your Record Doesn't Speak for Itself

In Hollywood, they say you are only as good as your last movie. The same is true in business. Never assume that investors or consumers will weigh your current crisis against your record of success. It's your job to remind them.

The Truth

Make sure that your ads reflect your reality. It's no good to get caught in a lie or to imply that you can accomplish things that you can't. Remember, it wasn't the break-in that forced Nixon out of office. It was the cover-up.

Be Clear About your Objectives

A good plan begins with a good method of measuring success. What are your goals with this ad campaign and how will you know if you've met them?

This should also bleed into your ads themselves. Let the consumers know what you are trying to do and how they can be sure that you are doing it.

Keeping all of these points in mind, it is important that you stay on message. with a little effort and a well-managed recovery, you can make institutional advertising work for you.

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I hope you found this information beneficial and feel free to comment down below any thoughts or questions you may have.

Topics: Advertising