The challenging economic environment in the aftermath of the Great Recession has turned up the pressure for brands to create advertising that will justify the investment… and the continued advertising budget. To meet this challenge, one advertising format brands are turning to is the product benefits ad. For this reason we have put together a four part series which shares proven techniques for creating product benefits ads that sell.
Part one of this series examined tactics for ensuring that the advertised product actually remains the main character of the advertisement, while part two discussed some methods that can be employed to characterize the product as a hero in the lives of consumers and part three covered how to enable our product to speak in a convincing voice. While at this point it may seem obvious that the product and its message are the key components of product benefits advertising, the executional envelope that we use to deliver our message must not be overlooked. There most certainly is an important place for creativity in the product benefits approach. The concluding segment of our series will examine the appropriate role of presenters and stagecraft in the context of a product benefits advertisement.
Part 4: Use Presenters and Stagecraft in Supporting Roles Only.
Even superheroes can use some support. Batman has Robin, the Lone Ranger has Tonto and even Superman can use a hand from Jimmy Olsen now and then. As hero of our advertisement, our product also depends on support from other commercial elements to optimize delivery of the intended message to the target audience. In this supporting role, presenters and stagecraft can help to establish an emotional connection with consumers, personalize product benefits and enhance the interest level and engagement of the audience – all while not distracting from the product focus of the ad.
Presenters – Known and Unknown
Effective presenters are among the most powerful creative elements that can be deployed in product benefits advertising. But first a word of caution – care must be taken to ensure that the presenter does not displace the product as the key focus of the ad. This is particularly true of celebrities, where we may be tempted just to try to cash in on the celebrity’s aura. As with all temptations, we must stand firm and retain our commitment to the product as hero of our commercial.
The following are some of the functions that presenters generally can fulfill:
- Provide credibility: A presenter can bolster a claim and make it more believable. One technique is to use an endorsement by an authority relevant to the product category – for example a doctor, hair stylist, or mechanic. In addition, brand users giving a testimonial of their experiences with the product can also provide a convincing reason to believe.
- Convey emotion: Presenters are one important vehicle that can be used to convey emotion to viewers. For example, they can be used to illustrate an emotional end benefit from using the product, help create feelings of need for the product, inject humor or other positive feelings around the brand and can even personify the brand in the minds of consumers.
- Give context for a problem: If our ad intends to use the product as the hero in solving a pressing problem, the presenter can be instrumental in setting up the context of the problem, especially in illustrating the physical or emotional toll the problem burdens the user with.
- Act as a natural vehicle for demonstrations: While category dependent, for many products the presenter is integral as a means for demonstrating the product in use for the purpose of highlighting its efficacy, features or superiority.
- Portray beauty or other results of using the product: For many products, particularly personal care items such as shampoo or skin care, the presenter is the ideal means to convey the beauty, satisfaction, confidence or other result that we wish to be associated with the use of our brand.
Taylor Swift has been used in the ongoing Cover Girl campaign, providing continuity across ads and linking to the young audience the brand wishes to reach. The brand has deployed her in a flexible manner, not only portraying beauty but also fulfilling many of the other important roles a presenter can take on.
Stagecraft – Advertising Tone
The overall tone of an advertisement is intimately wrapped up in the creative approach and hence potential options may to some extent be dictated by the product category and the selling proposition the brand is working from. That said, the chosen tone of our ad can attract attention, enhance memorability, convey emotion, emphasize product benefits and help to avoid the dreaded zap. While a variety of tones may work well in a given situation, there are a few that are associated with enhanced advertising recall and message communication.
- Almost everyone is looking for an escape from the drudgery of everyday life, creating an opportunity for positioning even a simple product feature, like the color of a razor, as a spirt-lifting benefit through use of a happy/fun-loving tone:
- Humorous ads are among the most talked about and awarded advertisements for a reason – people enjoy them! But, there is a distinct danger that the humor will overshadow the message we wish to communicate and we will be left with all talk and no sales. However in the right measure, humor can perform important functions in our product benefits ad beyond attracting attention and getting people talking. For example, it can be used to poke fun at the competition, help emphasize some important aspect of our product, or highlight the need for our brand’s solution – as in this ad for Garnier Fructis which uses humor to bring to light the social benefits of effectively dealing with dandruff:
- If a light-hearted tone is not the direction we wish our advertisement to take, an exciting or dramatic tone can also build interest while underscoring the importance of the product’s benefits in a serious yet passionate manner. This spot for Clear Shampoo uses dramatic music, colors and fades to produce an air of importance and innovation.
Stagecraft – Commercial Length
When it comes to the length of a commercial, a good rule of thumb is that a commercial needs to be as long – and only as long – as it takes to effectively communicate the intended message. Sometimes our message is too complicated to compress to 15 seconds and still be meaningfully communicated to the audience. Other times our message is so concise that stretching it to 30 seconds amounts to overkill.
Because of its brevity, the :15 second spot requires special attention. Research on pairs of :15 and :30 second ads shows that on average, :15 second ads are about 77% as sales effective as their :30 second counterparts and in fact 27% of :15s score equal to or better than the :30 second version when tested. Given the lower cost of airing :15s, this presents a great media efficiency opportunity – with the above caveat that not all ads can be effectively reduced to this length.
Guidelines for producing effective :15 second ads include:
- If possible, create original short form ads. Attempting to cut down an effective :30 second spot can result in a lack of clarity or poor support in terms of reasons to believe as hard choices need to be made in terms of what to remove. It is better to plan the :15 from scratch with the limitations of the format firmly in mind.
- Reduce communication to a single idea. Multiple ideas in a short format will reduce communication of all ideas and limit the ability to provide any meaningful support or demonstration.
- Use images or pictures instead of words. A picture is worth a thousand words, and since a :15 second ad allows for well under 1000 words, the picture is clearly the way to go. The following visual comparison, drawn from an ad for Vlasic Stackers, made a clear and compelling argument in the :15 second version – but it became almost tedious in the :30. Not surprisingly, the :15 substantially outscored the :30 second version when tested.
- You need to show the product – remember, it’s the hero! There isn’t a lot of time and there may be temptation to try to include other important elements. Resist it! Include at least three, and preferably five, seconds of product shots.
- Avoid storytelling. It’s hard enough to tell a “story” in 60 seconds. It’s very hard in 30 seconds. And 15 seconds forget about it!
- Other Stagecraft Considerations
- Music is great for conveying emotion. And when it is a major element of the execution or a continuing theme in a campaign, it has been shown to enhance memorability of the ad. However, as Bill Backer once observed, Fifty to sixty percent of music done today is a substitute for an idea. It’s not don’t try it.
- A setting related to use of the product provides a reference point for understanding product use and also is a clear indication that the product is not getting lost in the shuffle. Ads with such a setting are associated with a higher likelihood of above norm persuasion:
- The number of scenes in an ad will to a large extent be dictated by the overall executional approach. A reasonable number of scenes can improve attentiveness by controlling the pace of the ad. Generally, a moderate number of screen cuts, in the range of 4 to 19 for a :30 second ad, is best. A pace that is too slow or too fast likely hampers attentiveness and has been empirically shown to lead to lower copy test scores, on average.
- Voice-overs provide additional information to help reinforce the points being made visually.
- Zooms and close-ups improve attentiveness by making the ad more interesting to view and allowing greater detail to be shown when demonstrating the product or the results of use.
- Legends provide the primary means of communicating additional information that doesn’t rise to the level for voice-over.
This concludes our series on creating effective product benefits advertising. Keep in mind that there is no rulebook when it comes to the creation of great product benefits advertising. But there are empirically backed findings and guidelines, as reviewed in this series, which we would be wise to consider within the context of the creative process. We ignore the guidance of research at our own peril:
Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals.