Author Archive

Surpassing the Norm – Better Approaches to Providing Meaningful Context – Part II

August 31st, 2015 Comments off

In Part I of this blog series, we examined some of the practical issues with the use of standard normative data for providing context for  advertising research.  While having the global databases and expertise to provide traditional database averages as the situation warrants, MSW●ARS also offers approaches to the question of context that avoid the issues which plague traditional norms, providing more meaningful points of comparison that decision-makers can rely on with confidence.

 The Fair Share Benchmark

A vital consideration in applying norms to communications research metrics is that the metrics themselves should be meaningful, allowing for comparisons to benchmarks to yield actionable insight.  One way a metric can be considered meaningful is if it is predictive enough of in-market sales effectiveness to be useful as an overall success criterion.  While most commonly used metrics fall short of this standard, the MSW●ARS CCPersuasion® metric (a behavioral measure of the change in percent of brand preference taken before and after incidental advertising exposure) was described by Quirk’s Magazine as having “been validated to actual business results more than any other advertising measurement in the business.”  As an example of its utility, its track record in predicting matched-market advertising weight and copy tests far outstrips other metrics:

 Norm Part II - fig 001a

It has also been shown to predict actual sales volume impacted by an ad, as determined through marketing mix modeling:

Norm Part II - fig 002

The CCPersuasion score is not compared to a category average.  Instead, to provide meaningful context to the question of whether an advertisement has attained an acceptable CCPersuasion level, it is compared to the Fair Share benchmark.  This benchmark represents an estimate of the sales effectiveness, in terms of CCPersuasion level, for a typical ad for the advertised brand, given the category environment and the brand’s position in that environment.  It utilizes a model which was derived from the results of tens of thousands of advertising tests and which has been proven to work over the course of several decades.  Essentially, it utilizes brand and category market structure factors that have been shown to be related to higher or lower CCPersuasion levels.  These factors include:

  • Loyalty:  In any given category, some consumers are, to varying degrees, susceptible to switching brands.  In general, the more consumers susceptible to switching brands, the higher the sales effectiveness of advertising in that category.
  • Number of Brands:  Categories differ in terms of the number of competing brands.  More brands mean more competition for non-loyal consumers, which results in a lower expected level of advertising’s sales effectiveness.
  • Brand Strength:  The larger a brand’s share, the smaller the pool of non-loyal consumers available to switch their preference to that brand and the more difficult it is to achieve a given increase in brand preference.

Norm Part II - fig 003

Vitally, these brand and category factors are collected as part of the MSW●ARS Touchpoint methodology which allows it to avoid the pitfalls inherent in category averages which were discussed in part I of this series:

  • Availability – While category averages depend on the availability of sufficient relevant historical data, Fair Share is always available even for new or emerging categories since the inputs are a product of the testing system itself.
  • Consistency – Category averages can be influenced by methodological differences between the current test and historical testing.  Fair Share always reflects the brand’s specific test situation by only using information from that brand’s testing as inputs to the model.
  • Representation – Category averages can vary greatly depending on what brands are included in or missing from the normative data set.  On the other hand, Fair Share is stable since its inputs have been proven to be reliable in their collection.  Plus, the model has been derived on and refined from tens of thousands of cases for brands in nearly every conceivable situation and so can be applied to any brand with confidence that the benchmark is appropriate.
  • Brand Development – Category averages provide a single normative level for all brands, despite the fact that different brands can and do have very different situations that affect the potential strength of their advertising.  In contrast, Fair Share is always based on current marketplace conditions and the brand’s specific position in the category.  So each brand has its own unique benchmark level commensurate with realistic expectations for its advertising’s sales effectiveness.

How do we know that a brand’s Fair Share level is truly “fair”?  Fair Share levels are closely monitored over time to ensure that average levels closely match average CCPersuasion level.

Norm Part II - fig 004

The average Fair Share level doesn’t just match average CCPersuasion overall, but also at different Fair Share levels as illustrated in the following chart.  This shows that Fair Share effectively captures the factors that tend to result in higher or lower CCPersuasion results and that the benchmark is “fair” in a wide range of brand circumstances:

Norm Part II - fig 005

Furthermore, Fair Share explains 64% of the variance in CCPersuasion results across brands and categories, indicating that it effectively reflects each brand’s unique situation.

MSW●ARS pioneered this modeled normative approach and has unsurpassed expertise and systems in place to assure that the Fair Share benchmark continues to be the gold standard in the communications research industry.

Derived Importance

When it comes to looking for insight into what is driving an ad’s performance, it is typical to look at diagnostic metrics in relation to historical normative averages and assume that those elements eclipsing normative levels must be driving an ad’s success.  However given the issues with category averages, these assumptions can be erroneous.

This leads us back to the second way a metric can be considered meaningful – that being, it is specifically related to the brand or category in such a way as to guide revisions or future developmental work.  However, most common metrics for which normative data is typically available are too general to provide specific guidance to the brand, while those attributes and equities directly relevant to the brand or category often lack robust normative data sets.

A contextualization approach which would provide meaningful feedback needs to be inclusive of all diagnostic elements which a brand considers important enough to include in its communications testing research initiatives.  As with Fair Share, the MSW●ARS approach is to assess attitudinal metrics using context derived from the testing methodology itself, allowing for application to all diagnostic elements included in the survey.

This approach is possible within the MSW●ARS Touchpoint methodology since both CCPersuasion and attitudinal metrics are collected from the same sample.  This allows us to analyze attitudinal measure performance between those study participants who changed brand preferences and those who did not change their preference after exposure to advertising.  This makes it possible to derive the importance of each attitudinal factor in the actual performance of the piece of copy or campaign.

As with Fair Share, this Derived Importance approach obviates the availability, consistency, representation and brand development issues associated with traditional norms due to the assessment of importance being internal to the methodology of a single communications research survey for that specific brand.  Furthermore, the results are both complete in scope and meaningful since all metrics are covered and the assessment of importance is based on preference change from the CCPersuasion metric which we have seen is strongly tied to in-market sales performance.

Furthermore, the importance of each attribute can be crossed with attribute performance levels.  Such a plot, as in the example below, can reveal areas of important strengths as well as, most vitally, perspective on potential areas for improvement that a brand can use to guide revisions to copy or as input to future initiative development.

Norm Part II - fig 006

As parents, we need to know how are children are doing as we attempt to help them develop and fulfill their potential.  In doing so, we depend on benchmarking to academic, developmental and societal norms to help us understand how they are doing.  Similarly, as marketers we are concerned with developing our brand’s potential and need appropriate context to ensure our communications initiatives are delivering all the support our brands deserve.  In each case, it is imperative that context is meaningful, relevant and unbiased to avoid taking misguided or even detrimental actions.

To learn more about the MSW●ARS approach to providing appropriate context to your brand’s communications research results, please contact your MSW●ARS representative.

Surpassing the Norm – Better Approaches to Providing Meaningful Context – Part I

August 13th, 2015 Comments off

Context is important.  Consider the story of little Johnny, just returned from school with a test paper for his father to sign.

“Hi Dad, could you please sign this for me,” Johnny said uncertainly, handing the paper to his father.

“Mm, a 75 huh,” Dad said thoughtfully pursing his lips, “what was the class average?”

“75,” said Johnny slowly.

“Oh, not bad then,” Dad smiled.

Suddenly feeling the need for full disclosure, Johnny continued, “We took the test on the day of the class trip to the aviary that I didn’t go on due to my irrational fear of being carried away by a giant eagle.  Only three of us didn’t go – the teacher left a test for us to do so we wouldn’t be bored.”

Dad raised an eyebrow. “I see,” he said, “how did the other two do?”

“Well, there was a new kid who didn’t go because he didn’t have a signed consent form.  He got a 50, but then he’d never studied fractions before…”

“Oh,” said Dad, quickly computing in his head, “so the other must’ve gotten a 100?”

“Yeah,” said Johnny, “but that was Joey DaBrain – he always gets a 100!”

“Hmm,” said Dad as he handed back the signed paper and slowly walked away, puzzling over whether Johnny really had performed acceptably on this test or whether it really even mattered.

While this scenario may seem slightly bizarre, it highlights the importance of context in evaluating performance, and reflects on some troubling issues plaguing the communications research industry in the provision of benchmarks to put research results in proper context for making crucial decisions for a brand’s communication strategy.

We may be comforted to know that our new advertisement is performing “at norm” when tested, but how can we be confident that a benchmark provided by our research supplier is truly relevant for our brand?  Unfortunately it may not be, since traditional norms – typically category or industry averages – are affected by a variety of issues which may render them inappropriate or even misleading.

Representation:  A benchmark can only be as strong as its representation.  The average of the three students who took the math test is not likely to be representative of the average ability of all 25 students in the class.  A norm computed for a particular category is likely to be composed of whatever the research supplier has at hand, rather than a representation of the category as a whole.  And composition can clearly make a difference in practice.

Take for example average MSW●ARS CCPersuasion scores for four major brands in the same household products category, as shown in the following chart.  The average scores between the brands vary considerably.  The average across all four brands is 7.7.  However as the graphic illustrates, excluding either the strongest scoring or weakest scoring brand can dramatically affect the overall average.  The answer to ‘how are we doing’ for Brand A would be considerably different based on the presence or absence of brands B or D in the normative computations.

norm-fig-01Brand Development: We likely wouldn’t hold Johnny to the same standard as Joey DaBrain when it comes to results on a math test.  Children have unique strengths and should be treated accordingly.  The same is true for brands.  Even if a benchmark were to account for all brands in a given category, it is not a given that this benchmark would then be appropriate for application to research results for all brands in the category.

This is because brands have unique situations that should be accounted for in assessing effectiveness of commercial communications.  A brand team with a new entry to the category shouldn’t necessarily be held to the same standard as the category leader.  As an example, the variation in purchase intent levels for seven different brands in a personal care category shows how a one-size-fits-all approach to normative data will give a misleading result for many brands.

norm-fig-02Consistency: We may attempt to expand the context for understanding Johnny’s test result by considering the class next door, which recently had a test on fractions.  However the results for the other class are obviously affected by the teacher’s choice of questions and typical difficultly level of his or her tests.  When it comes to normative data, similar considerations are also in play.  If we are considering a verbal metric, results could potentially be affected by such factors as question wording, type of scale used, placement within the questionnaire and sample group considered.

Even for a behavioral metric with a consistent and rigorously monitored methodology such as CCPersuasion, there can be differences in how brands in the same category define their competitive brand set, particularly in categories that are somewhat ambiguous or can be defined more broadly or narrowly.  Such differences may again make comparisons to category averages less meaningful than first presumed.

Availability:  In some cases, particularly in new or emerging categories, it may be difficult or impossible to formulate normative data for a specific category or even broader industry segment.  Or for smaller categories, it may be necessary to reach far back in time to assemble sufficient cases, leaving the resulting norms susceptible to changes in market conditions, consumer sentiment or research methods.

Scope: A category norm requires historical test results for the metric of interest across a reasonably robust number of brands and overall cases.  So by definition, such a metric will need to be general enough to be in broad use in the research industry.  This will include common metrics such as liking, purchase intent, awareness and so forth.  While benchmarks may be readily available for these metrics, this likely will not be the case for many of the brand-specific metrics that the brand team is particularly interested in, which leads to the last and perhaps most important issue with normative data – meaningfulness.

Meaningfulness:   Beyond the appropriateness of the “class average” of 75 as a benchmark for Johnny’s performance on the math test, perhaps the larger issue was whether the test result was at all meaningful in predicting Johnny’s success in the course, given that it was likely a make-work exercise for the students not participating in the class trip.  Similarly, while much effort may go into providing normative benchmarks for a battery of standard metrics, are the resulting comparisons useful to the brand?

Generally, a given metric may be considered useful in the assessment of commercial communication if it is either predictive enough of in-market effectiveness (typically sales-response) to be useful as an overall success criterion, or is specifically related to the brand or category in such a way as to guide revisions or future developmental work.  Unfortunately, the metrics for which normative data is typically available, such as liking and recall/awareness, are too general to provide specific guidance to the brand, and they have been shown not to have a strong enough relationship to in-market effectiveness to be appropriate as a success criterion, as for example in matched-market advertising weight and copy tests:


Despite these issues, research managers desire context for their research results – and rightly so, as context is imperative.  Part II of this series will highlight approaches pioneered by MSW●ARS that provide appropriate context for research results while avoiding the pitfalls which beset standard normative data.

Please contact your MSW●ARS representative to learn more.

It Made Me Laugh, It Made Me Cry – But Did It Make Me Buy?

July 13th, 2015 Comments off

Due to his Vulcan upbringing, Star Trek’s Mr. Spock was known for his ability to detach himself from emotion and arrive at decisions from a purely logical standpoint.  As for the rest of us – not so much.  Humans are emotional creatures.  We may diligently do our homework in gathering the facts – fuel economy, horsepower, crash test results, resale track record, finance options… But less objective features – styling, image, color, plush interior, feel for the road, acceleration – those get our attention, make our heart beat a little faster, and tug our mind away from a purely rational decision making process.

And so it is with advertising.  Much is made of the dichotomy of a rational approach versus an emotional approach.  However, in reality it is not an either/or proposition.  The key to successful advertising is in making both a rational and emotional connection with our audience, as has been quantified in MSW●ARS studies of advertising pre-test results – those ads with strong emotional and rational responses are supercharged in terms of likelihood to achieve superior sales performance.


The importance of a strong emotional response to advertising is bolstered by a recent Procter & Gamble in-house review of advertising performance.  As reported by WARC, this study found that ads generating an emotional response were nine times more likely to be successful.  P&G marketing director/creative strategist Pete Carter noted “Indifference is the killer here.  And that’s what you want to avoid.  I think … discovering all the different kinds of emotions that are out there:  that’s where the real meat is right now.”

The options for how advertising content can be designed to elicit an emotional response will be informed by the brand’s strategy and existing personality.  There are no set rules on how this can be done.  However, an MSW●ARS review of television advertisements which were able to leverage an emotional connection into high levels of sales effectiveness has led to some broad rules of thumb for how emotional content can be successfully incorporated into advertising.

Portray an emotional benefit:  The products we choose perform a needed function – clean the clothes, keep our hair in place, quench our thirst.  But they can also provide important emotional benefits – peace of mind, confidence, fun, exhilaration.  Depicting how the product can make you feel has proven to be the most consistently effective emotional approach.  Dick’s Sporting Goods not only showed how a new basketball hoop could make a little girl feel, but also how the product became a centerpiece of the family’s life.



Create a need state for the product:  We all have needs, from the very basics such as food and shelter to higher order needs such as feelings of security, romance or social inclusion.  Advertisements can use emotionally charged imagery, plot lines and music to depict the feelings of need for a product that can in turn create a need state for the product among viewers.  This imaginative ad from Perrier uses extreme visuals and effective music to build an urgent sense of need for the thirst quenching power of Perrier – and also ultimately depicts the benefit in an emotional payoff when the protagonist finally is able to indulge in a bottle of Perrier.



Be Aspirational:  At the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are esteem and self-actualization.  We all aspire for something better – to fulfill our potential and to be valued by others.  The literature has suggested that advertisements which play to the aspiration for personal enhancement can be powerful – and the MSW•ARS database has confirmed the utility of this approach.  This celebrity ad featuring LeBron James is aspirational as it depicts his roots in his community and how he found his “thirst” or motivation to succeed from their “passion” and “love”.  The ad shows how Sprite helps him to give back to the community to quench their thirst for a better life – and promotes Sprite as the ultimate thirst quencher.



Portray Excitement and Adventure: There is a trend in spending, especially among younger people, away from tangible items such as clothing and toward technology and, notably, experiences.  Brands that can tap into this growing appetite for excitement and experience through their advertising and marketing plan are likely to benefit when the depicted feelings are transferred onto the brand and are appropriate for the brand’s image.  This ad from Red Bull uses the world record sky-diving event, sponsored by Red Bull, to create an intense sense of excitement and adventure.  It works for the brand due to its image and purpose – to bring energy and excitement to life.



Deploy Humor Strategically:  The basis for much of what we find to be humorous is the misfortune of others.  Did you see that guy slip on the banana peel – it was hilarious!  Likewise, humor in advertising has been seen to be particularly effective when it is used to poke fun at a competitor, as Taco Bell successfully did with its clever dig at McDonald’s in its “Guess Who’s Coming to Breakfast” spot promoting its new breakfast menu.



Humor has also been used to great effect in emphasizing how effective the advertised product is, perhaps through a device such as exaggeration, or highlighting an important aspect of the product.  This ad for Oikos Greek Yogurt uses exaggerated behavior to humorously and effectively illustrate how irresistible tasting the product is.



Beware Disassociation:  It is vital that the use of emotion is in support of the product and its selling strategy.   Ads with weak emotional associations to the brand are rarely successful.  Oftentimes such ads attempt to use an emotional approach to gain attention or create a feeling they hope to have associated with the product, but the connection of the drama to the brand is vague.  While the Budweiser ‘Puppy Love’ ad won accolades and Super Bowl ad popularity contests, the connection between the story and the brand is tenuous suggesting the ad may have been more popular than sales effective for the brand.



Given the importance of an emotional connection, evaluative techniques based on neuro-scientific research can be particularly valuable.  For example, facial coding or EEG techniques can give a read on emotional engagement that is temporally discriminating to allow assessment of emotional engagement in the critical early seconds of an ad and to identify any segments where there is potential for viewer disengagement.

One example from MSW●ARS’s application of these techniques involves an ad’s soundtrack.  While historically music was used to tie a brand to specific benefits by highlighting brand features in the lyrics, as in a jingle, in modern form music ties the brand to specific emotions by highlighting personal experiences.  In the example, neuroscience tools isolated why a particular ad underperformed for a key target group.  The background soundtrack led to disengagement (detected from EEG) and avoidance activation (detected from galvanic response) at several points within the ad among the target group.


Bill Bernback once said “You can say the right thing about a product and nobody will listen.  You’ve got to say it in such a way that people will feel it in their gut.  Because if they don’t feel it, nothing will happen.”  His experience led him to the same conclusion that P&G’s recent study came to – that emotional indifference is the biggest enemy our advertising campaigns face.

Please contact your MSW●ARS representative to learn more about how our TouchPoint*Plus platform and neuro-science techniques can be used to assess the effectiveness of your brand’s advertising and assess how it is connecting emotionally with viewers.


Categories: Ad Pre-Testing, Emotion, Neuroscience Tags: