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Clarity or Contempt: What Does Familiarity Breed? A Look at Branding Cues

March 27th, 2015 Comments off

A continuing advertising campaign can bring instant recognition to a brand’s communications.  In an era in which consumers are drowning in commercial messaging and in which a thirty second advertisement is considered long, this could certainly be considered a benefit.  However, we are all familiar with the adage “familiarity breeds contempt”.  Can a continuing campaign wear out its welcome, with consumers quickly dismissing the communication and tuning out the message because they are tired of the messenger?

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To investigate the utility of a continuing campaign at brand communication, we turned to the MSW●ARS historical database of television copy-testing results.  All advertisements in this database have been coded for a battery of content elements.  Of these, two clearly reflect elements of a continuing campaign for a brand, one audio and one visual:

Recognized Continuing Music Theme – Is the music clearly identified with the brand or company?

Recognized Continuing Character – Are one or more of the principal or minor characters in the commercial recognized as part of a continuing advertising campaign?  Is the character recognized as associated with the product by virtue of previous appearances in commercials for the product?

A continuing music theme can be a song or jingle, written specifically for the brand (for example, “I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Weiner” or McDonald’s “I’m Lovin It”) or a popular song licensed for use by the brand (such as Bob Seger’s “Like a Rock” for Chevrolet trucks), as long as it becomes quickly associated with the sponsoring brand.

A common technique brands use to incorporate a particular song or jingle into a continuing campaign is to make the song the main focus of initial ads and then cut back on the song’s prominence in subsequent spots.  For example, Mazda initially built this 2000 ad around the zoom-zoom song:

Then later ads featured the song to a lesser degree, as it became associated with the brand:

And the most recent ads have transitioned to using just the zoom-zoom audio cue without the music chords but reinforced with a visual cue:

Similarly, there is diversity in the types of continuing character employed by marketers.  A continuing character can be an actual person (for example, the Apple Mac and PC guys), an animation (such as Tony the Tiger) or even the personification of the product itself (the M&Ms “spokescandies”).  As the campaign becomes entrenched in the minds of consumers, these characters are able to instantly provide branding cues to viewers even before the brand name is explicitly mentioned.

The Geico Gecko first appeared in the firm’s advertising in 1999 and has become synonymous with the brand.  While viewers may enjoy his unusual exploits, you can be sure he will take the opportunity to remind them that they can “save 15 percent or more on car insurance.”

And among younger generations, it is likely that William Shatner is better known for his long running campaign for Priceline than for his iconic Star Trek character.  While clearly not as agile as a youthful Captain Kirk battling the Gorn, he still leverages his considerable charisma in reminding viewers they can get the best travel deals from Priceline.

For each of these two types of executional campaign elements, we delved into the MSW●ARS database for empirical evidence for whether, and to what degree, these recognized brand cues can affect the branded memorability of an advertisement.  It was found that each is associated with higher related recall levels, with a continuing character being particularly effective in this regard, boosting ad recall to 38 percent above norm, on average.

campaign-fig-06However, while these results show that these branding cues help to capture attention and link the ad to the brand in viewers’ minds, do they also have a tendency to either overpower the substance of the ad or trigger the dismissal of the communication that familiarity may beget?  To shed some light on this question we went a layer deeper in the database analysis, examining the different aspects of recall for the ads containing these two content elements.

As the following chart shows, for a continuing music theme, both references to executional content and sales messages are elevated to a similar degree as overall ad recall.  However for ads with continuing characters, consumer playback of executional content tends to outstrip overall sales message playback – but importantly, sales message recall is still 30 percent above norm, on average.  But the big news is that viewers tend to recall the ad’s key sales message at very strong levels for both types of brand cues.  It is possible that brands that utilize continuing executional elements are more likely to have consistency in their key proposition, hence easing its communication over time.  Or it may be that the instant branding effect of familiar executional elements facilitates communication overall.

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Finally, we also took an in-depth look at the highly recognizable and ongoing campaign for a CPG brand for which MSW●ARS has tested the television advertising for many years – both before and throughout the current campaign.   This campaign uses recognizable continuing characters which have become instantly associated with the brand.

In the year before the campaign started, related recall levels for tested ads were roughly at norm.  However, they immediately jumped with the transition to the new campaign.  In fact, in the first three years related recall results averaged 55% higher than the norm level.  What’s more, levels continued to rise over the subsequent two three-year periods of the campaign.

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Looking more specifically at what viewers recalled about the ads, we see that growth in playback related to executional elements, surely driven by references to the continuing characters, outstripped growth in overall related recall.  However, average playback of the key sales message, which was extremely high in the first three year period, dropped noticeably in the third three year period albeit to an average level still well above norm.

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While there was consistency in the ads executionally over time, the brand at times shifted focus in its key selling message, often related to the sub-brand being promoted.  In the third three-year time period, a relatively large proportion of the ads were focused on two new key sales messages for which communication levels were relatively low.  This suggests that brands should use caution when changing messaging within a continuing executional framework, ensuring that the drama supports the intended communication.  It could be that use of branding cues, especially continuing characters, may need to be reduced in certain situations – still providing continuity and linkage to the brand but allowing space for sufficient communication and/or demonstration of the key selling message.

The bottom line is that use of brand cues such as a continuing music theme or, in particular, continuing characters can be an effective method to boost branding in an advertising campaign, ensuring that viewers link the advertising to the brand.  Indeed, in this context familiarity breeds not contempt, but rather enhanced communication.

Of course as always, results may vary.  But appropriate research can help brands ensure that their advertising campaigns achieve their objectives.  Please contact your MSW●ARS representative to find out how our products and research can help to optimize your brand’s communications.

Is Brand Preference Marketing’s Higgs Boson?

November 20th, 2014 Comments off

Higgs Boson-02Chances are you have heard of the Higgs Boson, an elusive elementary particle that physicists have spent the last fifty years and billions of dollars to find.  Reports of its potential discovery have captured headlines around the globe.  If verified, not only will it help cement our mathematical understanding of how the universe works, but will set the trajectory for future technological advances.

What has this got to do with the marketing discipline?  For the last fifty years we have been dealing with our own elusive particle, an accurate metric that quantifies the financial value a brand provides.  Without this the mathematics is incomplete for financial forecasting, planning, justifying marketing investment or improving marketing return.

But 2015 may be the year that this changes due to the work of the Marketing Accountability Standards Board (MASB).  This group of marketing and financial practitioners and academics has been pursuing aggressive “game changing” projects to not only create general principles and methodological standards for brand valuation, but to prove them out in brand “trials” that serve as practical examples of their application.  Based on prior research, MASB chose the MSW•ARS brand preference measurement approach as the cornerstone of its two-year long brand investment and valuation trials.  The first installment of this research was presented at the group’s summer summit in August and the initial results have been making waves in industry news.

Mathematics of Brand Preference

Just like physics equations hinted at the existence of the Higgs Boson, so did the equations of marketing hint at brand preference.  For years marketers have dissected sales data and realized that maintaining market share and price point were critical to maintaining revenue streams.

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But this just pushes the question a level deeper to: What drives a brand’s unit market share?  Economic theory provides two of the key elements, price relative to competing products and distribution.  Simply put, on average the less costly in terms of time and money a product is to obtain, the higher the demand for it will be.  But people are not economic robots.  They will oftentimes choose a more costly option if they feel that it will provide them a decisive benefit, even if it is a purely emotional one.  Thus it is the breadth and strength of consumers’ preference which set the base level for a brand’s unit market share with distribution and relative price acting as modifiers to it.

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So how effective is brand preference in explaining a brand’s unit market share?  In the initial MASB trial analysis, six months of brand preference, unit share, price premiums, and distribution were analyzed across twelve participant categories containing one hundred nineteen brands.  The categories examined included a diverse mix of product types; prices from thirty cents to thirty thousand dollars, impulse buys to deliberate purchases, consumables to durables.  Across these categories brand preference accounted for seventy-one percent of the differences between brands while effective distribution and price premium added another fourteen percent.

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With this milestone achieved the next step is already underway, incorporating brand preference in financial and marketing forecast and planning applications.  More details on these endeavors will be forthcoming in future installments.

Please contact your MSW●ARS representative to learn more about how brand preference is embedded throughout all of our research solutions.

Digital Just Got BIGGER – OOH!

October 8th, 2014 Comments off

Not since the advent of the television ad in 1941 has the potential for new ad formats been so great. The emergence of digital platforms is enabling marketers to experiment with a number of new ad formats, each of which could revolutionize marketing as we know it. Throughout 2014 we have been highlighting the most effective techniques being broadly adopted.

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Part VI: Digital Billboard

The billboard (also known as a hoarding outside of the United States) is one of the most iconic advertising forms.  Designed in the early eighteen hundreds to notify the public of upcoming circus performances, its use as an awareness builder for events is still going strong.  Few advertising forms today communicate “NOW” as impressively as a well-executed billboard.

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When placed along commuter routes, the built-in frequency from billboards can gently nudge a brand up the awareness continuum, helping a relatively unknown brand vault to the top of a consumer’s evoked set.  And when placed near a retail area, the recency to the shopping event can cue the consumer for a desired purchase decision.

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However the short, static nature of billboards has often led to them being pigeonholed into tactical uses within the media plan.  This is similar to the early days of online display advertising when the channel saw little use for strategic messaging such as brand differentiation, new product/feature information, superiority claims and advocacy content.  It wasn’t until the “richer” motion-based display experiences were introduced that the incidence of strategic uses broke double digits and started to approach those of other media such as television.

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We see the same trend playing out for digital billboards.  Like static display ads, digital billboards were first promoted for their low cost, speed of deployment, and media planning flexibility.  By eliminating physical printing, start-up costs are minimized and initial designs and subsequent changes to creative can be made more quickly.  And since the cost structure is managed on an impression basis (as opposed to an installation basis) exposure rates can be manipulated across multiple digital billboards to better optimize frequency and reach ratios.  But from a creative standpoint, this type of digital billboard still presents a static viewer experience and therefore the same content density as its traditional counterpart.

Example Digital Billboard with Rotating Static Exposures

 

But brands are now starting to experiment with the dynamic and interactive capabilities of digital billboards.  This new generation holds much promise for elevating the medium into the realm of strategic campaigns.  The following case studies showcase some of the best examples of brands using digital billboards in strategic ways.

 

New Product Feature: Coca-Cola ‘Share-a-Coke’ Australia Launch

 

Brand Differentiation: Forever 21 Times Square

 

Superiority Claim: British Airways

 

Of course digital billboards will still be used for the time-honored tradition of event notification.  Only now they will be shows in themselves!

 

Event Notification: Cirque du Soleil McNamara Airport

 

 

Please contact your MSW●ARS representative to learn more about techniques for evaluating the performance of out-of-home advertising.