Archive for the ‘Communication Activation’ Category

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?


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.


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.


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.


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.

Online Video’s Growing Importance in The Media Mix

February 24th, 2015 Comments off

In our previous posting on “How to Turn the Cord Cutting Trend into an Advantage”, we outlined how substantial video viewing time has migrated to internet-based platforms.  This growth of online video has created new levels of complexity and uncertainty in the media buying and placement world, but also has brought new opportunity to those brands that have endeavored to leverage new media in their marketing plans.

While both online video viewership and digital video ad spend have seen dramatic increases in recent years, both are still relatively small in relationship to television.  Projections from eMarketer for 2014 estimated total US TV ad spend at $68.54 billion while the comparable figure for online video was $5.96 billion.  And in terms of viewing, comScore has reported that total online video viewing hours in the US (excluding Netflix and adult video) amounted to only about 4 percent of total TV viewing hours for the first quarter of 2014.  So, in terms of efficiently achieving reach and frequency targets, online video is not ready to supplant television.  However, used wisely, online video advertising has an important role to play.

The cord cutting post also showed that an ad that is effective when viewed on television is also highly likely to work well in an online video format and that video advertising on digital platforms can be as effective as advertising on television.  In addition, when deployed in some of the following ways, online video advertising can bring benefits beyond what would be realized from television alone.


Improving Reach:  While TV will efficiently deliver strong reach numbers, there are some segments of the population – particularly the younger demographic – that television is less successful at finding.  A comScore study of ten cross-platform ad campaigns found that about one-eighth of reach, on average, came exclusively from digital platforms.  The following example from a frozen-vegetable brand campaign shows that not only did digital sources, including online video, contribute meaningful incremental reach beyond TV alone, but they also helped achieve some degree of increase in reach in the later weeks of the campaign when reach from TV had plateaued (despite continued spending):


Targeting:  As marketers sharpen their consumer targets, they need their media to deliver the message to those consumers.  Digital media is highly effective at reaching specific media targets.  While digital is readily thought of as effective at targeting Millennials, who often spend more time with digital than traditional media, the same comScore study also illustrates how digital can be used to effectively target other segments.  The following graphic contrasts the digital only reach of two different campaigns.  A cereal campaign strongly over-indexed among the under-18 segment, while a frozen vegetable campaign over-indexed among middle-aged viewers, especially women.


Engagement:  Bruce Springsteen once wrote about “57 Channels and Nothin’ On”.  Of course now there are far more channels and yet we have all had the familiar experience of flipping endlessly through channels in search of something remotely interesting.  The interactive and searchable nature of digital media, however, enables self-selection which can enhance the level of engagement with the content.  In fact, in an IAB sponsored study, “74 percent of participants described the experience of watching an original digital video they liked as equal to or better than that of watching something they liked on TV.”

And an engaged viewer is a receptive viewer.  Studies by MSW●ARS have found that the effectiveness of advertising, in terms of its ability to persuade, is substantially enhanced when the media in which it is embedded is engaging to viewers.  In fact, these studies have found advertisements to be 35 percent more effective among viewers who found the media content to be engaging versus those who did not.


Earned Media:  It is hard to beat the media cost – and ROI – for an ad that goes viral on YouTube.  Getting consumers to actually seek out and share your advertising is something that is only possible through online video.  Old Spice is one brand that has done this with outstanding success, as evidenced by the more than 50 million views of the “Man Your Man Could Smell Like” video, among many others:


Of course, simply putting your ad on YouTube is far from a guarantee of going viral.  However, MSW●ARS has developed a battery of questions based on Flow Theory which measure the engagement of viewers with a video based on five dimensions: focus & attention, loss of self-consciousness, altered sense of time, intrinsic rewards and immersion.  The Engagement metric derived from this battery has been shown to be predictive of the propensity of a video to go viral.  Specifically, in a study of short-form videos available on YouTube, the most engaging videos in the MSW●ARS database had nearly 20 times as many views, on average, as the least engaging videos:


Long-Form Video:  Many of the most popular (and shared) viral advertisements are classified as long-form video.  These short films – often from 2 to 5 minutes in length – not intended for on-air broadcast have become staples on year-end “Best Ad” lists because they do something that has become difficult to do with the 15 and 30 second ad formats typical of on-air media – build an emotional connection through effective story-telling.

As viral videos, long-form ads must be able to not only keep viewers attention but also convince viewers to share the video with others – no easy feat.  But when effectively done, such a video can play an important role in establishing a brand’s identity in the minds of consumers and generating positive equity for the brand.  An excellent example is the Scarecrow video from Chipotle.  Released in September of 2013, it now has about 14 million views on YouTube.  This striking video has created tremendous buzz for Chipotle, while also portraying the brand’s values in a way that effectively differentiated the chain from its competition.  Chipotle recently reported year over year earnings growth of 27.8%.

Enhancing E-commerce:  A unique form of online video is the User Generated Product Review Video (UGPRV).  These are reviews created by product users with their webcam or smartphone.  The EXPO social media website curates these videos to allow marketers to easily distribute them onto e-commerce, owned, and earned media channels.  Studies conducted by MSW●ARS have shown that UGPRV’s complement professionally produced advertisements since they provide enhanced product focus.  Specifically, they are more apt to discuss a product’s convenience, quality and performance relative to competitive products.  Copy testing of both a professionally produced and a user generated video (individually and in combination) for a particular brand demonstrates that this synergy is very real.


And there is further evidence that these testimonies are compelling to viewers who encounter them on e-commerce sites such as amazon.  According to an MSW●ARS study conducted in conjunction with EXPO, visitors who viewed a UGPRV on an e-commerce site showed increases in both positive attitudes towards the product and purchase intent versus those who did not view the UGPV.  This was particularly true among younger consumers.


Length Considerations for Pre-Roll

An IAB study came to the conclusion that for pre-roll ads, a 15-second length was superior to 30-seconds in terms of persuading consumers to take action or change brand perception.  30-second spots worked better in user-initiated placements for which viewers would have more patience.  To provide guidance for those advertisers for whom pre-rolls are a staple, MSW●ARS has formulated guidelines for effective 15-second spots based on extensive studies of ads of different lengths:

  • If possible, create original 15-second ads rather than cutting down longer existing ads.  Not only is it a creative challenge to decide what to leave in and what to cut, but original 15’s have been seen to be more effective in studies of copy-testing results.
  • Communication should be reduced to a single idea.  There is insufficient time to effectively substantiate multiple key ideas.
  • Use images and pictures instead of words.  The time for words is limited, so strive for images that speak volumes.
  • At least 3 to 5 seconds of product shots should be included.  It is important to get to the point quickly and make sure the product comes through as the hero of the ad.
  • “Storyline” formats should be avoided.  These are very difficult to do well in less than 60 seconds, much less 15.
  • When editing down longer ads, cut the correct content.  Aim to cut scenes with little branding content, superfluous messaging or low interest.

Online video is playing a growing role in advertisers’ total media mix.  But as with any other advertising, the strength of the creative is key in ensuring the media spend is optimized. MSW●ARS has the tools to help advertisers ensure sales-effective creative regardless of media platform.  Please contact your MSW●ARS representative to find out more.

How to Turn the Cord Cutting Trend into an Advantage

January 21st, 2015 Comments off

For many years, cable and satellite television services have been viewed almost as a utility akin to electric, water or telephone service – as an essential. However, recent trends toward cord cutting – the discontinuation of cable service – and cord shaving – changing to smaller and less expensive television packages – is dramatically changing how television content is viewed and the corresponding advertising opportunities.cord_cutter_image_01

There are three primary drivers of the trend toward cord cutting.  The first is the escalation of prices charged to consumers.  The NPD Group reported that the average monthly cable bill for 2011 in the US was $86 and projected this to increase to $123 by 2015 (costs include premium TV channels).  In the current environment of stagnant household income, these increases are not trivial.  Consumers are also frustrated by the necessity to purchase bundles of channels, many if not most of which they never watch.  In fact, a recent consumer survey from cg42 found that:

72% of current customers feel their cable provider engages in predatory practices and takes advantage of consumers’ lack of choice.

The second driver is the surge in alternative providers of video content available through consumers’ internet connections, which has been fueled by broadband penetration which has now reached 79 percent in the US according to Leichtman Research Group.  Most popular among these are video on demand providers Netflix (which just reported its best quarter ever, adding 4.3 million subscribers in Q4 of 2014), Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video, each of which provides a huge amount of syndicated content at a relatively low cost.  Included within these subscriptions is a growing amount of original content not available through traditional television channels.   And most recently, Dish Network announced its new web-based Sling service which will provide a small number of the most popular networks for only $20 per month with the option to add on targeted modules such as children’s networks.   Most notably this new service will include the ESPN channels, challenging the last stronghold of the traditional distributors, real time sports coverage.


The third driver is a fundamental change in how television content is consumed.  For most of its history the serial nature of television programming led to viewers scheduling their calendar around their favorite programs.  But with each improvement in time shifting technology, from VCR to DVR, there has been a movement to fitting television around other items on their calendar.  Now the broad availability of video enabled mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets is growing a sentiment of IWWIWWIWI – I Want What I Want When I Want It.  This is giving a tailwind to streaming video providers who not only give access to all these devices, but also provide on demand access to complete archives of programs.


Evidence of the cord cutting trend is a 16% increase from 2012 to 2014 in the number of U.S. households that purchase broadband service but not cable television according to SNL Kagan.  But regardless of whether consumers are cutting the cord, shaving the cord, or just supplementing cable offerings with streaming video, the upshot is that substantial video viewing time is migrating to internet-based platforms.

Not surprisingly, the group leading the move away from cable television is Millennials.  A comScore study reported that “18-34 year olds are 77 percent more likely than average to be a cord-never household… and 67% more likely than average to be a cord-cutter household.”  So to better target this attractive but relatively hard to reach demographic, savvy advertisers are diversifying their media mix to include video advertising on the online platforms that Millennials increasingly frequent.


While many of the paid subscription video-on-demand services such as Netflix and Amazon do not carry advertising, most other online streaming alternatives to the cable cord are ad supported.  These include Hulu and Hulu Plus, YouTube, Crackle and network sites like  Given that one of the major motivating factors in cutting the cord is the cost of cable, it is likely that most viewers fleeing the grip of the cable companies are willing to engage with the advertising to realize the cost savings afforded by on-line viewing.  And many providers are experimenting with ways to make the advertising served as relevant as possible.  For example on Hulu users can tailor the types of ads they are served by completing an online survey of category usage.  Another Hulu capability allows viewers to swap ads in real time.


Advertisers who combine digital video with television in their media mix can significantly boost the reach of their campaigns, particularly among younger viewers who have cut the cord or just prefer accessing television content online.  In fact, a comScore study of ten cross-platform campaigns found that on average, television reached 49 percent of the population while digital platforms uniquely contributed an incremental 5.8 percent to overall reach.

While cord cutters can be reached through online advertising, some may question whether video ads embedded in online content can be as effective as advertising viewed on television.  After all, television has a long and well documented history of delivering sales and strong ROI to advertisers.  While some internet-based video viewing occurs on television sets using devices such as Roku or Apple TV, much of this viewing occurs on the smaller screens of computers, tablets or even smartphones for which the viewing experience may differ.

To investigate whether any differences exist in relative advertising effectiveness for video ads viewed online versus on TV, MSW●ARS undertook a large scale experiment.  Specifically, we tested the same video ads in two different ways among separate samples of consumers: as television ads viewed on standard television screens, and as pre-roll ads viewed online prior to short-form video.  This study encompassed tests of 30 different ads for 15 different brands.

MSW●ARS’s sales-validated CCPersuasion™ and Related Recall™ metrics were used to evaluate the effectiveness of the advertising tested in each of these two environments.  The results were highly correlated for both metrics, as can be seen in the charts below.  This suggests that an ad that is effective when viewed on television is also highly likely to work well in an online video format – what works creatively on the television screen will translate to the online viewing environment.  It also suggests that video advertising on digital platforms can be as effective as advertising on television, perhaps even more so when digital techniques to improve relevancy are employed (these techniques were not examined in the experiment).


So, advertisers can turn the cord cutting phenomenon to their advantage by following this audience online.  And many are already doing so.  According to a recent comScore study, advertising already comprises 15.8 percent of online viewing time of premium (long-form) video.  This represents two thirds of the comparable percent for television (23.3 percent).  These advertisers are using online video to improve upon TV-only reach levels – especially among the younger demographic – and can be confident it will move the sales-needle as expected.  Furthermore, they will get a leg up on the competition in terms of building equity among Millennials, while those who fail to follow suit risk losing the next generation to competitors.

With the unique TouchPoint™ system for testing advertising’s effectiveness on any media platform – including online video – and the patented outlook media planner for optimizing media spend, MSW●ARS has the tools to help advertisers capitalize on the changing media environment and turn the cord cutting trend into an advantage.

Please contact your MSW●ARS representative to find out more about how we can help your brand evaluate and optimize online video advertising as well as other touchpoints in your media mix.