Archive for the ‘Communication Activation’ Category

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.

Effective Ethnic Advertising Results From Understanding the Cultural Impact on Your Brand

April 21st, 2015 Comments off

Effective Ethnic Advertising Results From Understanding the Cultural Impact on Your Brand

With a purchasing power estimated to reach 1.5 trillion this year, the U.S. Hispanic segment has become a key target for many advertisers. With our studies proving that Hispanics tend to be more responsive to advertising than their non-Hispanic counterparts in terms of recall (54% higher Related Recall)…


  …and persuasion (50% more persuasive results)…


  …this creates a very attractive scenario for brands poised to grow.

However, even with an understanding behind the Hispanic diversity, brands find that advertising to the Hispanic population is challenging. Assumptions may be made around the brand’s equity and positioning performing similarly across the different demographic segments.  Avoiding these assumptions becomes a key element for success, particularly if the company plans to adopt a Total Market strategy.

Know Where You – and Your Competitors – Stand in the Category

Advertising tactics should vary depending of the brand’s position in the market; so understanding where your brand preference falls within the category across the different target segments becomes a priority when formulating a brand’s communication plan. The example below, an example using MSW•ARS’ Brand Preference data for the US Toilet Tissue category among Females, illustrates how inclination among the top five brands changes when comparing the Non-acculturated, Semi-acculturated and General Market Female segments. While Charmin is the consistent leader across all three groups, Scotts’ secondary position is eroded among Semi-Acculturated Hispanic Females by Angel Soft.  Similarly, preference for the Quilted North brand falls back among Semi-acculturated Hispanic Females, as this group claims preference of value-based store brands like Costco’s Kirkland, and Walmart’s White Cloud.


Understand What You – and Your Competitors – Stand For in Hispanic’s Minds

Great caution should be exercised in understanding the relative type and strength of equity a brand – or a particular RTB included in the selling proposition – holds in the countries from where Non-acculturated Hispanics originate when developing a communication strategy.  This is due to the fact that Hispanics may lack, or have a different understanding of, what the brand represents based on the communication in their – or their parent’s – country of origin.  Advertising may make assumptions about similar brand equity across the different cultural groups, when education about the brand’s characteristics is needed instead.

For example, there is limited understanding of the damage caused to the hair when coloring using ammonia-based colorants in Mexico.  This results in advertising highlighting a “reduced damage” component tending to be less persuasive among the Non-Acculturated Hispanic Women when compared to other segments, than advertising communicating other functional benefits like tint duration.

Another example that illustrates this dynamic is evidenced by an ad quantitatively tested by MSW•ARS Research using the TouchPoint solution for the Tecate beer brand among the Hispanic market. In the ad, the one man in a bar who remains stoic after several attractive women pass by him is rewarded by a Mexican-type fiesta complete with some stereotypical characters, like a luchador.  While the Hispanic Males who participated in the study found the creative to be funny and engaging, the behavioral, non-cognitive results showed the ad failed to generate any change in brand preference among men towards Tecate.

Revision of cognitive data indicated men focused their attention on the fiesta element, the attractive/sensuous girls, and the “luchador” characters; all of these effectively tying back the ad to a Mexican beer.  As a result, Mexican beers showed the strongest shift in preference (CCPersuasion) when compared to beers from other countries as identified below:



Unfortunately for Tecate, other Mexican brands of beer – such as Corona and Modelo – had stronger brand preference among Hispanic men. Therefore, while linking the advertising to Mexican cultural elements was effective to switch beer purchasers over to “Mexican brands,” it was not effective enough to drive consumers to one particular brand among those imported from Mexico. Mexican beers with the highest preference, such as Corona and Modelo, were the ones that capitalized from the ad, while the advertised brand Tecate saw flat results.


Stronger understanding of the Hispanic male beer consideration set, including brand preference, would have given further insight that advertising for Tecate needed not only to cue the Mexican element, but incorporate strong branding elements to Tecate in order to avoid potential misattribution.

Learn why

Developing effective advertising for Hispanics, or in which Hispanic are included as an important segment, requires expertise and constant monitoring throughout the different stages of the creative process.  Our Brand Building Portfolio offers a consistent analytic philosophy to drive a clear incremental improvement in each step with an end-to-end perspective.

Please contact your MSW●ARS representative to find out how our products and research can help you develop effective advertising for the Hispanic market.

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.