Conflicts in the marketing system

I do sometimes hear an ad agency people say “we don’t care about creative awards, we are totally dedicated to each client’s business objectives”, especially when in front of clients.  It makes me wonder whether they are lying (that’s bad), or that they are deluding themselves (which may even be worse), or if they are admitting that they simply aren’t good enough to win creative awards (and that’s not good either).

I think it is important to be grown-up, honest and up-front about conflicts of interest.e.g. Martin Sorrell wants to sell marketers stuff, his empire (like his competitors) will sell whatever marketers will buy that he can deliver profitably.  This matters far more to the agency than whether or not it is the best way to build their clients’ brands.

Creatives want to win awards.  And if this doesn’t sell a single extra of your product they aren’t really worried.

Media agencies want to do what they know, what’s easy, and they have to honour sell media they have committed to buy.

Market research agencies want to sell standardised products, ideally that use automated data collection and analysis, or low-level people.  They can’t make big profits from stuff that requires in-depth analysis by expensive people.  They do far more R&D into reducing data collection costs than into better research.

Retailers want to win share from other retailers.  They don’t care if this means selling another box of your product or not.

So partners yes.  But there are conflicts in the system.  This is fine, so long as everyone understands the conflicts then they can be managed – it’s possible for everyone to win.  But pretending these don’t exist is dangerous.

Professor Byron Sharp

July 2014.

Brand and Advertising Awareness: A Replication and Extension of a Known Empirical Generalisation

Romaniuk, Jenni, Sharp, Byron, Paech, Sam & Driesener, Carl (2004) “Brand and advertising awareness: A replication and extension of a known empirical generalisation” Australasian Marketing Journal, vol. 12, no. 3, pp. 70-80.


From analysis of over 39 categories Laurent, Kapferer and Roussel (1995) found that top of mind, spontaneous and aided brand awareness measures have the same underlying structure. The difference in scores appears due to the difficulty of the measure. We have successfully replicated this work and extended it to similarly structured advertising awareness measures. However, additional analyses then revealed that while there is a good category level fit, modelling a single brand over time is less successful. Indeed, Laurent et al.’s excellent cross-sectional fit appears due to substantially different levels of salience between larger and smaller brands. This suggests that while the different types of awareness tend to vary with a brand’s overall level of salience, this does not mean that the different measures simply reflect a single underlying construct. Further, our finding challenges the previous authors’ claim that knowing the score for one measure allows the estimation of the score for another measure. Instead, the model provides useful norms against which to compare actual scores.

Keywords: Brand awareness, Advertising awareness, Empirical generalisation

Download the whole article as PDF.

Emotional Branding Pays Off illusion

Behavioural loyalty is strongly correlated with propensity to agree to ‘brand love’ survey questions but…… most lovers still buy other brands, and most of a brand’s buyers don’t love it.

John Rossiter & Steve Bellman (2012) “Emotional Branding Pays Off – how brands meet share of requirements through bonding, commitment and love”, Journal of Advertising Research, Vol.52, No.3, pages 291-296.

Rossiter and Bellman (2012) purport to show how consumers’ attachment of “strong usage relevant emotions” to a brand affects behavioural loyalty. All they actually show is that if you buy a brand more then you are more likely to agree (on a market research survey) to positive statements about that brand. We’ve known for 50 or so years that people do this – that stated attitudes reflect past behaviour. Or more succinctly: attitudes reflect loyalty.

Specifically Rossiter & Bellman showed that people who ticked “I regard it as ‘my’ brand” tended to report that this brand made up more of their category buying (than for buyers who didn’t (regard it as their brand)). What an amazing discovery!

“I regard it as ‘my’ brand” was, by far, the most common of the ‘emotional attachments’ they measured – with about 20% of the buyer bases of particular brands of beer, instant coffee, gasoline, and laundry detergent ticking this box. It was also most associated with higher share of requirements (behavioural loyalty). I’m not surprised because it is most like a direct measure of behavioural loyalty. If I mostly buy this brand of coffee then I’m much more likely to tick “I regard it as ‘my’ brand”. If I buy another brand(s) more then I’m hardly likely to tick that I regard this one as my special brand.

So reasonably we’d call this question (“I regard it as ‘my’ brand”) a measure of reported behavioural loyalty, and so it would have to be highly associated with any other measure of reported behavioural loyalty. But Rossiter & Bellman in classic sleight-of-hand call this question a measure of “bonding”, which they say is a measure of an emotion (not a self-report of behaviour)! Naughty naughty.

On safer ground their measure of “brand love” was if brand buyers agreed “I would say that I feel deep affection for this brand, like ‘love’, and would be really upset if I couldn’t have it”. Interestingly, hardly any of any brand’s buyers ticked this box. Just 4% of the average beer brand’s (male) buyers, just 4% of the average laundry detergent’s (female) buyers, 8% of the average instant coffee brand’s (female) buyers, and a mere 0.5% of the average gasoline brand’s (male) buyers. Restricting the samples to the specific gender that represents the main weight of buyers reduced the proportion of light and lower involvement category buyers. This would have increased the incidence of brand love yet it was still about as low as is possible. Rossiter & Bellman wrote that these results “reveal the difficulty of attaining strong attachment-like emotions”. Hmmm, well yes and these results also reveal how successful brands largely do without brand love.

With so very few of any brand’s buyers agreeing that they feel deep affection for the brand we would expect the few that did would be quite different from the average. We’d expect that they would be the heaviest, most loyal in the buyer base. And these lovers did report higher behavioural loyalty though it was far from absolute (100% share of category buying). In fact, ‘lovers’ only reported buying the brand about half the time (50% SoR). Behavioural loyalty is strongly correlated with propensity to agree to ‘brand love’ questions but…… most lovers still buy other brands, and most of a brand’s buyers don’t love it.

Rossiter & Bellman interpret their results differently. Their article title says emotional branding pays off, even if the article does nothing to investigate marketing practices. They act as if they are unaware of the research going back decades that shows, over and over, that usage affects propensity to react to attitudinal type survey questions (see Romaniuk & Sharp 2000). Instead, this single cross-sectional survey data is supposed to show that if marketers (somehow) run advertising that presents attachment emotions, then consumers will link these to the brand, and then change their behaviour to buy that brand more often than they buy rival brands. Rossiter and Bellman’s results show nothing of the sort, their clearly written article turns out to be highly misleading. Yet I fear that this will not stop many unscholarly academics citing the article, and many believers in this discredited theory citing it as evidence to support their blind faith. Beware of such nonsense.

Refreshing brand memories after a gap

I haven’t seen a Life Savers ad in ages, most probably because they haven’t been advertising – a lot of brands go “off air” for long periods.

Yet when I saw the ad (see below) the jingle bounced back into my consciousness – thankfully they are still using the slogan.

Advertising exposures that follow a long gap can be particularly powerful memory refreshers.

Unfortunately this is another factor that tempts marketers to go off-air for periods, when the real lesson is don’t bunch your exposures together (burst).

Think how much better effect Life Savers would get if instead of bursts followed by long gaps they just kept on advertising at very low levels. If they did Most of us wouldn’t see a Life Saver ad very often, but we would see them regularly if infrequently and each time they would have a tremendous refreshing effect.

With the burst and silence pattern we seldom ever see Life Saver advertising but when we do we see it several times close together when the 2nd, 3rd and 4th exposures don’t have anywhere near the refreshing effect as the first. That’s wasted advertising money that could have been used to reduce the long silence between bursts.

Get a hole lot more out of your advertising, don’t burst, don’t go off-air. Spend less, for longer.


Memories affect noticing – of brands and advertising

Our common-sense model of memory, particularly long-term memory, is that it’s like a reference book or a hard-drive – something that we have to go and consult. We go in order to (try to) retrieve something from memory, a bit like going to the library to borrow a book.

But our memories are being used every second, on the fly, in real time. Your ability to read these words depends on this. When you were very young words looked like boring bits of black scribble (and you noticed the pictures instead), as a child you worked hard to get these letters and then words into your head, now they are there and they can be accessed in a micro-second. You can’t help yourself noticing words, you can’t stop it even if you try, but if you want to notice the font shape, or the ink or the pixels then you have to try so much harder. Some things are incredibly easy to notice, others aren’t.

When someone looks at a shelf of brands, or down a street at a range of different shops, they don’t notice half (or more) of what’s there. Some things are so hard to notice, not because they don’t stand out, but because the viewer doesn’t have the necessary memory structures in their head.

One person sees two trees, the other sees an oak and and elm.

When marketers think about noticing they think of things they can do to try to grab attention. Which is fine. But for many this means bright colours, stunts, something NEW, price discounts and so on. Now there is nothing wrong with trying to grab attention with such devices but we have to also remember that noticing depends on memories. If you want your brand to be noticed then you need to build and refresh consistent brand memory structures. Changing a logo is more likely to get you noticed in the marketing press than on shelf.

It’s the same for advertising. Most ads aren’t noticed, or not noticed sufficiently for them to build or refresh brand memories. You need a clever advertising agency to create content that is attractive, that gains some attention, but if you are only relying on the creativity to drive noticing you will fail – people have to notice your brand not just the creative content of the advertisement. To do that you have to work with what’s already inside their heads. Which means undertaking careful research to document existing memory structures, to understand your brand’s distinctive assets.

Digital Age Branding – You are spending your money in all the wrong places – or maybe not

I’ve written before about the army of consultants crying
“consumer behaviour has changed radically”
“marketing doesn’t work anymore”

Who then present nothing more than a repackaging of the orthodoxy. e.g. see my comment on Seth Godin’s “Purple Cow”.

There are many marketing assumptions that need to be changed. Yes, practice can be improved. So by all means let’s talk about this, but anyone advocating specific changes should offer supporting evidence, from serious research.

Harvard Business Review recently published a fairly shameless advertorial for McKinsey’s which makes the mundane observation that the digital age has meant some changes in how consumers learn about and buy brands. The article is all hype and assertion, based apparently on McKinsey ‘research’ that has produced results like “60% of consumer facial skin care products now conduct online research on the products after purchase”. Does anyone believe this ? I’d love to see an independent replication.

They boldly announce that advertisers are spending their money in all the wrong places. Gasp, how terrible. Where’s the evidence ?

They write things like “up to 90% of spend goes to advertising and retail promotions. Yet the most powerful impetus to buy is often someone else’s advocacy”. So what is the implication ? That we should spend more money on stimulating word-of-mouth, fine but research shows that advertising is the major stimulus for brand word-of-mouth (1), so that gets us back where we started.

They present a “NEW” model of the consumer decision making process, that starts with consideration, then evaluation, buying, then hopefully enjoying, advocating, bonding and repeat-buying. It’s a terrible rational, highly involved model, just as Howard & Sheth’s original one was back in 1969 (2). Yes with an audacious straight face they present this as new thinking. Their main thesis is that marketers need to consider all these stages and gain touch-points at each. 20 years ago my colleagues Caroline Rowe and David Corkindale presented a near identical idea, they considered it a useful teaching tool, nothing more.

McKinsey go much further to claim that marketers’ advertising spends are commonly hitting people at the wrong times. But they give no evidence. They seem to assume that advertising has no memory effect. There is an in-built assumption that hitting someone at the moment when they are thinking about the brand/category is the only advertising that works.

And they write as if search advertising doesn’t exist. As if marketers don’t already offer ways for consumers to access their brands during active search.

As I said, a fairly shameless advertorial for McKinsey’s services in social media advertising, which could be excused if only they offered some new insight.


(1) Keller, E., & Fay, B. (2009) “The role of advertising in word of mouth”, Journal of Advertising Research, 49(2), 154-158.

(2) Howard, J. A., & Sheth, J. N. (1969) “The Theory of Buyer Behavior”, New York: John & Wiley Sons, Inc.

Other reading:
Jamhouri, O., & Winiarz, M. (2009) “The enduring influence of TV advertising and communications clout patterns in the global marketplace”, Journal of Advertising Research, 49(2), 227-235.

Rubinson, J. (2009) “Empirical evidence of TV advertising effectiveness”, Journal of Advertising Research, 49(2), 220-226.

American marketers can now see the real sales effect of their advertising

Single source (longitudinal, individual level) data is now available in the USA, showing buying and TV advertising exposure.

This is terribly exciting, because this data can, with careful analysis, provide a high quality quasi experiment. That is, without the effort and expense of devising a controlled experiment you can use this live market data to give you the same experimental outcome. You do it by sorting category purchases into those that were preceded by no recent exposures to your advertising and those that were (and further divide these into 1-exposure, 2-exposures etc). Then you simply compare your brand’s share of these different groups of purchase occasions to see the real sales strength of your advertising. Your brand’s share, of course, should be higher amongst purchase occasions that were preceded by your advertising!

This is vastly more trustworthy than trying to achieve the near impossible and quantifying the sales effects of a particular ad using a statistical analysis of aggregate time series data. It’s also much faster, you don’t have to wait a year before finding out what the effect of last year’s advertising was supposed to have been.

TRA and Nielsen Catalina Solutions are two companies that currently offer single-source data by overlapping data from buying panels and TV viewing panels (i.e some households are in both). NCS also monitors on-line and mobile media exposure.

These data let you identify which ads work better so you can drop non-performing ads and drastically improve the effectiveness of your advertising. And you can use this sales effectiveness data to learn how to make better ads.

And you can measure how much incremental effect is gained by additional recent exposures, i.e. is bunching exposures worth it ?

And whether ads work better in different contexts, on different channels, in different pod positions. There is so much valuable information that can be learned once the true sales effect of advertising is known. Much R&D needs to be done.  The potential to improve the sales effectiveness of TV advertising is immense.