Emotional TV commercials don’t need so much attention

For advertising to work consumers have to notice it.  And the more processing they do the better, though for an awful lot of advertising very little processing is needed – it’s only advertising after all, the message is very simple, and this is particularly true for emotion oriented advertising – whereas persuasive, information oriented advertising suffers from the requirement to gain a degree of processing including rational  conscious processing.

In the latest issue of the Journal of Advertising Research there is a characteristically interesting article by Robert Heath (with colleagues Agnes Nairn and Paul Bottomley).  It somewhat controversially shows that viewers pay slightly less, not more, ‘attention’ to emotion oriented (as opposed to rational persuasion oriented) TV commercials.  The authors speculate that perhaps emotion oriented ads work by inducing less rational thinking and hence stimulate fewer counter arguments – I think such an effect would be trivial, there is a much more simple plausible explanation of how emotion oriented ads work…read on.

What the study actually showed is that respondents (31 Uni students and staff) have slightly more eye “fixations per second” when watching rational more information rich TV commercials.  You see our eyes don’t tend to sit or move smoothly over stimulus, but rather pause (fixate) on things that we are processing – see here.  This laboratory experiment measured “fixations per second” using a lightweight eye-tracking camera worn on the head of each respondent while they watched a TV episode (Frasier) with ad breaks.  Put like this the results don’t sound too extraordinary, nor controversial.  Less information rich advertising needs less attention to process, and more information rich advertising is likely to get more attentive attention especially in such a laboratory.

As Heath et al discuss at the start of their paper, in the real world consumers ignore a good deal of advertising.  We summarised the literature some years ago and concluded that about one third of the time people pay active attention to TV commercials, one third of the time they pay some attention but are also paying attention to other things in the room (e.g. having conversations, reading, cuddling, surfing the web), and for the remaining third of the time they physically avoid the commercials through leaving the room or switching channels.  In Heath’s experiment respondents had very little ability, or motivation, to fully or partially avoid the commercials.  In the real world this is where much of the advantage of emotion oriented advertising – it’s more enjoyable and easier to watch, over and over. But the other real advantage is that emotion-oriented advertising is simply easier to process, so it can work with very little conscious processing.  Emotional appeals are easier on us viewers because they don’t require slow, resource intensive rational concious thinking.  Quite simply such advertising doesn’t need so much attention.

PS Requiring less, not more, processing is probably a mark of better more effective advertising. As is generating more attention and processing.
REFERENCES Heath, Nairn and Bottomley (2009) “How Effective is Creativity? Emotional content in TV advertising does not increase attention”, Journal of Advertising Research, Deember 2009, p.450-463. Paech, S., E. Riebe, and B. Sharp. 2003. “What Do People Do In Advertisement Breaks?” In Proceedings of the Australian & NZ Marketing Academy Conference, Adelaide, p.155 – 162. www.MarketingScience.info


The social role of advertising via creating aspirations

Sir Willian Petty (1623-1687) was one of the first to bring mathematics, logic, and empirical observation to economics in the aim of developing scientific laws.  There is interesting coverage of the man in “A Brief History of Economic Genius” by Paul Strathern.

I was struck by a minor observation of Petty’s that if workers were paid above a certain level they did less, not more, work – preferring to spend their time in leisure and drinking instead.  This was his experience as an Irish landowner in the 17th Century, it isn’t the case today.  Although Paul Strathern comments that it may well be true in parts of the 3rd world – “what else would a rural coffee plantation worker be expected to do with his money” ?  And taxi drivers, even in cities like New York, have been observed to work fewer hours on days when the takings are good.

So maybe this is our natural state, earn enough to buy what we want and then stop working.  Sounds reasonable, yet in the modern world hardly anyone works less if they are paid more.  This is because of the role that marketing plays in stimulating economic activity.  I’ve often read claims along these lines, e.g. that advertising drives economic growth, but never fully understood them.  But advertising, and the mass media, and education, and travel all play a combined role in giving people things to aspire to.  Education in particular, seems to create a demand for more education.

So today, our wish lists are pretty long and are continuously being updated and expanded.  This gives us motivation to keep working even when productivity gains mean that we can earn the same money in far fewer hours.  Indeed it also enhances our motivation to seek productivity gains.

Now advertising is also accused of making people want things they don’t really need.  For making them less happy, less content with what they have.  There is probably some truth in this, but it is exaggerated, and advertising is given too much of the blame for what is largely part of the human condition.  Yes advertising (and mass media, e.g. Hollywood) opens people’s eyes to delights such as cosmetic surgery and super-sized burgers – all things which one could easily argue we’d be better off without.  However this is a subjective judgement, who is to decide what should stay and what should go ?  Planned economies, where intelligent and well-meaning (and sometimes not so well meaning) bureaucrats make these decisions, rapidly shudder to an economic halt, leaving their citizens in poverty and/or starvation.

Economic growth isn’t just about numbers (% increase in GDP), it’s accompanied by qualitative change.  New products and services emerge.  Many of these are frivolous, but only because humans are frivolous (girls, and boys, just wanna have fun).  But along with the frivolous are also life-changing new products, often things that few of our predecessors would have ever put on their wish list simply because they couldn’t imagine them – advertising helps people imagine and form their wish lists and in doing so it encourages people to work – better and smarter.

Economic growth is good.  Without it we’d have far fewer scientists, medical specialists, writers and artists.  “As that perceptive social critic P.J O’Rourke recommended: those who consider any previous age was better to live in than this one should first contemplate the word ‘dentistry'”. (page 140).

Laws of Advertising – Wharton Conference

Next week I’m co-hosting a special conference with Professor Jerry Wind.  Held at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Dec 4-5, 2008, the conference will bring together some of the world’s best minds in advertising, from industry and academia.

The conference is part of the SEI Center at Wharton‘s “Future of Advertising” project which Jerry is heading.  The conference theme is empirical generalisations in advertising and media.  The aim is to take stock of what we do, and don’t, know about advertising, and use this as a base to try to understand how advertising might work in the future.  This is important because advertising landscape is being altered radically by the digital revolution.

For more information on the conference theme click here.  And now the conference has a blog which will be updated live during the conference.

Cadbury Gorilla Advertising Gets It Right – at last.

Cadbury’s TV Commercial featuring the drum playing gorilla is a wonderful, and now much awarded piece of creative.  But it’s not perfect advertising by a long shot.

1) It grabs attention. Tick.

2) It’s worth watching, over and over. Tick.

3) People do realise it is for Cadbury. Tick.  The brand is far from being the star but the commercial creates tension “what’s this all about ?” which makes people look for the brand, and fortunately Cadbury do own a distinctive asset in the colour purple (shown in the background behind the Gorilla).  So the branding does work, at least in Cadbury dominant countries like the UK, Australia and New Zealand.  It would be far less effective elsewhere.

4) It refreshes and/or builds appropriate memory structures that make the brand easier to come to mind of be noticed in buying situations.  Ahh, no.  This is the commercial’s BIG weakness.  It builds a link between Cadbury and the Gorilla, and few of us think of gorillas when in potential chocolate buying situations.  Perhaps today when people think of gorillas (e.g. at the zoo) they are more likely to think of eating a Cadbury chocolate bar but that’s going to make a trivial effect on sales.

That’s why the TV commercial has not been a roaring sales success.  It’s played its little part in helping Cadbury recover from the lows of its salmonella contamination but the brand was already bouncing back before ‘the Gorilla Ad’.

So what Cadbury needs to do is get its gorilla, a distinctive asset they now own, close to purchase situations.  And I now see that they are – see below for a photo from my local supermarket.  The competition is just an excuse to get the gorilla into a prominent position close to the chocolate display (or at least I hope the marketers realise this is the important objective).

PS If anyone tells you that the Gorilla ad works for the brand because it taps the brand’s core essence of joy run from the psychobabble.


How to nudge

When a brand is successful in gaining market share it shows up as small changes in buying propensity across many consumers.  Based on this empirical fact Professor Andrew Ehrenberg described successful advertising as ‘nudging’ (in contrast to persuading or converting).

Given this is what happens when advertising works, it’s odd when campaigns try to hit consumers with a sledgehammer approach – by this I mean some advertising campaigns ask for a leap not a nudge.  The whole idea of a USP is about hitting consumers with a super compelling argument why they should radically change their buying behaviour to favour that brand.  Trying to achieve a sort of religious conversion (there is even a market research product, the Conversion Model, based on religious conversion).

I suppose that some advertisers feel that a sledgehammer gives best chance of achieving a nudge, given that lots of other things may go wrong with the campaign (e.g. the media strategy).  But as most consumers aren’t going to make a huge change in their behaviour, and they know it, how do they react to claims telling them they should ?  For example, if you overtly tell people they are doing the wrong thing and should change.  The risk is that many people simply reject the message – they conclude that the message is wrong, not them.  Cognitive dissonance in action.

So it’s not true that USP sledgehammers necessarily produce bigger nudges.

If you want to nudge maybe you should ask for something small – ‘please consider trying our brand, it’s nice’.  Sounds wimpy but it fits with the behavioural evidence.  And explains why many soft image ads with no persuasion attempt can be highly sales effective.


Review of “How Customers Think” by Gerald Zaltman: This book talks a lot about insight but doesn’t deliver much.

Disappointing.  If you have read some bestsellers touching on recent findings in neuroscience (e.g. Antonio Damasio) and memory (e.g. Daniel Schacter) then what’s left of this book for you is largely an advertisement for Zaltman’s commercial and patented (!!) market research technique called ‘Zaltman’s metaphor elicitation’.

Yes there are good reasons to doubt focus groups Continue reading

Does advertising only work via driving intentions and preference ? No!

Apart from a very small amount of direct response advertising, advertising works (to generate sales) through memories.  This is an uncontroversial statement, yet it’s common for marketers and academics to forget the essential role of memory and instead think advertising works largely through persuasive, rational or emotional, arguments that shift brand evaluations.

The dominant way that advertising works is by refreshing, and occasionally building, memory structures that improve the chance of the brand being recalled and/or noticed in buying situations and hence bought.  Memory structures such as what the brand does, what it looks like, where it’s available, when it’s consumed, where it is consumed, by who, with whom and so on.  Associations with cues that can bring the brand to mind.

Some advertising creates a purchase intention, gaining a reaction like “I should buy that” or “that’s interesting, I must check that out”.  It’s commonly assumed that such advertising must be more sales effective, but this does not follow.  Continue reading

Do TV commercials need a USP ?

The answer would appear to be no, given that much advertising does not even make the slightest attempt at saying the brand is better than others.  But a fair amount of advertising does – so is this particularly good advertising ?  Does it work better ?

David Stewart, a Professor at University of Southern California, has published several important large content analyses of TV advertising.  The 1980s US TV ads (more than 2000)  were analysed Continue reading

A problem with ad awareness norms to assess advertising quality

It is now common for market research agencies to promise their clients norms against which they can compare their advertising campaign.  For example, they might report…

“The new campaign for Fabulo achieved 37% ad awareness, this compares well to the average of 31% for new campaigns after 3 weeks”.

This sounds like good practice, but the norm is meaningless.

Better yet the research agency might compare against campaigns in a particular product category, or adjust for a particular GRP/TARP weight.  But this still isn’t good enough, GRPs (Gross Rating Points) tell us nothing about the reach and frequency of the campaign.

Worse still the metric confounds both media strategy effects and advertisement quality effects.  What is really needed is measurement immediately after the ad goes into the market, just of those consumers who had a potential exposure (OTS).  This can measure the ability of the advertisement to cut through and impact on memory structures, i.e. assess the quality of the advertisement live in-market.  Only then, when you know if the ad itself is working well or not, can you later use ad awareness metrics to evaluate the media strategy.


Do different awareness measures measure the same thing ?

There is a history of discussion amongst marketers about the relative merits and meaning of different awareness measures. Then in 1995 an article was published that appeared to lay all this debate to rest:

Laurent, Gilles, Jean-Noel Kapferer, and Francoise Roussel (1995), “The Underlying Structure of Brand Awareness Scores,” Marketing Science, 14 (No. 3, Part 2), G170-G79.

Gilles Laurent and colleagues appeared to show that different brand awareness measures were systematically related, simply reflecting different levels of difficulty for respondents (i.e. brand prompted being easier than unprompted). So the different measures all tapped one construct, and a score on one measure could be used to accurately predict a score on another measure. We thought that was an incredibly important and practical finding. However, not was all that it seemed.

Nearly a decade later we replicated this research, and extended it to ad awareness. We achieved the same empirical results, but in doing so we were able to more clearly see what the previous research had, and had not, found. The measures tend to vary together, brand to brand, because some brands are much larger and more salient than others, so all their awareness metrics are higher too. However, we also examined the relationships between the loyalty metrics for each brand over time. Contrary to Laurent’s conclusion we empirically found that it isn’t possible to use their model to predict a brand’s score on one metric from its score on another.

So while all these brand awareness measures share something in common they do not perfectly tap one underlying construct. That’s as important a finding as Laurent’s might have been (if it had turned out to be true). Different awareness measures measure (somewhat) different things, even if they are all loosely related to the brand’s overall salience (and market share).

Romaniuk, Jenni, Byron Sharp, Samantha Paech, and Carl Driesener (2004) “Brand and advertising awareness: A replication and extension of a known empirical generalisation” Australasian Marketing Journal, 12 (3), 70-80.


The concept of brand awareness has been hijacked by poor measures

When marketers first came up with the very worthy concept of brand awareness they were thinking, obviously, about the number of consumers who know the brand. Intuitively you would measure this by showing it to consumers and asking them if they are familiar with it, but last century this was expensive, phone surveys were cost effective but the brand couldn’t be shown (and printing pictures in mail surveys was expensive).

So rapidly the measures of brand awareness became verbal/written product category prompts, e.g. “what brands of fabric conditioner are you aware of ?” The problem with this type of measure is that it doesn’t really fit the concept. This measure doesn’t so much measure awareness as association of the brand with the product category cue. It also assumes that consumers can remember and say or write the brand name. Continue reading

Media buyers fail to deliver reach

It’s a provocative title, but it could have been worse – “media buyers don’t understand media” is almost as apt. The reality of modern media buying is that media agencies are essentially buyers of media, not planners. They have been pushed into this situation by uneducated advertisers who find it hard to know what is good media strategy from bad, but do appreciate costs. So media agencies have squeezed out costs, and by and large this has meant that their investment in media knowledge has shrunk to almost nil.

It’s a sad situation for advertisers, but of their own making, though Universities also share much of the blame for sending graduate marketers out into the world with almost no training in media.

Yesterday I came across an example of the distorted crazy market for media. According to Regional Television Marketing figures, 36% of Australia’s population lives in regional areas, but just 17% of the marketing dollars spent by national advertisers appear on our television screens. This is in spite of these regional areas featuring some large cities, and a population with higher than average spending power.

Why do big brands ignore regional TV ? They distribute their brands into regional Australia, but they don’t advertise them there. The reason is that regional TV is more difficult to buy, i.e. more costly for media agencies, it can’t be bought from a “single desk”. Also media agencies, under pressure to demonstrate their “buying power”, bulk buy metro TV space in advance. They seldom do this for regional TV. So they have a huge incentive to shift the space they have, if they don’t sell this their profits take a serious blow.

So it’s common practice to recommend metro TV and ignore regional TV. This can be subtle, just part of the company culture where all the attention goes to metro TV, or overt where regional TV is actively discouraged – this is unethical behaviour, but it happens.

So, for an Australian advertiser, the most simple cost effective way of gaining some pure reach is to split out some of the metro TV budget and allocate it to regional TV. It’s an astonishingly easy way to enhance the sales effectiveness of the ad spend.

I’m sure there are hundreds of similar examples, around the world, of silliness in the media buying industry.


Should cheap low quality ads be charged more for their TV air time ?

Now that the US has finally got ratings for the commercial breaks (via minute by minute recording) the TV networks are all interested in maximising their ratings during the break (ie not losing too many viewers while the ads are on). Which is all good news for advertisers.

One of the things that affects viewing of the ad breaks is the quality of the ads. Low quality ads turn viewers away, and ruin things for all the other advertisers. Put around the other way, poor quality ads enjoy a bit of a ‘free ride’ on the audiences retained by the good quality ads. So should networks give discounts for higher quality, more entertaining advertisements ? And charge more for annoying and boring advertisements ?

Advertising agencies should encourage it, as it would be a further incentive for marketers to commission bigger budget advertisements. In fact it is potentially a win-win situation for everyone. Consumers get ads they actually want to watch. Advertisers get a financial incentive to produce these ads. And networks that feature higher quality ads should enjoy better ratings.

I’m hopeful that innovative networks will begin offering pricing along these lines and/or agencies or clients will start negotiating deals along these lines.


Differentiation vs Distinctiveness

Differentiation’s role in marketing strategy is rethought in this journal article (which builds on an earlier report for corporate members). It presents a small mountain of varied empirical evidence, including direct measures of perceived difference:

Romaniuk, Jenni, Byron Sharp, and Andrew Ehrenberg (2007), “Evidence concerning the importance of perceived brand differentiation,” Australasian Marketing Journal, Vol.15 (2), pages 42-54.

(Download journal version of differentiation)

Differentiation (a benefit or “reason to buy” for the consumer) and Distinctiveness (a brand looking like itself) are different things. This isn’t just semantics, as any lawyer or judge will tell you. Distinctiveness (branding) is legally defensible, while differentiation is not (other than time limited patent protection).


Reasons not to buy

Evaluation is over-rated. Brands largely compete in terms of mental and physical availability. See Sharp 2006, Corporate Member report 39. This isn’t to say that product features, and consumer evaluation, aren’t important – just that they operate within this ‘battle for attention’.

When a person goes to buy a brand, a huge part of the choice process, yet a part they hardly notice (they don’t even think of it as part of the choice decision), is the act of not considering most options. Evaluation occurs between a very limited number of brands, the ones that are noticed or recalled – which often can be a single brand.

So while positive features/perceptions do help a brand get chosen they do so after this massive culling of brands. Over time, however feature advantages can build salience, with time they assist in gaining mental and physical availability.

This means that product feature advantages, while important, are far less so than the business press makes out. This is especially true for established brands with significant market-based assets.

Another way of putting this, is that brands that are easier to buy for more people, get bought more. Which reminds me that reasons not to buy, can therefore be much more important (to sales) than reasons to buy. Generally marketers are quite sensitive to ‘reasons not to buy’, or at least to negative publicity. Yet it is not uncommon for marketers to spend much effort trying to communicate a “reason to buy” (“value proposition”, USP, differentiating factor etc) and yet be quite blasé about features that turn some consumers away.

For example, there are still many food products that contain Trans Fats when they don’t need to. In some countries they means they have to carry a small warning (like “contains hydrogenated fat”) – you’d think this would be enough to catch their markers attention and concern.

It’s very difficult to get consumers to notice your brand, when you succeed consumers reward you with a degree of loyalty (largely due to habit and inertia), but you can ruin this if they see a reason not to buy. Smart marketers should always be on the look out for such features. This is one of the reasons that differentiation needs to be approached with caution, being different while appealing to one group in the market can sometimes turn other consumers away.