As a marketer, you put in the extra hours to develop your cinematic ad, with product close-ups and manicured shots of the ideal consumer. You’ve added all the good stuff excessively: suspense at the beginning, emotional cues to trigger happiness, and an excellent product testimonial at the end glorifying the brand. Sadly, they are still skipping your ad. And they do that as soon as they can.
Why is that? Because:
They don’t have 30 seconds to learn about your brand story; they don’t spend that much time watching their best friend, Insta Story.
For many, advertising is just an annoyance preventing access to the desired cat viral video. Around 80% of viewers skip an ad before it finishes on YouTube.
They don’t like to be tricked into watching a video, so don’t be rude – show your brand early, don’t think they won’t notice this is advertising.
Skipping advertising takes many shapes and forms: from clicking the skip button after 5 seconds on YouTube, from scrolling faster in your Newsfeed or right click on the Insta Story, to opening another tab on your browser, to reloading the web page in the hope that the ad will go away or even focus attention on another device entirely.
I don’t have a solution for fighting this behavior; even more, I don’t think you should fight it; you should understand it and make elegant choices on working with it. Last year, Google enabled three agency folks to share advice on making those smart and common-sense choices. You can find the article linked here.
In the end, as the most famous agency person in the world used to say, “The customer is not a moron. She’s your wife” – David Ogilvy. No, it’s not Jon Hamm. Mad Man is not real.
Marketers often fantasize about the hockey stick performance shape for their brand. We expect a tedious, slow-building phase and then the explosion to unmeasured heights. Sad news, it rarely happens in the world of physical goods, but it often occurs where the marginal manufacturing cost is close to zero after producing the first item. It costs you nothing to sell the 100th Kindle file of your book, the 1.000th download of your Mobile App, or the 10.000th download of your podcast. To me, one of the best examples of exponential growth, with huge implications in our advertising bubble, is the rise of ad-blockers.
According to eMarketer, 1/3 of internet users use ad-blocking software, and worse, more than 50% of the 18-30 years old do so (source). Ad-blocking is common in western markets and results from years of cluttering web pages and deploying annoying pop-up ads. China took a more extreme route, and ad-blockers are banned. The implications for brands are notable; what can we do?
First, every marketer should install an ad-blocker. Here is how to install one as a plugin on your browser. It might be counterintuitive to do that when you just agreed to use Internet Display banners on https://www.bbc.com/ for your next campaign. But don’t you want to see the emptiness your audience is seeing precisely? You might then reconsider your decisions.
Talk to your media agency to understand which media partners restrict ad-blocking (like Forbes or BusinessInsider), how you can protect your media budget from ad-blocking behavior, and learn what is safe. I know our agency, Mediacom, is very open to this. Rethink your media delivery and operate in platforms where consumers accept more willingly advertising content.
Rethink your overall communication strategy: bold advertising doesn’t need to be annoying, attention doesn’t need to be grabbed with force. In general, don’t execute something you would yourself be tempted to ad-block. Some say it might be too late to fix online advertising, but at least we can try to stop the decline.
The role of a marketing researcher is to help marketers make smarter decisions through an excellent understanding of consumers behaviors and the market context. It is evident to me that the final business decision-maker is the marketer, but on insight generation, she/he should trust the researcher’s experience and let him drive.
As I think of the most significant breakthrough in the advertising creative measurement research practice at Mars, a single change comes to mind: the moment we stopped giving marketing numbers and forced them to decide based on a four stars scale effectiveness rating. You could call it an intelligent traffic light; at each level of the scale, the next action-to-be-executed was crystal clear, with no room for interpretation. Similar to every organizational change, it wasn’t easy, but the new common language and direct actions were transformational for Mars marketers. A decision to restrict access to details fixed.
Why did it work?
Raw data numbers require a deeper understanding of statistics, of variance, of confidence intervals, of probabilities. Most marketers, with all due respect, are not trained to play with those concepts. As a researcher, keep ambiguity of data interpretation on your side, tell them a crystal clear message they can action.
Traffic lights or a star rating scale are simple constructs present in our day to day life. From car traffic control flow to hotel bookings or online ratings, we got trained to read quality scales without too much training. What matters to a marketer is the correct next action: make it binary, make it simple, make it decisive.
A strong endorsement from the CMO is helping. Convince first a senior marketer that can become your spokesman with things that matter to him. Show how meta-analyses are easier to manage, how internal behaviors could be shifted more easily or how positive competition gets triggered between units using a common simple language.
How can you streamline your research to get to the essence?
We love advertising! And we love advertising that generates emotional reactions. I wrote some time ago about the particular case when using negative emotions in advertising works and received plenty of comments about the role of positive emotions in advertising. This article is making justice to the role of positive emotions.
Negative storylines are not common in advertising; positive stories abound in the world of marketing communication. That’s because in most cases, the role of advertising is to lift-up consumers and elicit positive emotions, preferably linked to the brand. Advertising is one of the last bastions of positivism in today’s overloaded media world. The never-ending news cycle gets rarely interrupted by positivity, except when an ad-break starts. I see a wide gap in the media spectrum for inspiring and happy moments, and advertising should own that gap. It can become the entertainment of the future, however uninspiring that might sound today.
Neuroscience convinced us, at Mars, that positive messages work best. They elicit positive feelings of love, happiness, empathy, pride, belonging, hope, joy, to name a few. We also learned that positive emotions are better flows to encode in memory the brand messages.
A function of advertising is to make the viewer feel slightly better after seeing the ad compared to how she/he felt at the beginning. If the brand message is understood and highlighted at the moment of high emotional load, the ad becomes a success.
What example of uplifting advertising inspires you?
A famous meme of 2020 taught me that Digital Transformation wasn’t accelerated by the CEO or CDO, but by Covid-19. Everywhere you look today in marketlandia, digital takes center stage: your insights are digitally sourced, your brands are digitally advertised, your path to purchase is digitized, and your purchase channels become more digital than ever. Given the ubiquity of the word digital, it’s time to remove it from our vocabulary too probably. In 2020, everything is digital, like in the late 1880s everything became somehow electrical.
Just ten years ago, platforms like YouTube and Facebook were in their infancy and fighting for the crumbs of the media budgets. Every year since then we wondered at the declining share of investment of Traditional Medias (TV, Print and OOH) and the increase of Digital Media. It’s such a worthless stat to sit and admire or even target. No one outside of our marketing bubble even thinks of advertising as TV vs Digital. What is more important is the reach potential for each media format, irrespective of the pipes build to deliver the signal (pipes which honestly are the same these days too – all is digital).
Three things to remember or debate:
Digital Media is not one thing – focus on the behaviors of people, how they view, scroll, skip, multi-screen, or even engage with your content in the multitude of digital formats and channels. Focus less on “we need to be digital-first”, focus on the details of today’s media.
The most iconic campaigns transcend digital media and aim to become news in themselves. Guess who is also in charge of the amplification: all media, including TV.
And last, if you can’t grab their attention, it doesn’t help that it is digital-first, or TV last.
Digital is now everywhere like the air we breathe, so stop congratulating yourself for inhaling air, and focus on its scent.
Human emotions are indispensable vehicles for building powerful brands. Our core job as marketers is to elevate brands that elicit (mostly) positive emotions in the hearts and minds of consumers. But what happens when we want to play with negative emotions? In recent months, during the peak of the COVID pandemic, many advertisers converged their thinking that “isolation-sadness packaged as togetherness” sells. It probably doesn’t. But what can you do?
I sincerely believe that building brands through advertising is translated into a desire to make the viewer feel better at the end of the ad compared to how he felt in the beginning. It doesn’t matter how long they paid attention to your commercial or what ad length you used, all it matters is the emotional crescendo—feeling better, in general, haloes into the feelings towards the brand. Memory structures get built easier with emotions and the likelihood that those memory structures get recalled at the point of purchase increases.
The simple path to this crescendo is to have an entertaining, funny ad which most advertisers default to. The other more complicated way is to delve into a sadder story, that has a positive resolution. This latter path is more challenging to nail. The longer time you spend building the negative emotions, the more difficult it is to achieve the uplift in the end. I am not saying it’s impossible, yet solving for negativity faster is a piece of good advice I often give.
Here are 2 examples when we were at our best to turn negative emotions into a positive resolution for Mars brands:
And here are 2 examples when we failed to solve negative emotions quickly
Product performance, pricing and positioning, packaging and size portioning, brand positioning, in-store promotions and advertising are the levers a marketer regularly juggles to grow brands. Without too much doubt that the last two are the most talked about and controversial, going head to head in their fight for budgets. What should you choose to do: build long term association in people’s minds with the brand or sell the product at a discount now. How brands allocate their budgets between advertising and promotions is a management decision that reveals the short-term/ long-term thinking in the company, the balance of power between marketing and finance, and even the average tenure of senior management.
To me, advertising is the best marketing investment you can make to ensure your brand is noticed, remembered and understood in the long term. Assuming your creatives as great, advertising has a positive sales impact in both the short-term (year 1) and long-term (year 2-3). In-store promotions have a fantastic effect during the activity, but little (and most of the times negative) impact in the medium to long term. And this without considering the adverse effects on brand equity that price drops or multi-purchase can return. My point is clear, we mostly agree with it, but our behaviors diverge. As long as we will only focus on our year-end sales objectives, we will continue to prioritize promotions with their sales spike-like effect over everything else.
As a big believer in advertising, I am not able to defend properly in-store promotions. Maybe some of my readers can start a debate on their benefits. To me there is a role for promotions to play, but preferably a reduced one. One thing is certain, when you are running both at the same time, you are wasting money. Yes, it looks cool on your graphs when the advertising campaign has a spike in sales, but that’s just because of the 3for2 ran at the same time. A much more balanced approach of alternating promotions with advertising could work better, but it is very category dependent (expandable categories have an easy time here). A sizable promotional activity will cause stocking, and your next in line advertising campaign will suffer. There is no magic bullet; research can help. Using a robust insight generation program to test different hypotheses in a randomized control testing environment with store-level data is the way to go. But even with research, your decisions to prioritize promotions vs advertising might not be rational in the end.
For this week’s post, I am going back on memory lane to my old days as a brand manager in the evil tobacco business. It was a tough job, the government set maximum selling prices, consumer media advertising was banned, product sampling was unheard of and habit induced taste preferences made switching between brands unlikely. Left without any major levers to pull, marketers started to invent consumer needs. Our favorite was the consumer appetite to see a brand new packaging redesign. In most cases, we did that to cure our marketer boredom. I doubt consumers genuinely wished for “more modern” brand typeface that made their favorite brand harder to spot on the shelf.
The best method to recognize brands on the shelf is to recall their distinctive assets visually. These are design elements surrounding your brand that generate memory structures in the busy minds of your consumers. Advertising’s role is to show those distinctive assets and build the memory muscle continuously. Think years not days here. Altering your distinctive assets frequently is a recipe for confusion, and rarely needed. Your packaging is one of your most prized distinctive assets, don’t play with it. The orange juice brand Tropicana learned it the hard way (read the case study here). But if you are short on time, the bottom line conclusion of the study is “don’t do it”.
Recent Black Lives Matter protests stirred some ripples in the advertising and brand world too. Brands started moving away from images that could generate a PR drama, and packaging redesign became trendy again. While in this instance, playing with your packaging to “update” your brand could be a wise move, in all other cases it’s probably not. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Ten years since I left the tobacco world, I wonder what marketing departments are busy with these days in BAT. In the context of more countries moving to plain packaging with non-distinctive branding communication, marketing teams must get bored with something else. What could that be?
An unspoken rule of many corporations is that the CFO doesn’t get along with the CMO. The Finance and Marketing functions, while working for the same common corporate growth goal, are staffed with different personality types that inevitably get to clash. A well-oiled corporation is one in which marketers and finance people slowly get in sync. But how can a marketer make a CFO happy? Here are three ways of answering that puzzle. I recently discovered at Mars the machine is oiled precisely.
Show them the numbers in a new light. Finance people are in love with their numbers. They collect them, control them and know them by heart. But for Finance, in general, a number is just a way to check progress against a target. First, show them you master your ROI numbers and then you have the permission for more. Show them how, for marketers, a number could be a recognition of a real advantage in the marketplace, a deeper connection with a large number of consumers or permission to be bolder in your future communication strategy. Tell a story! Do your job!
Show them the fantastic progress in how we decide. Don’t underestimate the level of awareness someone from Finance has on what advertising looks like in 2020. Yes, their kids might be playing with TikTok, or themselves they might use Instagram, but you need to remind them what marketing looks like today. We focus away from good old TV and Print magazines into a multi-media world that is consumer-relevant and incredibly diverse. Illustrate the transformations: show them how you understand deep consumer behaviors better by using innovative technology, show them how people consume media today and demonstrate your expertise in the advertising ecosystem.
Focus on their feelings. At the end of the day, we are all emotional beings. Take them on a journey away from the numbers, into a world of experience. Play a song, show an emotional ad, what moves consumers – should move a colleague too. Make them experience your brands in a similar way your consumers are, bring that experience to the room. Don’t be surprised when they’ll look differently at the numbers going forward.
This week I joined a Mark Ritson webinar to hear his words of wisdom punctuated at every second sentence by obscenities. Popcorn time! You always learn something new from Mark, and my highlight this time was his point on the unfair advantage brand size offers to win the game of marketing. Music to my ears.
We read a lot how new entrants in a category are continually disrupting the old guys; they are stealing market share and are the talk of the “marketing press”. But how many small players manage to grow big? What if there is a survivorship bias here? What if for every small brand that makes it, 29 brands fail to become big? What if, similar to Venture Capital investments, bidding on small brands is a high return low probability event. We often think of media investment as a fixed percentage of brand sales. And this is where we might be wrong.
The less you spend, the less people you will reach, the less sales you will drive, and the less your brand will grow. Why do we think that magically small brands have a more natural path to growth? They don’t; there is one single specific path to build brands: invest in them. I often see huge expectations and tiny budgets. In Mark’s words, identifying when we mismatch our growth ambitions with our budget allocation, should be a checkpoint for every marketer. And yes, a big brand will always have a more comfortable ride, it will have the scale to generate the return you want, it will have the size to invest in mass media and will most likely, win.