Media Can Help Creative Do Its Job

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The more I study the mind, the more convinced I become that the ad industry has subtly over time marginalized creative.  Great creative is always based on a deep psychological insight that is leveraged to cause the audience to undergo a specific psychological shift of supreme importance to brand sales.  Yet as an industry we don't pay enough attention to the nature of that shift, for if we did, we would realize that the shift we are trying to induce is a fragile thing that might or might not occur depending on how well the audience is set up for it.  In other words, the context of the program or content the audience has been immersed in before the ad comes on.

Let's take a couple of examples, one old, one new.  Miller Lite had been launched and the initial sales were disappointing.  But when the ads shifted to showing macho men drinking it, sales took off.  The obstacle to adoption was a subconscious assumption that "real men would not want a watered-down beer."  The conversion shift in the audience's mind depended upon a male's subconscious desire to be more manly, and then a subconscious association of high testosterone men with the brand.

If this is the psychological shift responsible for the runaway success of this brand back then, the industry hasn't given enough thought to the question of whether it would be easier or harder to create that shift if the guy in the audience had just been watching content that in no way touched upon the question of his maleness, versus content which made him more sensitive to repressed issues of manliness.  Perhaps the difference in propinquity (situation-linked proclivity) is so great that it would have made more sense to carefully select media environments to support the ad in its specific work.

Wieden+Kennedy's brilliant TurboTax campaign does its work by causing viewers to undergo a relatively major psychological shift from fear of doing their own taxes to perception that such fear is silly.  In order to produce that challenging shift -- which potentially risks money and hassles either way -- what frame of mind would it be best to catch the audience in?

DriverTagTM technology has third-party Nielsen Catalina validation that ad-produced sales increase by an average of +36% when the subtle psychological signals of an ad and the program it is in are as much the same as possible.  This suggests that the Miller Lite ads would have produced the most shift in minds and sales in programming relevant to the subconscious perception of manliness, and that TurboTax ads today are producing the most shift and sales in programs that set up the viewer to be more sensitive to, and subconsciously appreciative of, relief from fear. These might be programs that generate fear, but might also be programs which have some of the other qualities of these ads, such as surprise, suspense, etc.

In my career I've seen massive changes in media practices, but I also note that the more things change, the more they stay the same ("plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose").  The almighty CPM -- which basically assumes that creative makes no difference, context makes no difference and ads are simple reminders without any subtle psychological shifting involved -- is still the main decider.  If it were not so, most TV would be bought by specific program.  However, since that costs more, the vast majority of all TV time is bought on a random rotation basis.  If that isn't a sign that the ad industry trivializes the deep psychological work that a great ad has to do, what is?

What is more amazing is that this overuse of rotations has persisted through the period 2005-2018 as the realization of the value of purchaser targeting using hard purchase data was thrust upon the industry first by TRA and then by everyone in digital.  TRA published ARF papers showing that fixed position program buys allowed ROI increases averaging +40%, but rotations diluted these effects down to under +10% on average.  That should have caused an increase in program-specific buying, and did not.  What that says to me is that a lot of people spending billions of dollars a year in advertising have not been counting the cards.

Adding together the ROI benefits of program-specific buying from targeting and context effects combined, I confidently predict a rise in program-specific buying.  History shows that rationally expected changes happen over geologic time in the ad industry, so I wouldn't rush to buy media stocks, but I sure as hell wouldn't sell them yet.

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