Reset Advertising

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Between the time I got into the advertising business and around 2005, the advertising business changed very little. This started to change between 2006-2010 with the arrivals of the iPhone, TRA and deterministic digital targeting. (Dave Morgan's TACODA deserves much credit.) Since 2011 the speed of change and the introduction of a surfeit of tools (and now the imminent retraction of some) has whiplashed the most durable of us into a haze of confusion.

In some cases, we have forgotten things we used to know about the holistic process of advertising. Today we are most focused on price, box checking, keeping one's head down, keeping up with the workflow speed required at each stage, and staying abreast of new companies and acronyms and the best use of newest buzzwords. 

The infusion of new generations into the cadre has also had a profound effect. The new generations are not shy about acting upon their inherent biases toward the media they themselves use, mostly digital.

Words are thrown around without regard for their actual denotative meaning, kludging together entirely different things like recall and attitudes.

Brilliant minds who happen to be newcomers to the profession jump to conclusions that the task of advertising is to get attention, keep it, get emotion, and make sure the brand is associated with the rest of the data packet encoded in the brain of the audience members. Not that this is wrong, it is simply incomplete, and because it's incomplete, it isn't very helpful to marketers and creative people trying to get the intended business outcomes.

Let's see if in a three-minute read we can review back to basics and end with a clearer understanding of how to do advertising that gets the desired outcome. Given spacetime constraints I'll focus on screen media but almost all the remarks below relate equally across all media.

First, what is the outcome we should intend?

One size does not fit all, but the classical answer is (a) brand growth, (b) consumer lifetime value (CLV or LV), (c) short-term incremental sales whose profit contribution exceeds media and creative cost, and (d) brand equity. The Marketing Accountability Standards Board (MASB) continues to work toward a standardized and accepted way of calculating brand equity. Currently I use CLV as a proxy for brand equity. Other contenders as practical proxies for brand equity are brand love and Net Promoter Score (NPS).

Estimating in post-evaluation mode what advertising achieved is currently the work mostly of marketing mix modeling (MMM) and brand lift studies. Random Control Trials (RCTs) would be far more accurate.

Let's say you have set the outcomes you want and set up a true full funnel RCT to measure them post hoc. Okay, that's good; now you have to create the ads.

To begin, think in terms of "ads," not "ad." There are many types of people you want to influence with them. Hence you need more than one ad. Also your brand may have more than one story worth telling right now, and with proper media optimization you can tell those stories in bitesize pieces in a sequence of creative executions personalized to the specific ID (working with publishers enabling deterministic targeting and measurement).

Your research must have identified what motivates the different pools of people who buy your product category. These motivations are what your ads need to speak to.

The opening of the ad is crucially important. If you don't catch the attention quickly enough, the impression could be virtually valueless.

Don't forget the audio in connection with the beginning of the ad. Sure, the visual is vitally important, but so is the audio. The audio is capable of bringing wandering eyes back to the screen. If your opening words are clearly understandable and hook into the apperception survival mechanism by being relevant to the individual's motivations, you will get attention.

The ad then must maintain attention. Attention is relatively easily gained -- remember David Ogilvy's famous dictum about a gorilla wearing a jockstrap -- but even more easily lost.

After the first few seconds the maintenance of attention depends on the interest level of the story being told.

Both in the opening few seconds and thereafter, surprise and novelty are powerful factors if executed well. To achieve such executional excellence requires that the story remain true to the brand in memory, must show something new and good about the brand (adding a new attribute relevant to the motivations of that individual), something new and good which engages the audience member's emotions.

Today's ads are shifting in the direction of social purpose and altruism, which is good, because this has been thought of yet largely ignored since the 1970s, and it is very capable of engaging the right emotions that make the brand more attractive to the individual as a potential life partner.

This attitude shift is also called "persuasion" and is the closest thing to the outcomes listed above (short- and long-term sales and branding effects).

People who think a lot about attention should not let their guard down as regards persuasion. There will not be persuasion if there has not been attention, but if persuasion is absent the attention might do you little good. The Bert and Harry Piels beer commercials years ago taught the industry that commercials can be tremendous at achieving attention and liking without any sales effect.

This is the barest bones outline of a simple set of guideposts to not lose sight of in optimizing advertising for the most vital business outcomes. Reductionistically, one can keep in mind the words "attention" and "motivation" and the rest will fall into place.

Photo by Jose Antonio Gallego Vazquez

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