Jerry W. Thomas
The rise of scanner data with its ability to measure the short-term effects
of promotions, the growing American corporate interest in profits this quarter
(never mind next quarter or the future after that), and the rapidly increasing
media alternatives to the traditional “big three” (television, radio,
print) are all working in concert to diminish the perceived value of traditional
advertising in the packaged goods categories. The companies with a longer-term
perspective, however, will win the marketing wars through the effective use of
advertising in the major media. This is not to say that other media (trade shows,
sports marketing, Internet, fax networks, telemarketing, etc.) cannot play an
important supporting or supplemental role, for they certainly can. Here are some
thoughts about how best to use advertising in the packaged goods categories.
Advertising is primarily a strategic weapon. Its
total effects must be evaluated in the context of years, not weeks or months.
Advertising cannot compete with sales promotion and direct marketing activities
in generating short-term (less than one year) sales effects. But in the long term,
the cumulative force of good advertising can achieve results which cannot be equaled
by sales promotion or direct marketing activities.
Print advertising tends to work more slowly than television or radio, typically.
Therefore, an especially long period of time (or an especially heavy media schedule)
is required to fully evaluate the total effects of print advertising.
Advertising for new products is more effective than advertising for established
products. It’s easier to create effective advertising for new products,
in other words, than it is for established products. The inherent “news
value” of new products is the principal reason new product advertising is
more effective. Given the greater effectiveness of new product advertising, one
of the most common marketing mistakes is failure to take advantage of this inherent
advantage (i.e., to underspend on introductory advertising for new products).
Perhaps up to half of all advertising for established products is not effective,
or is only minimally effective, based on Decision Analyst’s research. Perhaps
no other industry has a failure rate as high as the advertising industry (with
the exception of the promotion industries, direct marketing industries, telemarketing
industries, and other alternatives to traditional advertising). The persistently
high advertising failure rate results primarily from lack of an accurate feedback
mechanism, a lack of testing and evaluation. If an agency doesn’t know when
its advertising is bad or why it’s bad, how can the agency possibly improve
its advertising? Marketing research can provide this feedback, but it’s
too expensive for the typical advertisement or commercial.
Among commercials that are effective, the degree of sales effectiveness can
vary greatly from one commercial to the next. One commercial might be several
times more effective than another. This indicates that the quality
of advertising tends to be more important than the
quantity of advertising. Nevertheless, the quantity of advertising
(i.e., the media weight) must achieve a threshold level
for the advertising to have any positive effects. Limited telephone tracking research
(and this can be done with small budgets) can monitor the cumulative effects of
advertising upon awareness, brand image, and consumer attitudes, and is one of
the simplest and most effective ways to make sure that your advertising is doing
Recall of specific messages from advertising is not a very good indicator of
advertising effectiveness, and some very effective commercials produce little
measurable message recall. Message recall is a positive factor, but its importance
should not be overstated.
Brand registration, however, is always important (as opposed to message/element
recall). If consumers don’t remember the brand name, the effectiveness of
the advertising is correspondingly reduced. Failure to register the brand name
is one of the most common weaknesses of commercials. When next you review your
advertising, just make sure that the brand name is clearly stated and clearly
shown in the commercial.
Ultimate truth is elusive. Advertising effectiveness cannot be determined by
any one measure, such as persuasion or recall. Recall
is a good measure for some commercials, but not for others. Persuasion
scores don’t work very well for brands with high market shares and cannot
be relied upon for brands in poorly defined product categories. Purchase
intent works reasonably well for new products, but poorly for established
products. A large number of important variables must be examined to judge the
potential effectiveness of advertising.
Radio commercials can be as effective, or more effective, than television commercials
on the basis of sales return per dollar of media. However, radio commercials seldom
achieve their true potential because radio commercials tend to be inferior to
television commercials in content and production. Typically, radio production
budgets are much less than television, and radio commercials are rarely submitted
to the rigors of marketing research evaluation.
Advertising which offends the viewer, or is in poor taste, is almost always
ineffective. The only exception to this rule is the commercial which presents
a lot of relevant news, where the message is so important
that how it is said doesn’t matter much.
If viewers like a commercial, its chances of being
effective are improved. Likeability, however, is not sufficient (in and of itself)
to ensure advertising success.
From the researcher’s perspective, what are the “secrets”
to achieving every company’s goal: advertising that really works?
There is no simple “success” formula, unfortunately, but here are
some thoughts which might be of some value:
- Advertising works in the arms of sound strategy.
What role is advertising to play in the brand’s marketing plan? What messages
must the advertising communicate? What images should the advertising project?
These are strategy issues, and they bring us to this conclusion: without sound
strategy, the chances of advertising success are very low. Several research techniques
are available to identify and resolve strategy issues before
creative development begins.
- Homework and hard
work are more likely to yield effective advertising than
creative brilliance and flashes of creative genius. Great advertising evolves
from trial and error, tinkering, and tweaking. Pretesting each commercial is a
laboratory experiment, an opportunity to learn how to make the next commercial
Big egos (creative egos, client egos, research egos, and agency egos) are barriers
to the creation of effective advertising, because big egos tend to substitute
wish and emotion for thinking, reasoning, and objectivity. If your agency (or
your client) is unwilling to make creative adjustments-based upon objective consumer
feedback-to improve the creative product, then you have the wrong agency (or the
Test your advertising. Show it to members of your target audience and see how
they react. No one (not the client, the agency, or the researcher) is smart enough
to know how consumers will perceive and react to a given commercial. If you can’t
afford one of the advertising testing services, test it yourself. Show the new
commercial and a couple of old ones, and ask some consumers which one would most
influence their interest in buying the brand. If you can’t afford that,
then ask your spouse what he/she thinks of your advertising. The method is surprisingly
accurate, but often leads to a bloody divorce.
Once you have chosen a testing system, stick
with it so that you (the agency, the creatives, the brand
managers, and the researchers) all learn how to use and how to interpret the test
results for your product category and your brand. “Sticking with”
and learning a testing system is more important than which system you select.
No testing system is perfect. No testing system can be used blindly. A large dose
of intelligent human judgment
must always be incorporated into the advertising evaluation process.
If budgets permit, test at the rough, as well as the finished, stages of creative
development. Once you’ve spent $300,000 producing finished commercials,
you will not be very open to any research which questions the effectiveness of
those commercials. Testing at the rough stage can help you refine the creative
before spending the big dollars on production. The more
rough executions you evaluate, the greater the probability that the winning execution
will be effective.
Testing at the finished stage can help guide final editing or re-editing of
commercials or pool-outs, help determine how much weight should be put behind
the creative, and provide understanding to help guide campaign evolution and the
creation of subsequent commercials.
A couple of final suggestions. Be sure your advertising puts enough emphasis
upon your brand name so that consumers will remember it. And, don’t forget
to give consumers some positive information about your product (i.e., a reason
to buy it). Good luck at the supermarket.
Copyright © 1994 by Decision Analyst,
This article may not be copied, published, or used in any way without written
permission of Decision Analyst.
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