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Effectiveness: the long and short of it

Thanks to @Allan_Blair I was lucky enough to stumble across yesterday’s live stream of the Thinkbox / IPA event: ’Advertising Effectiveness: the long and the short of it’.

The keynote was by Les Binet and Peter Field, two guys who are obviously much smarter than most of us, but still manage to talk about marketing in a compelling and straight-forward way. A few years ago they mined nearly a thousand IPA effectiveness case studies for their ‘Marketing in the Era of Accountability’ study, providing hard evidence in support of emotionally-driven fame campaigns over rational persuasion and lazy ‘loyalty’ thinking.

Yesterday’s presentation seemed to be more of an evolution than a revolution in their thinking, however, it was still packed full of great observations and recommendations based on updated analysis of the IPA effectiveness databank.

The Power of Emotion in Advertising 

It shouldn’t be news to anyone by now that emotionally-driven campaigns are consistently more effective, especially over the longer term. However, there seem to be many clients that still don’t believe this so above is some more evidence for the sceptics, based on Binet & Field’s long-term analysis of the IPA databank.

I’m greatly enjoying Daniel Kahneman’s ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ at the moment so was particularly interested in how the guys applied Kahneman’s thinking to campaign strategy. For those not familiar with the book, Kahneman uses ‘System 1′ to refer to fast, intuitive, emotionally driven decision making, while ‘System 2′ is in charge of the slower, more taxing, rational thought processes. Kahneman’s work gives context Binet & Field’s findings: contrary to our desire to be perceived as rational beings, in fact the majority of our decision-making is emotionally-driven, a product of ‘System 1′.

While rational messaging is important at an activation level, without prior emotional priming we’re much less likely to even consider what it’s got to say – the so-called ‘halo’ effect. In fact, in many cases these rational messages actually work by helping us post-rationalise an emotionally-driven decision: “I know the Porsche wasn’t your first choice for a family car, but with a top speed of 200mph it will be handy for getting to hospital in time if the baby comes early”.


The Importance of Long-Term Thinking on Short-Term Objectives

While the above slide distinguishes between short and long term responses, one of the other key points of the session was the relationship between these objectives. One area where this is particularly important is around price sensitivity.

In line with Byron Sharp’s findings, Binet & Field’s research showed that while price promotions can have a short-term positive impact on sales, they have been shown to have a significant negative impact on price sensitivity and brand value over the long term. Instead, Binet & Field propose value-added ‘consumer promotions’ such as gift with purchase or competitions as an alternative to discounting.

Furthermore, even where the objective is short-term sales, ‘brand response’ campaigns – ie involve a brand-building component as well as an activation component – were shown to be significantly more effective in driving salience, market share and profit than traditional direct response ideas, e.g. rational direct response messages.

This seems particularly important in categories like cars where the buying cycle is quite long – just because I’m not in the market for a car now, doesn’t mean I might not buy one in a year’s time. However if the sole focus of advertising is activating those who are ready to buy now with a rational message, it’s wasting the opportunity to influence longer term prospects.


Today’s Wastage Might Be Next Year’s Target Consumer

One of the most interesting parts of the presentation for digital agencies was around the implications for targeting and measurement. What is clear from the findings is that the most powerful effects of advertising (and I use this in the broadest sense) are only visible over the long term. Furthermore, achieving these large, long-term effects requires broad reach and appeal – a direct challenge to conventional wisdom that obsessive targeting brings greater efficiency. As we saw with ‘brand response’ campaigns, the long-term benefits of building broader brand equity – and ideally fame – significantly outweighs any perceived media wastage. In fact, today’s wastage might be next year’s target consumer, or failing that, an influencer.

This poses a challenge for digital agencies, many of whom peddle ‘real-time data’ as the answer to everything and focus on immediately measurable intermediate measures (click-throughs, shares, likes, tweets, direct conversions etc) over long-term brand equity and profit.

The Implications:

  1. We need to take a much longer term view of campaign objectives and ensure that even where we have short-term goals, we are still contributing to long-term brand success – often this will mean refreshing rather than reinventing existing brand assets and developing ‘brand response’ campaigns, not just ‘direct response’ ads
  2. We stop the simplistic ‘TV bad, digital good’ rhetoric –  TV is still the most effective tool in brand building and trashing it continually just undermines the credibility of the digital industry
  3. We make an effort to better understand the role of digital in the mix, how it is used to complement other channels like TV, where is it used best for activation (e.g search, direct response media) and where it is more effective over the long term (e.g. online video, social media – when used as a way of building and broadening influence, not just preaching to the converted)
  4. We take a longer term view of measurement and put digital metrics in context. The first thing to do is acknowledge that ‘real-time’ data and today’s online media attribution models fail to take account of some of the most important effects of advertising activity – long term brand building. If we continue to obsessively optimise against short-term intermediate measures, we risk damaging long-term brand equity. The second, more challenging part is that we need to build measurement frameworks that balance short-term, digital behavioural metrics with long-term, offline equity and sales measurement

I’ve touched on a few of the bits I found interesting at the time but this is just a fraction of what was discussed. I strongly suggest checking out the full presentation at Brand Republic.

Note: The slides above are all the work of Les Binet and Peter Field so please credit them as required.