Thursday, May 31, 2007

Ideas that Empower

(continued from If You Tame Me…, see 5/9/07 below)

Over $100 billion is spent each year in advertising. In our industry, we use very sophisticated technology. We allocate hundreds of millions of dollars each year to research on all kinds of consumer behavior surveillance techniques ranging from simple diaries to brain scans and yet, surprisingly, after more than 160 years of the existence of the advertising industry, we still don’t know how advertising works. We only know that it does work.

For many years, an accepted model of how advertising works was a hierarchical model. We believed people moved through a series of events – Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action – which took us from advertising to sales. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, however, the research simply did not support this model. The research showed us we could have behavioral changes before attitudinal changes. We could have increases in sales before we had increases in awareness.

Maybe some day we’ll figure it out. But as we’re struggling now to update our definition of advertising, let’s take a different approach and consider the observations of some who were considered among the most successful in advertising.

As we’ve recounted in earlier posts, there was a period in time when some, at least, thought we understood advertising. In his famous book, Scientific Advertising, Claude Hopkins wrote, “The time has come when advertising has reached the status of a science. It is based on fixed principles, and is reasonably exact. The causes and effects have been analyzed until they are well understood. The correct method of procedure have been proved and established. We know what is most effective, and we act on basic law.” Here are a couple of Hopkins’ “laws” of advertising:

    – Ads are not written to entertain. When they do, those entertainment seekers are little likely to be the people whom you want. That is one of the greatest advertising faults. Ad writers… forget they are salesmen and try to be performers. Instead of sales, they seek applause.

    – Any studied attempt to sell, if apparent, creates corresponding resistance.

Fast forward a number of years and consider Bill Bernbach. He rejected the idea of advertising as science and considered it more of an art:

    - Advertising isn't a science, it's persuasion. And persuasion is an art.

    - It’s not just what you say that stirs people, it’s the way that you say it.

But on some points, Bernbach and Hopkins would seem to agree. It’s hard to imagine Hopkins disagreeing with these observations by Bernbach:

    - Our job is to sell our clients' merchandise...not ourselves. Our job is to kill the cleverness that makes us shine instead of the product. Our job is to simplify, to tear away the unrelated, to pluck out the weeds that are smothering the product message.

    - Getting a product known isn’t the answer. Getting it wanted is the answer. Some of the best known product names have failed.

David Ogilvy, who came from a background in direct response, leaned more towards the “scientific” school of thought on advertising effectiveness. In a speech he gave to the advertising community, Ogilvy chastised “generalists” for putting creativity above the commercial goals of advertising:

    You generalists pride yourselves on being creative, whatever that awful word means. You cultivate the mystique of creativity…. We directs do not regard advertising as an art form. Our clients don’t give a damn whether we win awards at Cannes. They pay us to sell their products. Nothing else….

    When sales go up, you claim credit for it. When sales go down, you blame the product. We in direct response know exactly to the penny how many products we sell with each of our advertisements.

    You generalists use short copy. We use long copy. Experience has taught us that short copy doesn’t sell. In our headlines, we promise the consumer a benefit. You generalists don’t think it is creative.

    You have never had to live with the discipline of knowing the results of your advertising. We pack our advertisements and letters with information about the product. We have found out we have to if we want to sell anything.

And yet, Ogilvy had a great deal of respect for another successful ad man, Leo Burnett. Burnett created the advertising campaign that succeeded above all other campaigns: the Marlboro Man. The Marlboro Man campaign is credited with taking a cigarette brand that at one time had about a quarter of a share point in sales and drove it to become the top-ranked brand in the world. The Marlboro Man campaign had none of the fact-based, long copy which Ogilvy criticized the ad community for leaving out in its advertising. It was an image campaign.

So what does this all mean? What does it tell us about what advertising is or is not? For one thing, it suggests there is more than one path to advertising success. There are times when rational, information-based appeals can succeed, and there are times when emotional-based appeals can succeed. Through generation after generation, successful advertising practitioners have concluded that advertising may be entertaining, but it is not entertainment. As the saying goes, “it’s only creative if it sells.”

Here’s another saying that’s relevant: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Every year, it seems, we struggle with the same challenge – how to make advertising more effective – and in many cases we keep finding similar answers. Aren’t the views of Hopkins, Bernbach, Ogilvy, Burnett, and many other successful ad men as relevant today as they were in their own time? For instance, haven’t we learned that advertising is not a popularity contest? Don’t we discover time and time again that the most popular ads are not necessarily the most effective? And yet, what is it that we continue to strive for when we measure advertising recall, and now try to measure engagement? Recall and engagement are best suited as measures of entertainment value, are they not? There is no definitive correlation between recall and sales. Here’s a prediction, there won’t be a definitive correlation between engagement and sales either.

Let’s move beyond engagement and embrace empowerment. When advertising is successful, it empowers people to take action to satisfy some need, want, or desire. The goal of advertising is to create ideas that empower.

In our next post, we’ll try to take the ideas expressed in these last three posts and put them together to offer our new definition of advertising. Meanwhile, I’m curious, what’s your definition of advertising?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

If You Tame Me....

(continued from The Time is Now, see 5/1/07 below)

“If you tame me, then we shall need each other.
To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world….”

The Little Prince
Antoine de St. Exupery

The Little Prince is a delightful book full of profound insights about life and love. Highly recommended, if you haven’t already read it.

There’s a chapter in the book where the little prince is learning about love and friendship from a fox. “What does that mean – ‘tame’?” asks the little prince. “It means to establish ties,” answers the fox.

We are all creatures of habit. Although each of our habits is unique, we all follow a regular routine.

  • we wake up at the same time every day, perhaps to a radio that’s tuned to the same station every day
  • we drive to work along the same route, passing the same signs
  • we read the same daily newspaper
  • we read the same business or personal magazines month in and month out
  • we watch our favorite TV programs every day
  • we sometimes surf the internet, but we return to our favorite sites regularly
We establish ties with the media that tame us; they become part of the fabric of our lives.

They are our friends, always welcome, comfortable to spend time with, and trusted. From childhood, we are taught to be wary of strangers. When a stranger tells us something, we listen with caution. We are trusting of our friends. When a friend tells us something, we are more receptive.

It should come as no surprise that advertising is more effective when it is communicated through a vehicle we trust. Studies confirm this. For example, a 2003 study by Knowledge Networks looked at “reader involvement” in relation to ad recall. Reader involvement was determined by such things as frequency of reading (e.g. read four out of four issues), reading time per issue, and preference (e.g. citing the magazine as “one of my favorites”). The study found that highly involved readers were three times more likely to recall ads than readers with average levels of involvement, and 10 times more likely to recall ads than readers with low levels of involvement. Other similar studies show similar results. In other words, readers are more responsive to advertising in their favorite publications.

It baffles me how often this insight into human behavior is ignored in advertising. How many times have you seen an advertiser or its agency painstakingly investigate and compare magazines to find the absolute best, top tier, ultimate magazines to reach a specific target audience with the right message in the right environment? Then, with hopeful ambitions to influence the attitudes and behavior of targeted prospects, they set as an objective or goal to maintain continuous advertising pressure against this target audience. And after all that, advertise in these paramount publications a total of…what…four times? Based on an informal survey among a few publishing friends of mine, it seems less than five percent of advertisers run continuously in all 12 issues of a monthly magazine. Twelve contacts in a year is apparently considered way too much exposure against the absolute best, top tier, ultimate targeted readers with the right message in the right environment for most advertisers. Go figure.

The average price of a :30 in the Super Bowl exceeds $2.5 million. Why do advertisers continue to pay top dollar for the Super Bowl and other media events?

In part, of course, it’s because of the opportunity to reach large numbers of people at one time. We know that’s true. But partly, too, it’s because advertisers believe higher levels of involvement (or engagement, if you prefer that term du jour) viewers have with these programs translates to higher levels of response, which justifies the premium cost.

Fortunately, consumers enjoy the relationships they have with their media every day, and advertisers do not have to pay premium prices to benefit from those relationships.

Relationships matter. We should consider that in our *new* definition of advertising. Better yet, we should consider that more in our practice of it.

(to be continued…)

          Tuesday, May 01, 2007

          The Time is Now

          (continued from What is Advertising? (Revisited), see 4/19/07 below)

          We may not be certain how to define advertising, or how advertising works, but oddly enough we have accumulated some research over the years that tells us something about how much is needed to make it work. Here is a question that has challenged media planners and advertisers for decades: How much advertising exposure is enough?

          With finite resources that must be allocated as optimally as we can conceive, this question gives us a strategic choice and puts us at risk. If we advertise with too little pressure, our efforts may not have enough impact to show measurable results. If we advertise too much, we squander precious resources where we have already done our job. We face the risk of too little advertising pressure versus the risk of too much.

          When we distill this challenge down to its basic elements, the strategic decision we media planners make goes something like this: if we could only afford to send one advertising message to one person, we could probably identify who that message should go to. The strategic challenge of advertising pressure arises when we can afford to send out the next message. Do we repeat the message to the same person, or do we send it to a new person? When should we send it?

          If we can afford to send a third message, the strategic choices increase to six. If we also have the option of sending different messages to each person each time, the choices increase exponentially. What can we use to guide our strategic decision?

          What Shape Are You In?
          Although we may not always think of it in these terms, the key to making strategic decisions about advertising pressure lies with our expectation of the shape of the advertising response curve.

          S-Shaped Curve
          The S-shaped advertising response curve was the dominant model for media planning from the 1970s, and it suggests that advertising must reach a threshold level before it becomes effective. This was typically expressed by setting a communication goal of achieving a “3+ reach” for the advertising to be deemed “effective” (i.e. to achieve a desired response).

          Concave downward
          Another school of thought held that the advertising response curve was shaped concave downward, and suggests that the highest response rate occurs after the first exposure and diminishes thereafter. This also suggests that the most effective ad is the one closest to the purchase decision.

          In a landmark 1995 study, John Philip Jones used single-source research to measure the short-term effects of advertising on sales. Single-source, unavailable prior to the Jones study, tracked both the media exposure and purchases of a single sample. Jones measured each household’s reception of advertising for specific advertised brands and related this to the purchasing of these same brands by the same household shortly after the advertising.

          The analysis drew a startling conclusion: one exposure generates the highest proportion of sales, and additional exposures add very little to the effect of the first.

          The Jones study gave support for the concave downward advertising response model and ushered in its practical application in “recency” planning. “Recency planning is based on the sensible idea that most advertising works by influencing the brand choice of consumers who are ready to buy,” noted Erwin Ephron in the Journal of Advertising Research in 1997.

          Ironically, in 1972, researcher Herbert Krugman had advanced the idea that there are only three “psychological” exposures:

          1. “What is it?” – the first response is to understand the nature of the stimulus.
          2. “What of it?” – the second exposure elicits a more personal response of whether or not the message has personal relevance.
          3. Reminder/Disengagement – the third exposure is a true reminder, but also the beginning of disengagement by the viewer.

          Krugman suggests that most viewers stop at the first psychological exposure until they are in the market for the product advertised. He goes on to say, “the importance of this view of things is that it positions advertising as powerful only when the viewer, the consumer, or shopper is interested…” In the 1970s, Krugman’s thesis was used to support the theory that 3+ exposures were needed to be effective, although clearly it is more supportive of the Recency theory…proof that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

          Woody Allen said, “80 percent of success is showing up.” A key point from advertising response research is that timing impacts advertising effectiveness. In most cases, emphasis should be placed on continuity and reach. A brand that is out of sight is out of mind.

          What this also tells us, however, is how important the consumer is to the advertising equation. A targeted prospect may meet all the demographic and psychographic profile characteristics we are looking for, yet can still be unmotivated by the advertising because the timing is not right. For advertising to be effective, there has to be opportunity. There has to be a need, hope, or desire and the means for fulfillment on the part of the targeted prospect. A prospect with all the other right characteristics may not be moved today if the timing is wrong, but can be moved tomorrow if the timing becomes right. Where there is no opportunity, there is no sale.

          (to be continued)