Ad research pioneers George Gallup and Horace Schwerin had mixed opinions about the value of norms. They understood the theoretical importance of benchmarking, but they also understood the knowable and unknowable error that all benchmarks have. Indeed, Horace Schwerin once commented that he believed copy tests should be conducted without norms. It was his view that norms could be a crutch that helped marketers avoid thinking in absolute terms about what their advertisement should achieve.
Although an unconventional view today, it is still an interesting and important proposition. Even in the early days of copy testing, when the development of norms was a relatively straightforward undertaking, norms were not always the useful benchmarks they seem. A main idea communication norm, for example, is likely to be based on both advertisements that have a single key selling message, as well as ones that have more complex, multi-faceted communications. Moreover, the norm will usually be based on what the respondents of each test perceive the selling message to be, which may or may not have been the same as the communication objective. Or it may include ideas that are inherently easier or more difficult than yours to convey. Depending on your own communication objectives, it can be preferable to set an absolute criterion that the message must be played back by a certain proportion of respondents rather than compare to a norm based on commercials with message content and strategies.
But questions about norms are even more relevant today. Today’s advertising world is more complex than in Gallup and Schwerin’s time, when advertisers had a mass market orientation. Copy testing companies simply provided extensive, broadly-based, category-specific norms based on methodologies that could accumulate extensive databases based upon samples of men and/or women between the ages of 18 and 49 or 65. Since then, media has evolved from providing mass appeal programming and publications toward a diverse industry replete with a vast landscape of special interest offerings. Meanwhile marketers, armed with segmentation research that facilitate honing communications in on target markets with the greatest leveragability, take advantage of the expanding media opportunities with initiatives targeted to more specifically designated audiences. Thus the advertiser’s need for norms has changed with implications for the quality of norm that is often available.
- Today, advertisers often specify that samples meet specific target definitions designed to match their demographic or psychographic targets. Competitors within the same category may specify different sampling targets or more have different screening criteria for identifying like samples. A norm for travel and leisure services, as an example, may consequently be comprised of a variety of sample definitions, some based on advertising targeted to the premium traveler, others to the budget minded; some to family vacationers, others to business travelers; some to the youthful and adventurous, others to older vacationers with a more relaxed mindset. As a result, when a category norm may exist, it may not reflect the specific target in which the marketer is interested.
- The increased use of pretesting has given advertisers greater flexibility and agencies greater creative freedom. A downside to this positive development, though, is that tested concepts are often included into a normative database even though not all will have been taken into final production nor received media support. When a norm is based on finished commercials, as were typical erstwhile syndicated services, it represents, by definition, all executions that were judged “airworthy.” If pretested concepts are included, today’s normative databases may present a lower than desirable hurdle if they include concepts that failed to pass muster.
- Even highly effective advertising will not have been developed to be effective on all performance measures. Some commercials are developed to be strong in some aspects of communication and other commercials are developed to “move the needle” in other areas. For example, sometimes ad liking will be an important criterion and sometimes it is not. The same can be said, at times, about recall, persuasion and ad advocacy. Since most ads are tested within a standardized system for the company, they are tested against measures that are not always relevant to the objectives of the advertising. Since norms are typically compiled based on complete test results, they may be based on cases where the measure itself was not relevant to the test commercial’s communication objectives.
- Advertisers also have a wide variety of techniques and vendors from which to choose. Consequently, any given vendor may have experience in a category but only with a limited repertoire of clientele. Unless a program is in place to add non-client readings to their database, a prospective new client may be comparing their results to a “norm” based upon a non-representative sampling of category advertising.
The consequence of all this is that any particular norm today is based on a data set that is likely shallower and less comprehensive than they have been, making their use less straightforward than in earlier already problematic times. Schwerin’s proposition may even begin to have greater appeal under these circumstances, but solutions exist for ensuring that useful benchmarks are also considered. Knowledgeable firms will usually have addressed these issues and be in a position to provide workable answers through means like the following:
- Using their experience and breadth of testing to craft a norm specific to your target audience;
- Establishing that performance within subgroups does not to show much variation; and/or
- Devising a test design that will provide its own benchmarks.
As a result you can be more confident that you are comparing the specific target audience reactions of your advertising to that of your competition, giving you a strong perspective for assessing the likely effectiveness of your messages.
It was mentioned above that it has been customary since copy testing’s early days for most companies to evaluate their advertising against category-specific norms. However, there is a school of thought that all advertising norms provide a better benchmark because each ad must compete against the totality of all advertising in order to break through. While there is merit to maintaining perspective on how all advertising tends to perform in a given testing system, losing sight of how well your advertising is doing relative to your competition among your target audience is risky business. A company in a high interest category that accepts an ad that is above the all advertising average without determining that it may nevertheless be below industry norms will be at a disadvantage.
As with other aspects of research, experienced professionals at your vendor will be able to provide guidance on how to best establish action standards for your test and will be best able to use these capabilities to get the most out of your results and provide strong direction for your communications.
Successful advertisers have one thing in common: their messaging distinguishes their brand in the minds of their target audience. It establishes who they are and what they stand for. It differentiates the brand from its competitors in a way that rings true with loyal brand users and provides distinctive appeals to non-users.
Strategic research is a valuable tool for developing this kind of successful advertising. It provides companies with insight into the triggers behind consumer brand selection – the core values and beliefs that people hold when deciding between marketplace alternatives. Well-designed strategic research unveils positioning opportunities for the brand. It identifies what is important to the buyers of your brand and the buyers of your competitor’s brands as well as how successfully each brand delivers on these expectations. Insights developed from this research reveal positioning opportunities for the brand to drive successful creative that resonates with your user base and attacks competitive vulnerabilities.
G&R was recently enlisted to evaluate the position that a leading company occupies in the crowded retail space and investigate the effectiveness of the company’s communications. Using a stimulus-aided questionnaire and advanced analytics and data displays, the research identified the company’s position relative to its key competitors, spotlighted a positioning opportunity for the brand that capitalizes on brand strengths important to both brand shoppers and competitive shoppers where the competition underperforms expectations. Armed with this insight our client can now exploit competitive weaknesses with a positioning built on brand strengths that both customers and competitive shoppers value.
If you would like to know our positioning capabilities, please contact us.
Spring has arrived and with it major league baseball, game broadcasts, and warm weather advertisements. It’s a great time for baseball fans and for advertising fans. The contrasts between the commercials that air between innings and pitching changes are almost as compelling as games between teams dominated by Moneyball influences versus those driven by old school beliefs.
This year’s commercial equivalent of Moneyball might be the “Every Pitch” spot from DICK’S Sporting Goods which opens with a batter swinging and missing at a pitch and then takes the viewer on a tour of the field to experience the “dead time” between pitches. We watch the third baseman feint to keep the runner on third close to the bag. The shortstop turns to the outfield, tells them, “no doubles,” and gestures with his hand not to let a ball get hit over their heads. An outfielder jumps in place to keep his muscles loose. The pitcher throws to first to keep that runner close. Meanwhile the camera moves onto the field itself, taking all this activity in before honing in on the pitcher as he prepares to release the next pitch. We are enveloped in the inner world of a game in progress, the dynamic that occurs between pitches that immediately connects with every athlete who has ever played the game at any level. It’s as atmospheric as any commercial in recent memory. The closing billboards simply take us from the game through “Every Pitch. Every Game. Every Season starts at DICK’S.” to form an indelible connection to the brand.
The pleasant reverie created by the Dick’s spot rarely lasts long thanks to the Scotts Lawn Care advertising, which has been as subtle as a Nolan Ryan “bowtie.” Few commercial breaks occur during games on the MLB network or ESPN that do not have a Scotts commercial. Each commercial features Scott, the Scot spokesman for Scotts. Get it? Are you sure you GET IT??? Scott the Scot from Scotts lectures unknowledgeable homeowners on the virtues of Scotts fertilizer, grass seed and spreader, ending not just with an encouragement to “Feed your lawn” but with an insistent follow-up to “Feed it!” In the advertising world of Scott’s Lawn Care, you cannot belabor a point too much. Kudos to the rational voice in the copy review meeting that talked the team out of putting Scott the Scot from Scotts in a kilt and tam o’shanter. But it’s a shame he or she could not have encouraged a little more subtlety in the media schedule, the tagline, or the actor’s intended-to-be-friendly smile that has all the sincerity of a ravenous wolf seeing you as dinner.
Usually, we are proponents of the “old school” rationally oriented commercials that present a USP to create brand distinction and provide consumers with a reason to buy. The Scotts commercials all present strong appeals and it’s often the case that well-visualized product advantages will outweigh grating presentational aspects in the consumer’s mind. Plus there is always the concern that risking a media budget on something as elusive as forming an emotional connection with consumers for a brand through something as fundamentally and recognizably commercial as an advertising spot is a high stakes gamble. But when one connects, as does the DICK’S commercial, arching home runs have more glory than grunted-out singles.
This weekend I had planned to stop by my local Home Depot to load up on my yard care needs for the season but I think instead I’ll just head on over to the nearby DICK’S for some Neatsfoot. My glove needs oiling. And maybe I’ll pick up a few other things while I am there.
Quietly tucked away, in the moments before kick-off, “Mean” Joe Greene returned to the Super Bowl this year. In a new ad for Downy, the former football pro reprised his role from the classic Coca-Cola commercial that originally aired in 1980. Only this time, Greene is sniffing fabric freshener instead of gulping Coke.
Created for the Coca-Cola Company, the first “Mean” Joe Greene spot appeared in Super Bowl XIV in 1980. In that commercial, a starry-eyed boy offers his Coke to the injured defensive tackle, “Mean” Joe Greene. The refreshing Coke prompts a smile from the intimidating Steeler and he tosses the boy his game jersey.
The Downy spot is also charming and witty. Using strong story-telling that includes celebrity and humor, it maintains its freshness by an engaging “twist” that has Greene’s fan played by funny gal Amy Sedaris, who says thanks- but-no-thanks to his sweaty, stinky game jersey.
Regardless of whether people know who Greene was, when he played, or how he earned his nickname, the powerful story-telling framework lends itself to continuous adaption and successive callbacks. The host of “Mean Joe Greene” remakes over the years has ranged from adaptations in which other countries’ star athletes play Greene’s role to references in popular television to a number of parodies.
In one of the most unexpected, Coca-Cola competitor, Pepsi, offered up its own twist. David Beckham, then with Manchester United, trudges off the field following a particularly rough match. He requests a sip from a young fan’s Pepsi. Before David walks off, the boy requests his game jersey. As it turns out, the young boy just needs to wipe off the rim of his can before continuing to enjoy the drink himself!
In another charming take, the Coca-Cola Company revisited “Mean Joe Greene” in Pittsburgh Steeler, Troy Palomalu. This time, a young fan tries to offer Palomalu his Coke Zero, only to have it intercepted by Coke brand managers who claim the newest addition to the Coca-Cola family has stolen Coke’s taste.
The Coke, Downy, Pepsi, and Coke Zero reincarnations of the original “Mean” Joe Greene spot show that a well-told story can be a powerful means of strengthening brand meaning with consumers. Effective story-telling influences underlying beliefs through a process called Transportation. “Stories sell,” not only through well-known recall and persuasion devices like benefit-centric messaging, creditable support, and news, which target cognitive processing, but also through transportation devices like character identification, empathizing, and narrative flow, which target deep seated beliefs towards the featured brand or promoted behavior. What makes “Mean” Joe Greene so special, both as a commercial and as the model for so many successful progeny, is that it accomplishes all of those things, achieving both short- and long-term effects.
To learn more about about measuring audience response to narrative advertising, visit G&R’s Transportation Research page.
Every year, an instructor at a large state university acquaints students to the Criminal Justice degree program. In the midst of the talk, a student enters the room, whispers a few words to the instructor and leaves, whereupon the instructor resumes his talk. After a while, he asks his audience to take a sheet of paper and write down the answers to a few questions. What color shirt had the student who had entered the room a few moments before been wearing? Had he been carrying anything in his hand? What color and length of hair did he have? Was he wearing eyewear?
The point of the exercise, in fact the point of the staged “exposure,” is to illustrate that eyewitnesses to events are unreliable and just how few details we recall from events that occur in our daily lives.
This point is well taken for the criminal justice system and for marketers. As we go through each day, we are bombarded with stimuli that we instinctively sift through, retaining what has meaning for us and discarding what does not. Whether we are sitting in a classroom listening to an instructor talk, driving along a city street listening to the radio and keeping an eye on signs, pedestrians, and other drivers, or sitting at home watching a favorite TV program, a plenitude of stimuli are there for our attention yet we internally process what to attend to and what to disregard, what to retain and what to dismiss: we focus our attention on an instructor and dismiss the message bearer; we stop for a school crossing guard and lose track of the radio program; we watch a TV program and divert attention when commercials come on.
How different our experiences would be if someone were directing our attention to aspects of our lives we might not otherwise consider important. What if someone in on the instructor’s ploy was sitting next to us and said, “Pay attention to this person.” With our focus honed in on the student, details we might not notice or might quickly dismiss would become items of scrutiny. We might not only remember the shirt color, but note whether it is a t-shirt, pullover, or a button-down type. We might notice not only that he had a few pages of paper in his hand but also that they were covered in notes written on yellow legal paper. Ordinary details that would otherwise be of no particular importance would attract our attention, worthy of some notice and perhaps consideration.
The story of the university lecturer came to mind when thinking about Michael Imperioli asking in a recent 1800 Tequila commercial, “Whatever happened to commercials? So many of them don’t make any sense and you can hardly tell what anyone’s selling.” Mr. Imperioli could be onto something because over the past few years, a sea change has occurred in the way companies evaluate the content of their advertising which embodies the contrast between how we normally observe events and how we might see things if our attention were abnormally directed to things we would otherwise dismiss.
Historically, companies relied heavily on day-after recall (DAR) methodologies to evaluate their advertising. DAR tests are designed to replicate, as closely as possible, the real-world environment in which people are exposed to an advertising message. In a DAR test, respondents watch a television program or read a magazine in their own homes, under natural conditions. The following day, a research interviewer contacts them and asks about the content of the program or publication, including the advertising. A DAR test provides insight into what people attend to and what is sufficiently important and meaningful to them that they retain it for at least 24 hours, despite all the other events going on in their lives that demand attention and occupy their minds.
In recent years the trend has been away from DAR testing toward more expedient diagnostic designs as marketers look to save money and time. In a diagnostic test, respondents are shown advertising, usually in a clutter environment of a few other advertisements and occasionally in a faux media environment. Testing is done in an unnatural viewing/reading context, often via the internet or occasionally in a research facility such as those located in shopping malls. Respondents are directed to look over the advertisements and often the test advertisement is shown more than once to provide respondents with an opportunity for further study and scrutiny. Interviewing about respondents’ thoughts about the ad takes place immediately after exposure.
The differences between these methodologies are dramatic.
- In a DAR test, respondents experience media in a normal environment under typical viewing/reading conditions. They are in their own homes, in the company of family members, in their favorite armchair by the lamp they typically use when reading or watching TV. A diagnostic test, by contrast, occurs in an environment in which the advertising appears out of context and in an artificial setting, either over the internet or in a research facility.
- In DAR tests, respondents see advertising in real time, as it occurs when media is purchased, within the context of other messages competing for attention and against normal household distractions. In some DAR tests, respondents know only that they have been asked to watch a TV program or read a magazine. In others, they are not pre-contacted to participate in research; the recruitment will not occur until the following day so that their viewing/reading behavior is entirely normal. In diagnostic tests respondents are recruited from a shopping mall or from an Internet panel and are fully aware they are participating in an advertising test. They are usually re-exposed to a test advertisement more than once and have the opportunity to focus their full attention on the message in a manner they may never do normally since they are anticipating that they are about to be interviewed about it and wish to appear knowledgeable.
- Respondents in a DAR test attend to media as they normally would, focusing upon things that interest them and ignoring or dismissing things that do not. In this regard, they are very much like the audience watching the university instructor who may or may not attend closely to an interruption (the instructor interrupted by a student is in some regards similar to the way an advertisement interrupts a program or a magazine feature). People in a diagnostic test have their focus deliberately directed to the advertising, just as though someone told them to what they should pay attention. If only companies had someone telling consumers to pay attention to the upcoming advertisement!
- About 24 hours pass before respondents are interviewed in a DAR test, allowing time for inconsequential events to fade from memory and for more lasting impressions that remain to inform buying inclinations. Diagnostic interviews occur immediately after exposure determining less what people retain and more what is recognized.
As a consequence, the perspective that respondents have of advertising based on their participation in DAR tests and diagnostic tests is as vastly different as how the student in the lecture hall is normally regarded and how he is seen when people are tipped off beforehand. It’s like the difference between seeing the world as it is and looking through a distorting lens. The lens changes the way people see things and these differences distort what companies learn about their advertising from the type of testing they do.
- Communication of the strategic message is usually much higher among those who prove recall of an advertisement in a DAR test than among participants of a diagnostic test despite the fact that respondents in a diagnostic test have just seen the advertisement. In a DAR test, those who recall the commercial have done so because the message has engaged them. When the advertisement’s message resonates among consumers, that advertisement has a better chance of forming a connection with the individual and of being remembered. Consumers for whom the message has little relevance dismiss the message and are not as likely to remember it. The DAR test effectively identifies the prospects most likely to be affected by an advertisement because recallers connect with the message. Communications effectiveness is being measured among this select group. The diagnostic test, by contrast, determines how well an advertisement’s message can be recognized and reiterated by a sample of consumers who have just seen the message and can only report on what they recognize the message to be. Since some proportion of respondents included in the diagnostic test are those for whom the ad has little meaning and who would ignore or dismiss it in a DAR test, they often fail to connect with the key message, leading to lower levels of message registration. While message communication levels in a diagnostic test has value, particularly during early message development phases, it tells marketers less about how well the message forms a connection with the reader since consumers are responding with what they have just seen, not describing an impression that has connected with them that they have chosen to retain.
- Measures of intrusiveness between the systems are very different and generally do not correlate. Aided brand recall levels in a diagnostic test approach 100%. Respondents have just seen the advertisements so the task of identifying what appeared in clutter is a snap. Recalling an ad in a DAR test of respondents is tougher since an ad must connect with the consumer in a meaningful and lasting manner. Claimed recall to an aided brand prompt is often in the 20-40% range, depending on the DAR methodology, and the percent that can accurately “prove” that they have seen the advertisement that actually appeared is somewhat less than that. Respondents in a DAR test do not know that they are participating in a test of advertising and yet must recall the ad and accurately describe it 24 hours later despite the tens of thousands of other stimuli that have clamored for attention in the meantime. For an ad to be accurately recalled in a DAR test, it must truly “break through.” In a diagnostic test, it must only be identified as something seen a few moments earlier.
- Not surprisingly, ads that recall well in a small diagnostic clutter environment may not do well in a rigorous DAR test. Some research has indicated that established, familiar brands are more highly recalled in diagnostic tests while no such pattern has been detected in the 60+ years DAR tests have been used and studied. While branding may be recognized in a diagnostic test, the linkage between a brand and the ad concept may not be sufficiently strong for respondents to recall the ad in the name of the advertiser after 24 hours have passed.
There is a place in communications evaluations for both DAR tests and diagnostic evaluations. Diagnostic tests help spot when key messages fail to communicate or when an ad’s tonality is not consistent with a brand’s image. These tests are useful for screening and refining alternative concepts early in the developmental process. But diagnostic tests do not assess how the ad will perform in a real world environment nor do they provide essential insight into whether the advertisement is capable of breaking through sufficiently with consumers that a meaningful impression has been formed that can last until some action can be taken. One research expert has estimated that close to 70% of CPG advertising plays out with near-zero ad effects and blames this largely on advertising that has failed to break through.
Advertisers have opted for diagnostic tests in recent years for a variety of reasons – low cost and quick turnaround prominent among them. By saving money and time, many have risked multi-million dollar media budgets on messages that leave both Michael Imperioli as well as their target customers wondering what that advertising was all about.
This morning when I got up and went into the bathroom, there were 4 brands of soap, 2 brands of shampoo and 2 brands of conditioner from which to choose. After showering and dressing, I went into the kitchen and selected breakfast from 15 different boxes of cold cereal that sit on our pantry shelves. When I packaged my lunch, I had three brands of yogurt in the refrigerator from which to choose. Fortunately my wife and I are empty nesters; were our daughters still living at home, our product arrays would doubtless be even broader.
Such proliferation of brands within our household repertoire might suggest to many marketers that we do not represent particularly brand loyal consumers when in fact the opposite is true. Most of the cereals, yogurts, soaps, shampoos and conditioners are brands we have purchased repeatedly and even advocated to our family and friends. But our loyalty does not take the form of loyalty to a single brand within any given category and we are hardly alone.
Andrew Ehrenberg, late of the London Business School, when talking about brand loyalty, said that consumers select from a “portfolio of brands” often simply because they want a change. This observation has significant implication for brand managers. Building brand usership levels is not merely a matter of winning dedicated customers over to your brand. It is a far more complicated process as brand users switch between a favored set of brands for a variety of reasons. The classic tagline from the famous Peter Paul commercials for their Mounds and Almond Joy brands, “Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t,” is indicative of consumer spontaneous decision making that takes place in a wide array of product and service categories, not just impulse purchase categories like candy bars. Brand managers in the new marketing landscape are challenged with the creation of advertising that breaks through, reminds consumers of the availability of their brand, and primes it in their minds. But advertising must also reinforce brand traits that keep the brand within the consumer’s portfolio, and informs them of news about the brand, such as product improvements and line extensions in order to invigorate the brand and broaden its appeal over other portfolio brands. Both of these ends, priming and meaning reinforcement, contribute to creating preference and passion, which deliver substantial monetary value through loyalty and advocacy.
However, as marketing communications have become more sophisticated in their appeals to consumers, encouraging them to engage more deeply with the brand, persuasion measures used to gauge the effectiveness of those communications have not kept pace and remain rooted in the 1970s. Standard persuasion measures employed by many of the more popular copy testing methods are pre/post attitudinal change measures. Diagnostic tests rely on even more basic one-dimensional rating scales.
Pre/post attitudinal change measures grew in popularity in the 1970s as researchers began to believe that recall-based systems needed an additional measurement to provide insight into how well an advertisement helped develop a preference in the consumer’s mind for the advertised brands. The marketing model in vogue in those days was still focused on winning customers to the brand in the belief that, once there, they would become exclusively loyal users. Consequently, these persuasion measures saw the world in simple, brand-switching terms.
In a standard pre/post persuasion measure, respondents participating in an ad test are asked to indicate the brand they prefer in the test category as well as a number of masking categories prior to seeing the program or reading the magazine and accompanying advertising. Typical question wording instructs the consumer to “select the brand you truly want.” After exposure to advertising, respondents are asked again to select their preferred brand in each category using identical question wording. “Persuasion” occurs when a respondent who did not select the test brand initially selects the brand after ad exposure. This model intends to mimic the circumstance of a consumer with no prior preference for a given brand being “persuaded” by advertising to “truly” want the brand to the exclusion of other category brand choices. As such, it purports to measure the extent that consumers who formerly selected a competing category brand are persuaded to “switch” to the advertised test brand.
However, a “brand switching” mechanism of this type provides little information about how persuasive the advertisement has been in the realistic, far more complex world wherein consumers accustomed to preferring a portfolio of brands may have been influenced. In a “brand switching” mechanism, respondents who indicate preference for the test brand before seeing the advertising are not investigated further; their preference is taken for granted.
By the same token, many very basic diagnostic-style copy systems use a unidimensional scale, which asks respondents to simply indicate how likely they are to buy the brand after seeing the advertisement. For consumers with the brand already in their portfolio, intention levels are high and greater insight into the effect of the advertisement on brand purchase intentions cannot be derived with this measure.
In order to provide greater insight into this complex persuasion dynamic missing from standard persuasion measures, Gallup & Robinson developed Advanced Persuasion, a multi-dimensional metric grounded in engagement theory. Advanced Persuasion incorporates the entire persuasion dynamic, investigating ad effect among both consumers who already include the brand in their portfolio as well as those persuaded to the brand for the first time. Research has shown that standard persuasion measures can miss as much as 82% of the persuasive effect of an ad by failing to consider consumers with the brand already in their portfolios. These are the consumers standard persuasion measures fail to investigate and for many established brands, they represent the foundation of brand profitability, returning to the brand again and again.
Moreover, these consumers may be influenced by an ad along any of a number of dimensions, consequently Advanced Persuasion incorporates multiple measures in order to capture changes in consumer attitudes toward the brand along a number of key fronts where response has proven to be both sensitive to ad messaging and indicative of subsequent purchasing.
For those brands whose advertising needs to be about more than breakthrough, buzz, and liking, Advanced Persuasion provides an important new measurement option that will help lead to better, more informed advertising copy decisions.
In the fall of 2010, G&R was part of a group of seven leading research firms who were invited to take part in the NeuroStandards Collaboration study undertaken by the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) to increase knowledge about and transparency in the fast developing field of biometric and neuro-physiological research. The study was sponsored by American Express, Campbell’s, Chase, Colgate-Palmolive, Clorox, ESPN, GM, Hershey’s, MillerCoors, MTV Networks, NBC Universal, and Turner.
Each research company was given the same set of eight commercials to analyze using their own proprietary physiological methods which covered a range of approaches, including EEG (electrical impulses in the brain), SST (a variation on EEG), fMRI (blood flow within the brain), Facial Coding (visual analysis of facial expressions), and bio-metrics (heart and breathing rates, and skin conductance). G&R conducted research through its Continuous Emotional Response Analysis (CERA) system, which uses Facial Electromyography (fEMG) to assess emotional response to advertising and communications by measuring electrical impulses across facial muscle groups. FEMG focuses on measuring the degree of positive and negative emotional activation (called valence) that takes place when people are exposed to stimuli, in this case, watching television commercials. The system measures responses that originate in the deep brain, which occur subconsciously and are therefore uninfluenced by a viewer’s awareness of his or her thoughts or feelings about the test programming.
Results were then submitted to a panel of academics for peer review to analyze the relative strengths, weaknesses, and validity of each method, and to move to greater understanding of the standards for biometric research in advertising.
Although the ARF’s full report has not yet been released, there have been several subsequent presentations on the preliminary findings, most recently in a presentation given by the ARF at Advertising Week, the world’s premier gathering of marketing and communications leaders held annually in New York City.
The following points provide a quick summary of where the applied science currently is:
- Neuro-physiological measurement is an important advancement in advertising research. If only for its ability to provide insight about moment-by-moment response, it is a valuable means for understanding and improving commercial performance. Although much remains to be learned about the science and the application of the science for understanding advertising performance, it is clear that the neuro-physiological constructs of arousal and valence introduce important new dimensions for understanding advertising effectiveness.
- No one neuro-physiological system is clearly better than the others in every aspect. Each system has its own strengths and weaknesses and each can reveal important insights about how people respond to advertising. To decide which one is best for a particular study, it is important to consider:
- What the study is trying measure – just like priming is different from belief change and recall is different from persuasion, arousal is different from valence.
- The type of stimulus to be assessed – testing a 30-minute program is different from testing a 30-second commercial.
- Costs, which vary considerably among the systems.
- Because neuro-physiological systems are continuous response systems (readings are taken continuously as the person is being exposed to the commercial rather than after), they provide greater sensitivity about reaction during the internal components of the commercial than traditional after-the-fact approaches. Being able to pinpoint the specific moment of a drop or spike in activation can help creatives better optimize performance. However, isolating the cause of such changes is not always as straightforward as seeing what was going on in the commercial at that same time.
- Because neuro systems measure subconscious response, they measure non-cognitive responses more accurately than traditional systems. Non-cognitive responses are increasingly being shown to be an important instructor of behavior, including buying behavior.
- Because the various systems measure different aspects of neuro-physiological response to advertising, it is important for advertisers to start to learn about the specific measures and the value they have for their brands.
- There is little consistency in the terms and definitions used in neuro-physiological research, so systems that purport to measure the same thing might actually measure very different responses. For example, most suppliers claim to measure “engagement,” but the specific construct for what constitutes engagement varies considerably across vendors. Similarly, most vendors claim to measure “valence,” but their construct for what constitutes valence is actually arousal.
Bottom Line: When companies have important new content initiatives, neuro-physiological measurement should be considered as part of the research program on a level that is at least equal to qualitative and quantitative research. Using the results from all three approaches will yield the best insight into likely market response to messaging and how optimization can best be achieved.
For more information on our system, CERA, please visit our website, http://www.gandrllc.com/cera.html, or view our 8-minute PowerPoint presentation at http://www.youtube.com/user/GallupRobinson#p/a/u/0/4lE3_cDVXNo.
Some think that Target has lost its cachet. A June WSJ article says that the star retailer’s recession-driven strategy to focus on food and low prices works at the expense of its chic image. This, they say, has confused its audience and put pressure on the company’s large, high-margin fashion and home décor business. After you look at this ad from the September issue of House Beautiful, what do you think?
When we first saw the colorful ad, we were impressed by Target’s bold strategy and sharp focus (and not a little surprised by how broad the Missoni product line has grown). Going well beyond Missoni’s roots as an upscale Italian fashion house, the ad shows many home products such as drinking glasses, plates, bowls, even wall hangings, all with the iconic chevron design. In a magazine aimed at interests other than clothing and for a store interested in clothing and more, Target highlights the upcoming promotion with showing newly added accessories such as kitchenware, home décor, bikes, handbags and shoes, in addition to their flagship look in clothes. Target plans to spotlight the Missoni products between September 13 and October 22, or “as long as supplies last”, many of which will be sold within the startling price range of $2.99 to $54.99. Further, the ad features Margharita Missoni, the third generation family member and model involved in developing the Missoni line, differentiating and personalizing the brand from other design icons now part of large conglomerates.
If you haven’t heard of Missoni, mention the name to a few of your style-conscious friends or check out the 20-page Missoni for Target blockbuster in the September issue of Vogue.
As interesting as the ad was to us as an example of how to add excitement in a usually been-there-done-that product category, it was even more so as an example of high-risk-high-reward advertising. What do you think? Ennui or excitement? Risk or reward? Bonus question: Do you think the TV commercial is as strong as the print ad?
Postscript: Advertising Proof of Life
Added October 14, 2011
Target’s Missoni offer proved so successful that the Target website crashed on the first day. And in “an unusual fumble for the large retailer, Target was unprepared for online shoppers’ hunger for the items. The Target.com site was wiped out for most of the day; the company said that demand for items was higher than it was on a typical day after Thanksgiving, and that is usually the biggest shopping day of the year.” (New York Times) For the month, Target’s same-store sales were up a better than expected 5.3%.