Keep On Grinding!

When I worked in New York, we spent a lot time analyzing commercial exposure with the heaviest viewing quintile, that is the one fifth of the viewers that see the most television.

These people saw a particular commercial 20 or 30 times. We had great fear that commercials with that kind of exposure would be worn out – providing diminished returns to the advertiser.

When I got to  Canada I found that even the lightest viewers see commercials well in excess of that kind of frequency. Media costs are lower than the US and production costs are about the same, so money is spent on more media to maximize exposure.

Why do we worry about wear-out? Well, theory says that there is a learning curve associated with commercials. The first time you see it, you don’t totally get it. It takes a couple or three viewings to understand the idea behind the commercial and get what is going on. That means that the first two times you don’t get the full impact of the commercial. The sweet spot, using this theory, is anywhere after about four times.

The same logic means that after a certain number of times viewing commercial “dis-learning” occurs. That is, the commercial irritates viewers and they get turned off on the product and eventually dislike it and the advertiser.

Who hasn’t heard, “I am tired of that damn commercial!” Think of the negative feelings you get from some irritating commercials.

Sure, there can be a positive side to irritation – it can make the commercial memorable. But there is also abundant research that if consumers like commercials it adds to their persuasive power.

So if there is a negative to too much, when does too much start and wear-out begin?

One thing I know for sure, after many years working in advertising: Advertising ideas wear-out with advertisers and agencies first. Long before advertising ideas wear-out with consumers, the advertisers and their agencies are seeking replacements. Rarely do advertising ideas really wear-out with the public.

Another source of wear-out is when there is a change of personnel at the advertiser. If someone’s predecessor was associated with an idea, that idea wears out really quickly with the new advertising manager as the new manager seeks to make their mark. An ego based development cost that ends up being paid by the advertiser.

And creative strategies? Strategies only wear-out when there has been a real sea change – when a new competitor enters the market or improves their product to make your claim invalid; when there is a change in product technology; or when a new category emerges to make your claims obsolete. Remember that Tide’s strategy of “cleans better” strategy has worked for decades.

Commercials themselves? Here are some guidelines I have experienced:
1. Humour wears out fastest if it relies on a joke. Once you know the punch line, the spot is useless. We were forced to air some Subway commercials developed by another agency based on the premise “stupid behavior is okay if you did something good for yourself” – like eating at Subway. They showed bizarre scenes of a guy washing his car in a cheerleader’s short skirt and a doctor telling a waiting family their loved one had died – as a joke. This lame humour wore out in one viewing. The campaign died quickly too – with a cringe. Which leads to the next point.
2. Poor taste wears out really fast and alienates customers. Be careful.
3. Commercials that bring a smile last very long. I was involved with the Jell-O Pudding Bill Cosby commercials. We would play them for people in Focus Groups over and over and over. They loved the warmth and good humour and wanted more of it. That same campaign lasted 25 years.
4. Songs last the longest if they are positive and can be learned and sung by viewers. That means they should have some underlying meaning other than “buy the product.”
5. Commercials that demonstrate product performance don’t wear-out that fast. They may be boring and left brained, but the information is not that objectionable on repetition.

I could go on with more examples, but I am convinced that the best commercials are those that address a clear and meaningful customer desire. Clever counts for award shows, but not necessarily for sales. Warmth and relevance always work.

Remember this thinking. It won’t wear-out any time soon.

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