What Consumers Don’t Like About Your Advertising – And 5 Ways to Fix It

March 22, 2010

What do consumers think about advertising? Is it broken? As I noted in a recent post, “The 5 Truths of TV Advertising Effectiveness,” single source and syndicated ad effectiveness studies generally line up on the side of advertising continuing to be effective. But, as they say in NASA speak: “Houston, we have a problem.” And the problem is that consumers are increasingly telling us they are fatigued by and distrustful of advertising. How should brands respond? 

Advertising Viewed Thru Anthropology

The Associated Press and Context Based Research Group recently published an intriguing report: “A New Model for Communication:  Studying the Deep Structure of Advertising and News Consumption.” The researchers used cultural anthropology methods to follow consumers from around the world throughout the day, observe their real world media behaviors, and question them about their attitudes toward news and advertising. This was an opportunity to go beyond hard numbers, to get insight into how consumers are thinking and feeling about advertising as a medium. 

TV Advertising: Omnipresent to Consumers

First, the news. Consumers feel bombarded by it, particularly the daily snippets and sound-bytes that provide basic facts and updates. Consumers felt these are necessary, but not sufficient. They also want the back-story behind the facts and to understand relevant “spin-off” stories. In short, they wanted news that provides depth and context. 

What Consumers Say is Wrong with Advertising

Moving from news to ads, consumers expressed feelings of fatigue and distrust. There is just too much of it. It seems that if an ad can be served somewhere, it will be, whether consumers want it or not. And how does this leave consumers feeling? Taken advantage of. 

Further, because of both its ubiquity and uni-directional nature, consumers are left feeling they are not in control. While advertising has never been seen as a high trust medium, the above factors work together to exacerbate the feeling that advertisers just can’t be trusted. 

But, Advertising as a Necessary and Even Useful Medium

The learnings from the news world are also learnings that apply to advertising: consumers want more than to just be bombarded by advertising everywhere they go. Consumers recognize the importance of advertising and, in fact, even value the information and entertainment value that (some of) it provides. 

And, they like sharing valuable information, some of which comes from advertising, with their personal networks. The research showed that consumers want to clear the clutter, regain control of the advertising information they receive, and reestablish trust with brands. This is reflected in how they actually consume media: they encounter ads, get over-saturated, investigate brands and information, and ultimately, share perspectives with peers when relevant. 

Consumers Trust Online Social Networks

5 Ways Marketers Can “Fix” Their Advertising

So, how can Marketers respond to consumers needs for an overhaul in the advertising environment, all the while respecting the fact that good advertising continues to work in building brands and business results? 

  1. Deliver More Engaging Ads – Research shows that ads which are relevant, persuasive, entertaining and emotionally engaging work to build brands and sales results. Research has consistently shown that creative quality continues to be the dominant driver in marketing communications success. And the AP research reinforces that consumers actually like and value top flight advertising creative.
  2. Deliver Ads in Relevant Content – Consumers really do pay more attention to ads when they are more relevant. And relevance is higher when you place your brands ad in a program which has relevant context.
  3. Create a Conversation – Consumers are looking for more two-way communication. While Forrester research shows that less than 1/4 of consumers will actually participate in conversations with your brand, there is a substantial group who will. They want to share their opinions and feel like they matter.
  4. Make Sharing Easy – Many consumers want to share relevant information and opinions with their personal networks. Brands need to make it easy to do so. Facebook Connect and other tools will increasingly enable consumers to share their views on brands with friends and others as they traverse the web.
  5. Be Honest, Open and Transparent – The AP research shows that consumers want to re-establish trust with advertising and the brands behind it. To do so, your brand must be honest, open and transparent. Brands that tell it like it is, listen to consumers, and deliver on promises are more likely to rebuild trust in their advertising.

So, it seems advertising still works despite the shortcomings of the current advertising environment. This is an opportunity for brands. Brands which directly address consumers concerns about advertising have the potential to provide useful information, regain consumer trust, and build long term relationships. 

Perhaps brands should even go so far as to tell consumers how they’re going to behave with respect to advertising. This would be a good first step in letting consumers know they’ve been heard and that brands are responding to the message. 

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Understanding, Identifying and Building Distinctive Brand Assets

March 15, 2010

This post is part of a continuing series of guest posts. Jenni Romaniuk is an Associate Research Professor of Brand Equity, Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, University of South Australia.

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This post is a summary of an Ehrenberg-Bass Institute corporate member report written in conjunction with Nicole Hartnett, Research Associate at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute.

Distinctive assets are non brand-name elements that are able to evoke the brand in the memory of consumers.   Some of the most famous examples include the Nike ‘swoosh’, the Aflac duck and Mastercard’s priceless advertising.  All of these elements are able to represent their brand name without needing any other prompting.

Aflac Duck - Distinctive Brand Asset

Many creative elements have the potential to become distinctive assets including: logos, slogans, colors, shapes, typefaces or fonts, characters, celebrities, jingles and/or music, sounds, advertising style, tastes, textures and scents.

However merely using one of the elements described above as part of your brand identity does not necessarily mean it is an ‘asset’ for your brand. For an element to be an asset, it needs to meet two criteria:

Uniqueness To what degree is your brand only linked to the element? When consumers link multiple brands to an element, brand confusion ensues. Ideally, marketers want to develop brand assets that are unique in their category.

PrevalenceHow many consumers link your brand to the distinctive element? The more consumers that are able to identify your brand based on the asset, the stronger and more valuable the distinctive asset becomes.

The Nike Swoosh Is Prevalent and Unique

Simply put, distinctive assets are more creative alternatives to directly showing a brand name, and they help create a larger brand footprint when elements are used in conjunction with the brand. Marketers can use non-word elements such as color, visual images, and sound to provide a multi-layered process for entry into consumer memory. On the consumer end, brand assets simplify brand identification outside of the advertising context, for example on-shelf or as a retail outlet.

How does an element become a distinctive asset?

To develop a distinctive asset, marketers need to make a commitment to consistent co-presentation of the element and the brand name across all consumer touch-points. Then, consumers must learn to associate the element with the brand.

Whether a brand has already developed distinctive assets or is embarking on creating elements, the main question marketers need to answer is: “Do consumers recognize my brand?” Throughout this process, keep in mind that for an element to be a distinctive asset it must evoke the brand, without prompting, for close to 100% of consumers. Only then can the distinctive asset be considered strong enough as a unique brand identifier. Ultimately, distinctive assets can replace the brand name in marketing initiatives.

I have created the Distinctive Asset Grid to enable marketers to classify their brand’s distinctive elements.  The grid is divided into four broad quadrants, which each represent the current state and future potential of a distinctive element.

If an element falls in the quadrant labeled …

Use: It is a strong distinctive element that evokes the brand from memory for the vast majority of consumers. Distinctive assets that fall in the “Use” quadrant are highly differentiated from those of competitive brands. Therefore, assets in this quadrant can be used to replace the brand name in advertising.

Invest: The element has unharnessed potential: it meets the most important criteria and it is highly unique to the brand.  However, not many people are aware of the asset (low prevalence) which restricts its ability to be used in place of the brand name. To further cement the element, it should be co-presented with the brand name.

Avoid: If the asset falls in the “Avoid” quadrant, marketers should be wary of using the element as an alternative to the brand name. Otherwise, the element may bring competitors to mind for consumers.

Ignore: An element in this quadrant is best unused in its present state. The exceptions are elements that are at the beginning of their development, as the majority of new elements have low prevalence and uniqueness. However, if an element’s uniqueness and prevalence have not developed after receiving proper marketing support, then the asset should be reconsidered.

Finally, some FAQ:

1.  Are there any drawbacks in using distinctive assets for brand identification?

While distinctive assets represent some opportunities, they also present some risks.  If you use the brand name to identify the brand in advertising, all who notice the brand name will know that it is that brand that is advertising.  However, if you only use a distinctive asset to identify the brand, and it is not 100% unique and prevalent, there will be some people who see the distinctive asset but don’t think of the brand name.  These are wasted exposures.

2. Do distinctive assets have to have a meaning for consumers beyond the brand name? (or is it better if they do?)

There is good reason to be cautious about selecting elements with strong meaning to develop as distinctive assets.  Firstly, the strong meaning will hamper the brand’s ability to attach the brand name to the distinctive asset.  This meaning will be evoked in consumer memory when the element is presented, which will then dominate and interfere with the development of links to the brand name.  Secondly, you can’t control the consistency of this past meaning.  Finally, what if the core meaning of the brand changes over time in response to consumer or market trends?  The distinctive asset will also need to change, negating the value of past investments.

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For more information on this research, contact Jenni: Jenni@MarketingScience.info

Jenni Romaniuk’s research interests are Brand Equity Metrics, Brand Salience, Distinctive Brand Assets, Brand Name Execution, Advertising Effectiveness and the influence of Word of Mouth on consumer behaviour, particularly in Television program viewing.  Her work has been published in European Journal of Marketing, Journal of Advertising Research, Journal of Business Research and Journal of Marketing Management.  Jenni is also past editor of Journal of Empirical Generalisations in Marketing Science (JEMS): www.empgens.com

The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute is a world-class research institute that delivers real scientific knowledge and dramatic discoveries to corporations all over the word including Coca-Cola, Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Turner Broadcasting. To learn more about the Institute visit www.MarketingScience.info

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The 2010 Marketing Landscape – Social Media & Business Predictions for Marketers

March 1, 2010

Marketing is in a state of change perhaps unmatched since the invention of TV advertising and brand management. As marketers consider how to better utilize the social web to build their brand in this rapidly changing environment, one good read is “17 Visionaries Predict Social Business Impact on the Enterprise.” At the start of 2010, Christopher Rollyson asked his colleagues, including me, from the LinkedIn Group CSRA Innovation Group to contribute their thoughts to this “crystal ball” gazing initiative.   

2010 Web 2.0 Predictions

What were some of the predictions from the group on the impact of web 2.0 on the future of Marketing?   

Marketing — More Real Time and More ROI

  • Marketing Will Become More “Real Time” —  My prediction  focused on a seismic shift in Marketing, with  marketers beginning to view  social networks as a significant marketing contact point with broad implications for how marketing is managed and measured. Dri­ven by dig­i­tal and Web 2.0, Mar­ket­ing will increasingly move from an annual marketing planning exercise focused on one-way communication, to a real-time, dynamically planned function focused on interacting with and responding to consumers in real-time. Mar­ket­ing effec­tive­ness will increas­ingly be mea­sured in real-time, and adjust­ments will be made “on the fly,” based on brand equity and ROI met­rics.
  • “Earned Media” Will Become More Measurable — And More Relatable to Paid Media —  The “greater focus for most com­pa­nies will be on demand creation through use of social media & Web 2.0 tech­nolo­gies,” according to Rob Peters.  Marketers will increasingly focus on the creation of “Earned Media,” and will build their measurement capabilities to better understand factors of success. As well, Marketers will increasingly think of media in a more holistic “Blended Media” framework, e.g. the mix of traditional paid TV, Web, etc. and earned media such as Twitter, blogs, organic search and such. This is important since TV viewership continues to increase, and TV advertising seems to work about as well as ever. Understanding the relationship and interaction of paid and earned media will continue to evolve and become more sophisticated in 2010.

Social Networks Will Become Increasingly…

  • More Able to Drive Relationship Marketing — Christopher Rollyson affirmed the increasingly important role of global social networks in “discovering, building and maintaining relationships.” Network theory shows that the more people who are in a network, the more powerful it becomes for all members. As social networks continue to grow and combine in new forms, this network effect will only increase the potential impact of social networks. And continued social media technical innovation will accelerate brands ability to build new and more interactive relationships with their customers.
  • More Cost Effective — On the topic of the growth of social networks, Suzy Tonini points out that Web 2.0’s “reach and cost-effectiveness have been a huge plus” in the midst of the recession. While not free, social media will continue to offer the potential to drive improved results at lower cost. The key will be for brands to understand what aspects of earned and paid media drive word-of-mouth, viral marketing and create a long tail of positive brand impressions on the web that continue to build the brand long after the initial effort is finished.
  • More Mobile with Greater Ability to Share Trust Based Information — Recommendations from people you know is consistently rated by consumers as a top marketing contact point. The continued adoption of Facebook Connect will drive this to a new level as consumers can increasingly log in to their favorite sites with their Facebook ID, and then access their social networks opinions and recommendations as they traverse the web. 
  • More Location Aware — Alvin Chin poses that “location-aware” geo-social networks will allow the recording of “social interactions in real life.” This will allow Marketers to increasingly “map” consumer engagement by geographic location, serve up relevant content, and interact in novel and interesting ways.

Geo-Social Networks Take Twitter and Facebook to the Next Level

Will the Predictions Become Realities in 2010?

Not every prediction comes true. Social media pundits predicted the death of TV and there’s just no evidence yet that it’s dying. That said, there’s no question that web 2.0 and social media will only expand in 2010.

Any marketer who questions the likelihood that these predictions about information sharing, the expansion of social networks, and brand building should consider the advent of Google Buzz. With the ability to share status updates to selected groups, interact with others via location-based software, and find answers via mobile search engines, Google Buzz takes the offerings of social media players like Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare to the next level. And that’s one digital phenomena that started out as a prediction.   

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