Monday, July 24, 2006

Myths and Truths About Advertising Effectiveness – Part 2


Continued from my last post ...

Based on nearly 50 years of industry research, Tellis has developed several conclusions about advertising's effect on sales. Here are a few.

1. Weight alone is not enough. Very often, when an ad campaign is not meeting its goals, the first "fix" that comes to mind is to extend the flight length, or "weight," of the campaign. But studies have shown that increasing campaign weight is not enough to affect a change in sales, particularly in mature, saturated markets.

2. Advertising is a subtle force. Research has shown that, on average, sales increase 0.1% for every 1% increase in advertising spending. Tellis calls this "advertising elasticity," and the small amount shows that advertising is a "subtle" rather than powerful force, especially when compared to price changes, which have been found to have about 20 times the impact on sales. The point is that advertising has to be carefully planned and executed over an extended period of time.

3. The effects of advertising are fragile. By this, Tellis means that the effect of advertising may not be correctly measured by using the wrong analysis or method. The slightest misassumption or miscalculation can be caused by:

  • advertising's subtlety, compared with price or promotion;

  • lack of immediacy in effect; and

  • bias, caused by the fact that ads don't run in isolation, making it nearly impossible to determine whether the ad, something else, or a mixture caused a lift.

4. Firms often persist with ineffective ads. There are several reasons for this conclusion, including lack of sufficient testing, fear of the effects of cutting back, and competitive pressures. In addition, ad managers may boost advertising to help spike sales to hit topline goals, or may use up unspent ad dollars rather than risk losing the money in the following year's budget. This behavior often results in running unprofitable advertising, since ad managers don't always know how effective (or not) their campaigns really are.

5. Advertising's effects are not instantaneous. A portion of an ad campaign's effect can extend beyond the life of the campaign for several reasons. First, consumers take time to absorb (and trust) messages that interest them. Ads will resonate even further if they hear positive comments about them from their peers. Yet, even if interest in a product or company develops, consumers often are not motivated to make a purchase until they have a need for that item. These carryover effects allow advertisers to stop advertising for brief periods without suffering immediate sales loss. In fact, research shows that taking breaks in-between flights may work better than continuous long-term runs, and those that don't take breaks can actually overuse an effective campaign.

6. Advertising carryover is generally short. Despite common beliefs that the effects of advertising are long-lasting, research shows that the carryover effects can actually be measured in weeks, days, or even hours. And while people often remember slogans, campaigns, and jingles years after they've run, there is no conclusive evidence, according to Tellis, that those memories translate into purchases.

7. Advertising is effective either early on or never. Some believe that if a campaign doesn't produce results quickly, they simply need to give it more time. Research shows this strategy to be flawed, however, noting that extending the run of an ineffective campaign will not, in and of itself, improve its effectiveness.

8. Wear-in is very rapid, while wear-out occurs early. Optimization is a mission-critical process for any advertising strategy today. Marketers must optimize run time, in addition to creative elements, media placement, and other variables. The increasing effectiveness with repetition due to increasing awareness, trial, and purchase is called "wear-in." Once over that threshold, consumer saturation sets in, also known as "wear-out." This occurs anywhere from six to 12 weeks after campaign launch. It can happen as quickly as the very start of the campaign. In general, the faster the threshold is reached, the more rapid the descent. If it is slow and steady, wear-out will be slow and steady as well.

9. Hysterisis is very rare. "Hysterisis" — the lingering effect on sales after a campaign is suspended — is rare, but does happen. This is more likely when the advertised product is far superior to those already on the market; the campaign uses a novel approach, or word-of-mouth marketing #8212; primarily from the press — creates a domino-like pass-along effect. In the latter situation, the ad simply seeds the process, which then multiplies on its own accord.

10. Emotion may be the most effective appeal. The three most common types of appeals are arguments, emotions, and endorsements. Emotional appeals tend to do a better job of cutting through the clutter and getting attention; they require less viewer concentration than the other forms; and tend to be more vivid and better-remembered than other types of appeals. In addition, most viewers have the same kind of reaction — there is no counterargument — opening the door for a more immediate call to action.

11. Advertising is more effective for new products than for mature ones. Heavy competition may push mature products to overadvertise, causing consumers to tune out. New product messages, on the other hand, can be refreshing, generating more interest. In addition, competition for new products may be light, making the ads stand out more.

12. Advertising affects "loyals" and "nonusers" differently. It takes less advertising to generate a response out of an already loyal customer than it does to capture the attention of new customers. The paradox is that loyals are likely to become saturated more quickly with repetitive ads for a brand they already prefer, while nonusers require higher ad frequencies to attract their attention.

As busy as managers are today, it's easy to get confused between the things we know and the things we think we know. Tellis' conclusions, dispassionately derived from careful study of more than 50 years of valuable insight, help us step back and put our strategies in perspective. They also persuade us to question our advertising methods, processes, and thinking to ensure they're on the right track. Using some of the observations above to critically question advertising strategies and plans can only help improve the results — even if you disagree with Tellis' findings relative to your specific circumstances.

A checklist such as this can also be very helpful in developing a framework for parsing out the critical metrics for measuring the success of your advertising, and demonstrating to the rest of the organization that the advertising campaigns are well-vetted and planned to minimize the most common failure risks.

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