On an old episode of Seinfeld, George Costanza perfected the phrase, “It’s not you. It’s me,” when ending relationships. To him, it was a simple, relatively painless means of getting out of a sticky situation. The irony, of course, is when a woman with whom he is in a relationship uses the same phrase on him to end it. Was it her? Was it him? Who was really responsible?
In marketing, different categories market different products. It’s intuitive. Financial service companies market their 401ks and credit cards. Restaurants offer up their menus. Telecommunications companies want you to try their mobile devices and television service subscriptions. Not all products are the same. But when it comes to advertising, might certain products be at a disadvantage because of the nature of the product? Might it be a case of “It’s not me, it’s you”?
To understand this nuance, we looked at our database of television commercials tested in the past 5 years. Totaling almost 1,400 tested ads, it provides us a look at roughly 200,000 interviews over time. This includes a majority of finished film executions, but also roughly 300 pre-finished advertisements. These ads were split into larger product groups, including retail, business services, telecommunications, financial services, consumer tech products, beverages, toys/games, food products, automotive products, restaurants and household products. We then looked at Attention (the Ameritest key performance metric of interested recall – often called breakthrough).
The question was: Are there certain categories that just struggle on breakthrough by the nature of the category? The short answer is: no, there are not. All of the categories tested (except household products) fell into the average range in terms of breakthrough (the average across all categories is 44% breakthrough power), indicating that they largely perform in similar patterns on breakthrough regardless of category.
More interesting to note is that within each category, the strongest and weakest performers also vary greatly. Any one category can have a very strong execution or a very weak execution on breakthrough, depending on the strategy and content included. All categories (except household products, which still had wide variations in performance) include at least one ad that had 60%+ breakthrough power and at least one ad that had less than 30% breakthrough power (see below).
The data suggests that there is no category that is held back by the nature of what it is advertising. The content and structure of an execution CAN hold an ad back, and we have seen this be the deal-maker or deal-breaker over and over again in our research. Consider these two ads from the QSR category, featuring similar product offerings but performing very differently on Attention due to how they hook and keep viewer interest.
So what will help you achieve strong breakthrough? After 25 years of testing ads, we know that Attention is a function of 1) entertaining content and a 2) well-structured storyline. Things that factor into the first element include whether an ad is perceived as unique, humorous, likeable and whether it has the ability to spark buzz or talk value. Excessive irritation, confusion or boredom can hold these ideas back and keep breakthrough from its full potential.
The second element involves making sure the elements of your story capture key syntax elements, such as 1) having a rising opening that hooks in viewers; 2) ensuring the focal points of the ad are relevant to the storyline by including pertinent story points, key information to the ad’s message and/or branded visuals; 3) having a continuous flow with no long breaks in viewer interest or focus; and 4) building interest over time visually, so that the ad ends on a higher note than which it began.
So is it me? Is it you? The answer is that it doesn’t have to be either. As an advertiser, you have the power to affect your own strength or weakness in performance. No brand or category is at a disadvantage just by the nature of the business; each unique execution has the ability to be a home run or a bust. That kind of knowledge is power, and it should empower us all to know that excellence may be waiting on the end of our pencils or in the mind of the person in the next room!
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