This winter we witnessed an inspirational competition amongst disciplined participants who struggled years and years honing their skills and finally rising to the apex of their chosen specialties. (Oh, and we also watched the Olympics.) Of course I’m talking about Olympic Advertising campaigns.

During this two-week event, we here at Ameritest narrowed down the competitive advertising field to 10 brand executions and had them face-off in our own battle of branding, break-through, and motivation.

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As we looked at the results, something became clear: Procter and Gamble and the folks at Wieden + Kennedy have come up with a championship concept, as their “Thank You Mom” campaign continues to win accolades as well as dominate our own Olympic ad podium. What is the secret to their success? We wanted to find out, so we took a closer look at one of their top competitors, the :90 “Thank You Mom,” spot.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5lsZkJiUmM

As we analyzed this ad, a key advertising research question came up: how can an ad not focused on a brand on product motivate consumers?

This question required more than a top-level look at the ad’s performance, so we delved into the optimization level of the Ameritest advertising research model:Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 11.05.10 AM

The Flow of Attention is the proprietary visual diagnostic tool that helps us understand how an ad’s visual structure contributes to its attention-getting power and brand identification. Since viewers can’t remember all images from an ad, the eye works like a search engine, searching for relevant visual filters out everything else. The Flow of Attention allows us to see what images viewers are unconsciously retaining after the ad is over. We do this by taking apart the ad, showing viewers individual frames in random order, and asking if they recall seeing the image. The Flow of Attention graph plots the percent of viewers who recall the image.

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As we examine this graph we pay close attention to the images that pique viewer interest relative to surrounding images. These images, peaks of attention, create the foundation of how viewers remember and think about the ad. During “Thank You Mom’s” 90 seconds, 14 images rose to the top:

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These images reveal the strength of the visual structure. The ad visually tells the stories of four olympic athletes, but viewers simplify this structure and focus primarily on the ice-skater (who, incidentally, is the only adult athlete whose face is easily visible at the start of the ad). In addition to the athletes, P&G and WK create visual anchors with art cards, adding a verbal component to the visual story. The ad’s visual structure capitalizes on these anchors, drawing viewer attention to the brand slates. Even though the brand doesn’t make an appearance until the end, viewers recall the brand image at high levels and the ultimately tie the brand to the ad.

The strong visual structure explains this ad’s medal-worthy performance in the Attention and Branding heats, but how does it motivate consumers?

There is no one way to make successful advertising. Emotion works differently in ads and each emotional structure is effective. It is not enough to simply measure the presence, type or even the level of emotion. To measure the role of emotion in advertising effectiveness, it’s critical to identify and measure emotion in the context of the story of the brand. To do this, we use the Flow of Emotion. 

The Flow of Emotion is another Ameritest proprietary visual diagnostic too. Images from an ad are shown to viewers in random order. Viewers are then asked if they have positive or negative feelings about the images. The positive and negative feelings are plotted here:

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This tool reveals an ad’s emotional structure, and what role the brand plays in that structure. In this case, “Thank You Mom” uses a build structure. Positive emotion builds throughout the ad and is ultimately transferred to the brand. Viewers credit Procter and Gamble as the source of their positive feelings, driving strong Motivation and Goodwill towards the brand.

After uncovering “Thank You Mom’s” structural strength, it was obvious that the ad’s story resonated with its audience. So we decided to examine the ad from a story perspective. To do this we looked beyond our Ameritest toolkit to the expertise of Robert McKee.

Robert McKee, A Fulbright Scholar, is the most sought after screenwriting lecturer around the globe. He has dedicated the last 30 years to educating and mentoring screenwriters, novelists, playwrights, poets, documentary makers, producers, and directors internationally. (http://mckeestory.com/about)

According to McKee, a purpose-told story must first hook interest. This ad accomplishes this by introducing the Olympic athletes, and one of these images stands out in viewer attention:

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Next, a story must express a need. In this case, the need is for these children to develop into athletes:

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At this point an inciting incident, in this case the mothers seeing their children’s potential, builds interest and involvement:

14021l_14And puts the story on the path to fulfillment. For this story, the path to fulfillment has two distinct phases. First the nurturing phase:

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All of which leads to the payoff, which initially seems to be the Olympic performance of the athletes:

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But ultimately is gratitude moment for the mothers:

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And, in the end, Procter and Gamble signs their Thank You Note to the mothers of the world.

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Procter and Gamble’s “Thank You Mom,” is an advertising success story driven by successful structure and a well-structured story.

To learn more about our Olympic advertising research, or our advertising research methodology, please visit our website: www.ameritest.net.

To learn more about Robert McKee and his seminars, please visit mckeestory.com or check out his book,  Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting.