A review of current TV commercials reveals that nearly all major advertisers have come to realize that airing a campaign provides a higher chance of success than does airing a range of unrelated executions. Benefits, as documented by Communicus, often include stronger engagement and branding across executions, better message communication and – ultimately – better results for the brand.

But what exactly is a ‘campaign’ – and what isn’t? If your campaign doesn’t function as a campaign in the eyes of the consumer, it isn’t a campaign. And what’s the value of extending your campaign beyond TV to other traditional and nontraditional media and communications channels? Are there downsides to sticking too closely to your campaign?

Why do campaigns tend to outperform individual ads?
In today’s cluttered advertising environment, consumers are making more choices than ever about what to engage with and what to screen out. A new execution within a recognizable campaign is significantly more likely to make it through the attention filter than is a spot that carries with it no pre-existing reason to engage.

More importantly, an execution that is immediately recognizable as ‘another one of those Brand X’ commercials starts out with significant levels of correct brand linkage. In contrast, a commercial that enters the consciousness with no pre-established brand associations starts at zero – besides the challenges of being engaging and providing some meaningful communication about the brand, it has the additional task of registering the identity of that brand. It’s no surprise, then, that Communicus norms indicate that executions within an ongoing campaign achieve significantly stronger brand proved awareness than do stand-alone executions or those that are the first within a new campaign.

We also know that memories of prior commercial engagement are triggered by exposure to similar executions. So, a new execution within your campaign is going to remind the consumer of what he or she has learned from this campaign already. The new execution reinforces and builds from this base of pre-existing learning, unlike the stand-alone execution that starts as a blank slate from a persuasion standpoint. From an advertiser’s perspective, you significantly lower your risk of failure (wasting money airing a bad commercial) if each commercial that you air is part of a pool that, presumably, has some known degree of success associated with it.
But, your campaign is only a campaign if the consumer thinks it is.

Communicus research strongly suggests that a tagline doesn’t make a campaign. Even a tagline that is attached to a series of executions that are all built around a single strategic idea usually isn’t enough. The consumer hasn’t read your creative brief, and isn’t going to go to figure out that two disparate commercials which are both talking about the same end-benefit are coming from the same source – unless you help them to make that connection via common (and evident to the consumer!) creative links. These links across executions can be anything from a consistent story structure to a common cast of characters to a unique and consistent use of colors, music or other audio or visual devices. From a research perspective, a true campaign will nearly always display significant build in brand linkage and message comprehension as individuals within your target audience engage with multiple executions. In contrast, a series of executions that consumers do not perceive to be a campaign won’t exhibit any learning of brand or message associations with awareness of multiple executions. The consumer is NOT saying ‘oh, this must be another of those Brand X executions’.

So far, we’ve concentrated on TV campaigns. However, Communicus findings highlight the value of cohesive multimedia campaigns, as well. As with a good TV campaign, multimedia campaign benefits include cross-media brand linkage support and message build. Additionally, the use of a creatively linked multimedia campaign can enable you to convey multiple messages without creating consumer confusion. For example, a packaged goods marketer might use TV to reinforce core brand benefits and employ print –while consistent from a campaign standpoint – to focus on new flavor news.

However, as with all good things, there are significant potential downsides to campaigns. The main cautionary notes that emerge from Communicus findings are:

  • If your executions are too similar to each other, your consumer is likely to not notice that they are different at all. So, you think you’ve got a campaign, but the consumer just thinks she’s seen the same commercial way too many times.
  • Likewise, a campaign in which the ‘formula’ is very tight carries with it the risk of wearing out sooner than it should. This problem can usually be solved by evolving the campaign into new forms – maintaining equity elements while breaking out of the format in new and unexpected ways.
  • When the time comes to introduce new innovations or line extensions, the existing campaign may not be the best vehicle. Within your campaign format, there is a risk that the news gets lost and consumers think they’re just seeing a commercial that is once again providing the brand story.

So, yes, the news about campaigns is mostly good, and even more salient than ever amid the increasingly cluttered world of consumer communications. All else being equal, you clearly have a great deal to gain from developing and sticking with a good campaign. While findings indicate that you are likely to tire of your campaign before your consumer target does, there will be situations in which you will need to freshen or expand the boundaries that you’ve set around your campaign.

For more information, contact jeri@communicus.com or sonya@ameritest.net