The joke that nobody much laughs at in marketing circles is the one
liner ascribed to John Wannamaker. "Half my advertising dollars are
wasted, but I don't know which half."
If only the reality of marketing was that good! Rigorous reviews of
sales performance data by those willing to take an incisive look at the
state of marketing leads to a less generous total - maybe 15% of
advertising pays back its costs.
So what are the three most essential keys to doing better?
Casting is crucial
A dozen years of research has led me to realize that the talent cast,
especially in TV spots, but in print ads, direct mail and web sites too,
can create a swing of as much as 30% in preference, even when all other
variables tested are identical, i.e., tagline, product shot, layout,
Fundamentally, we have more positive emotional responses to, and prefer
to buy from, those who have "stage presence," and project likeability
and authenticity. Fake, or social smiles, are the bane of advertising.
Unfortunately, most talent is chosen through a casting process that by
its very nature leads to the selection of actors given to putting on
fake smiles, rather than true ones (in which the muscles around the eyes
relax), which are signaled by a twinkle in the eye. Often actors "fake
smile lingers too long, comes across the face too quickly, or departs
too fast, in what I call the guillotine smile." Meanwhile, portrayals
of negative emotions - sadness, fear or surprise (which should last a
second or less) - are often more problematic.
Worse, executives who appear in their brand ads are more prone to
inauthentic acting than professional talent. Since trust is the key
emotion of business, good casting and authentic performances are crucial
to creating engaging, persuasive advertising.
Our normative database indicates that both drama-based ads, and ads that
rely on testimonials, struggle to drive purchase intent. The biggest
culprit in execution being off-emotion acting that undermines the
delivery of on-message claims.
Simplicity is sweet
Nevertheless, most clients suffer from message-itis, in the desperate
hope that adding one more claim, benefit, or fact will somehow carry the
day and lift market share. It won't.
Meanwhile, most agencies love special effects and add more camera angles
and edits than the average viewer can follow. Cut! I've found that
frustration is the hidden emotional cancer of advertising: typically,
20% to 40% of emotional responses consumers during initial exposure to
an ad qualify as frustration. Why? People don't feel they "get" what's
That's no way to grow market share. Neurobiology has shown that forcing
people to over-think causes them to under-feel, to drop out, just when
creating an emotional connection is essential, given that the emotional
part of the brain processes 10 times as much data as the rational brain.
Lose people emotionally and you lose the sale.
Provide a sense of change or other form of tension.
Half the brain is devoted to processing visuals. To leverage that
brainpower, motion is vital. That could be anything from a change in
people's expressions, to the movement of people or objects, a change of
settings, or animated imagery. Stimuli in motion works because the mind
is geared to notice changes in the status quo, which represent threats
(survive) or opportunities (thrive). Either way, people will be
motivated to heighten their awareness.
Moreover, in getting people to focus on change make sure the motion is
placed in the middle of the screen, or layout, so that it commands both
eyes. We instinctively focus on the middle field of vision, or on things
moving into the middle field. What's visually peripheral is also
Finally, in regard to change there's the often-necessary option of
depicting change not only by literal motion, but also from a change in
plot line. Many an ad involves a problem/solution scenario, or other
form of contrast. The problem is that often the cautious client won't
agree to depict the problem in a heartfelt manner. Unfortunately, when a
problem isn't deeply felt, its' solution won't be seen as valuable. In
other words, Milquetoast depictions of human discomfort or
disappointment aren't compelling and don't drive purchase intent.
At the end of the day, or spot, if you want your ads to pull, make them
sincerely address a heartfelt problem in a realistic manner via an
authentic depiction. And, ask the CEO to stay in his office.
This material was drawn from Dan Hill's forthcoming book About Face:
The Secrets of Emotionally Effective Advertising, Kogan Page, October 2010,