Skip to main content

Market Voice

Less price promotion and product-focused ads doing better in COVID; public wants to hear from brands

By Orlando Wood - Chief Innovation Officer, System1 Group

18 May 2020 10min read

By Orlando Wood - Chief Innovation Officer, System1 Group

18 May 2020 10min read

Orlando Wood is the author of the ground-breaking 2019 advertising bestseller, Lemon, and chief innovation officer at advertising research firm System1. Wood says  even as consumers shift from fear to sadness and anger, System1’s global consumer tracking studies show they’re ok with ads during COVID-19. But what ads are working?

 

London-based Orlando Wood and his colleagues at System1 are active every week in 12 international markets, including Australia, testing and tracking consumer sentiment and attitudes toward advertising and communications – equating to about 15,000 ads a year. Australians, says Wood, are now showing some early signs of moving on from widespread sadness. Wood says leading brands internationally have been forced through COVID-19 to reassess their preference for what he describes as "left-brain" advertising.

Old school thinking, you might say? No longer – there’s a new twist. In Lemon, Wood revives a new intellectual underpinning for more creative – and more effective – advertising based on the work of former Oxford scholar, Dr Iain McGilchrist. He studied brain-damaged patients and concluded the left and right brain hemispheres bring a different kind of attention to bare on the world, to widespread academic peer acceptance.

Today, the brain’s two spheres are no longer considered to do different things. Rather, they process those same things differently, says Wood. The left brain is narrower, goal-orientated and tends to isolate parts from the bigger picture - it's interested in things and tools; the right brain, meanwhile, is responsible for broad and vigilant attention, it sees the whole rather than the parts and it's interested in people.

So it is with this context Wood says COVID-19 is changing up how many brands globally are re-evaluating their advertising strategies. “What’s really important is that people are largely connecting with advertising during COVID, just as they did before,” says Wood in a conversation with Mi3 last week. 

"It’s not a given that COVID-19 tactical response advertising will connect any better than previous work. While some brands' COVID tactical response advertising is better than their pre-existing work, some is worse. The brands that seem to be doing it well are retailers, communications, broadband, telcos and others like them. Their advertising tends to show people connecting, enabling life and doing valiant things. That really connects with people in a way that their prior advertising didn't - it has been, by and large, pretty left brain with an emphasis on price promotion and product. Crisis restores meaning and it's reminded many companies what their brands  are really, really here for.”

Interestingly, System1’s consumer tracking shows Australians have shown similar levels of public fear to the UK and US markets over the past 8 weeks but sadness last week was now at half the level here (14%) compared to the UK (29%) and 20% in the US. But Americans sense of anger and disgust (15%) is more than double that in Australia (6%) with the UK on 9%.

So now to the real stuff – enjoy Orlando Wood’s insights.

 

This piece from Orlando Wood, Chief Innovation Officer of System1, is part of LinkedIn's B2B Institute series of data-driven articles exploring the effectiveness of advertising during an economic downturn. The first article in the series, written by Peter Field, can be read here

 
Executive Summary

Many companies are putting advertising on hold, unsure of the public’s mood and unsure if their ads will connect well in this crisis. Recent research suggests that 55% of advertisers have paused campaigns in response to the situation. It is clear that marketers need to see useful data that answers the real questions they have before advertising can move forward again:

  • What is the mood of the nation?
  • Has there been a pivot in what society values and, if so, what towards?
  • Will the ads I made and aired prior to the crisis continue to connect in the current context? 
  • What kind of ads will and won’t connect during this crisis?

Using new data from ad testing firm, System1, this paper answers the above questions and offers marketers the below guidance:

1. There has been no reduction in advertising’s ability to connect with people, despite research showing the general deterioration in mood across many nations sampled.

2. Certain advertising characteristics are connecting slightly better today: 

  • ads using established brand characters or campaign scenarios (fluent devices)
  • ads showing human connection and ‘betweenness,’ and exhibiting self-awareness
  • ads with a connection to place and community 
  • ads set in the past

3. Certain advertising characteristics are connecting slightly less well at this point in the crisis:

  • ‘hard sell’ ads, directly focusing on price and promotions
  • ads focusing on things over people
  • ads that are highly rhythmic 
  • ads reliant on on-screen words
  • ads that are aggressive, competitive or focused on performance
  • and ads that indulge vanity 

4. Companies should embrace generosity of spirit, humor, humility and spontaneity in their communications and working practices; these are values that will connect with people in the current climate. 

 
How should brands approach advertising in this unprecedented crisis? 

We might start to answer how brands should advertise in this crisis by examining how people are feeling in countries across the world. System1, where I am Chief Innovation Officer, has been measuring the shift in the public’s mood as the pandemic takes hold. In a tracker for a European client, we ask a general question about how people are feeling, using our pictorial emotional response scale. The pattern in Italy, one of the worst affected countries to date, shows the mood took a turn for the worse after the lockdown, and over 25% of people report feeling sadness, fear or anger today.

Fig.1 Deteriorating mood in Italy. Weeks 1-8 are aggregated to indicate ‘typical’ mood. Intensity Score shows intensity with which any emotion is felt (from 1-3) and incorporates the proportion feeling neutral, who are assigned a score of zero. Data from System1 Group 2020, published in the series of All Weather Marketing essays by the B2B Institute.

 

As the comparisons with weeks 1-8 show above (Fig.1), people are feeling unprecedented levels of fear and sadness. Note that this is simply in response to a generic question about respondents’ mood, which makes no specific reference to the virus. 

In a dedicated weekly tracking study across 13 markets, we see that the picture at the time of writing is similar across the globe, as the pandemic and the measures to contain it take hold (Fig. 2). 

Fig. 2 Fear and sadness across the globe. Data from System1 Group 2020, published in the series of All Weather Marketing essays by the B2B Institute.

 

When we ask people specifically how they feel about the virus, the picture is even more sobering. Sadness and fear dominate, but anger, disgust and contempt are also visible.

Fig. 3 Global concern about the Coronavirus. Data from System1 Group 2020, published in the series of All Weather Marketing essays by the B2B Institute.

 

People are not just fearful for themselves and their loved ones, but for their livelihoods. Our data suggests that over a quarter of people are already feeling the effect on their income. In the US, nearly 17 million people have lost their jobs, and there are approximately 10 times the number of new benefits claimants already than there were during the 2008 recession.  

Fig.4 The effect on livelihood. Data from System1 Group 2020, published in the series of All Weather Marketing essays by the B2B Institute.

 

The economic effects of Coronavirus and the change in the public’s mood are giving advertisers pause for thought, and some companies are putting all advertising on hold for the sake of short-term survival. 

But what approach should companies who can and want to advertise take? 

 
The World Has Become Increasingly Left-Brained

You can’t study culture without studying the human mind, and you can’t study the human mind without studying culture — the two are inextricably linked. 

Advertising is part of culture — it both leads and reflects it. Advanced study of the brain and its right and left hemispheres helps us to understand something of both culture and advertising today.

The brilliant work of neuropsychologist and psychiatrist Dr. Iain McGilchrist explains that it’s not that the two brain hemispheres do different things as once thought, rather, it’s that they do things differently, have different takes on the world, different ways of seeing. This recent and more nuanced understanding of brain lateralization has a very real bearing on the remarkable period we are in today and the style of advertising that will connect with people. 

Studies show that the left brain is narrow and goal-orientated in attentional style; it likes to categorize, to break things down into smaller parts, to create flat, representational models of things in order to control them. It likes tools and things with which to manipulate the world, principal of these being language. In short, the left brain is procedural; it’s an efficient bureaucrat, an intermediate processor. The right brain is broad and vigilant, sees the world as it really is, is empathetic, understands people and the implicit; it is alert to threats, open to novelty and contradiction, can see that two opposing thoughts might both be true at the same time, and therefore understands metaphor and humor. It is aware of its time and place in the world — it is self-aware — and it is what gives us our sense of lived time and depth. It has a sense of responsibility towards others, an alertness to people, the living and the wider world, and a tendency towards altruism. It also enables us to appreciate music and harmony. The right brain is rooted in the real world, has a deep embodied connection with it and sees things as they really are. In short, the right brain is intuitive and empathetic, it’s a community connector and social animal.

It is also important to note that the left and right hemispheres are connected by the corpus collosum, a bundle of fibers that enables each hemisphere to suppress the other at any given time. However, the left brain has a greater suppressive effect on the right brain than vice versa, leading to left-brain dominance in individuals and society at certain periods in history.

Fig.5 The attentional preferences of the two brain hemispheres, with the right hemisphere peeled back to reveal the corpus collosum. Illustration from Lemon © IPA. From System1 Group 2020, published in the series of All Weather Marketing essays by the B2B Institute.  

 

This ‘procedural’ and ‘literal’ left-brain dominance has many implications: 

  • For politics: society becomes self-conscious, brittle, angry and polarized (anger lateralizes to the left brain) and things are increasingly seen as either truths or lies. Things are increasingly seen through the lens of power and control.
  • For business: there is an emphasis on repetition and replication; things become increasingly rhythmic and focused on the written word; narrowness of focus, productivity and efficiency become important. 
  • For culture: the creative arts become flatter, more abstract and devitalized. Things are stripped back to the ‘authentic’; metaphor and characters are removed. Visual depth disappears and harmony is stripped away.

For the last two decades, in the digital and global age, there has been a shift in society towards left-brain dominance. This also occurred in the late Roman period and the Reformation, and it’s become acute again. Today, a narrow and goal-orientated type of attention is applied to all things, a tendency to see things as black or white, as truths or lies. Self-awareness has given way to self-consciousness and paranoia. We see things in linear cause and effect terms, rather than as interconnected. We categorize people and things, apply engineering flowcharts to business, and introduce processes. There’s a lack of uniqueness in popular culture; pop music has become increasingly manufactured, rhythmic and repetitive. In TV programming, we see an emphasis on making things (the preserve of the left brain), and on repetitive and competitive formats. 

Advertising has not been impervious to this left-brain shift. As the below graphic shows, advertising creative has become flat, abstracted, devitalized, dislocated from time and place, lacking in empathy, didactic, reliant on the word, posturing and self-conscious. This style of advertising doesn’t attract or sustain attention, doesn’t elicit an emotional response, and doesn’t get remembered – even in periods where we don’t face the threat of a global pandemic. It is, perhaps, no surprise that this shift to left-brain advertising has coincided with a drop in advertising effectiveness over the last 15 years.

Fig. 6 Features of ads that might be described as ‘left-‘ or ‘right-brained’. From System1 Group 2020, published in the series of All Weather Marketing essays by the B2B Institute.

 

Marketing consultant Peter Field has written extensively about the alarming collapse in advertising effectiveness over the last 12 years (see chart below). He has also observed the shift in creative style, noting that advertisers have been ‘changing the very nature of the type of advertising we are generally exposed to: instead of emotionally engaging human stories that seek to charm and captivate, we are seeing more didactic, literal presentations that seek to prompt us into action.’

Fig.7 The declining effectiveness of creatively awarded campaigns from Lemon, IPA, 2019, but originally published in The Crisis in Creative Effectiveness, Peter Field, IPA, 2019. Published in the series of All Weather Marketing essays by the B2B Institute. 

 

Are We On The Verge Of A Right Brain Reset?

“[…] Sorrow and sadness sat upon every face; and though some parts were not yet overwhelmed, yet all looked deeply concerned; and, as we saw it apparently coming on, so every one looked on himself and his family as in the utmost danger.”

- From A Journal of the Plague Year, Daniel Defoe, 1722.

Something’s happened over the last few weeks, however, that might be changing the way that people attend to the world, and it is, of course, the Coronavirus. Those with left-brain dominance have been slow to react: the left brain has an unfounded sense of optimism and it’s dogmatic and fixed model approach to the world is less able to adjust to new events or understand their enormity. For this, we rely on our right brain, which presents the world to us as it really is. But slowly, this devastating virus is causing everyone to stop, to look around, and to be vigilant. Our right brain is on high alert, processing our new environment and new threats. We see the right brain at work as people reflect on other periods of hardship, drawing parallels with — and lessons and comfort from — the past. The right brain causes us to look out for others; we see it already in communities in moments of right-brained spontaneity, altruism and even humor, as we learn to cope. This is currently manifesting itself in applause up and down streets for health-workers, in postmen donning fancy dress costumes to cheer up those on their rounds, in people singing from their balconies. The Coronavirus has forced a mental shift and its legacy may well be a right-brain reset for society. 

This mental shift explains some of the media consumption data that is emerging — a shift towards empathic programming that shows people connecting, that provides entertainment, and that offers solace through music. System1’s survey data suggests that the types of TV programs that people will want to watch over the next week are films, comedy and drama — even above news. Simulmedia reports that audience figures are up for entertainment and news. Comscore has similarly reported an increase in personal messaging, and a greater interest in entertainment, music and spiritual content in Canada. 

Fig. 8 The importance of entertainment programming. Data from System1 Group 2020, published in the series of All Weather Marketing essays by the B2B Institute.

 

This echoes other periods in history. Plagues of the late 14th and 15th Centuries and then the late 17th and early 18th Centuries, coincide with a heightened empathy in culture, an awareness of time, place and connection with other people. The Renaissance and Baroque periods saw contrast, mixed emotions, perspectival depth (which goes together with empathy) and awe (an acute sense of one’s moment and place in the world) in art, music and architecture. The revival of religious devotion was also prevalent following the plagues and epidemics of the late 17th and early 18th Centuries. 

This raises an interesting question: if people today are changing what they choose to watch and listen to, if they are looking for something more empathic, is there any sign that people are changing how they respond to advertising?

 
Are people responding any differently to ads today?

And, relatedly, what makes for effective advertising? 

A general marketing principle dictates that for every 10 points of ESOV (extra share of voice) you will achieve 0.5% points of market share gain. This is a principle championed among others, by Peter Field and Les Binet. But it is a model that can be improved upon. Measuring emotional response to all ads in a category allows an adjustment to brand ESOV to be made, improving the relationship between ESOV and market share gain. This adjustment gives a clearer prediction of market share change for brands in a category – a measurement of quality as well as quantity of advertising. It is a measure of how well an ad will connect with people, and its ability to attract and sustain attention, to get noticed and remembered. 

System1 measures such emotional response to advertising. Working with effectiveness data, we have developed a means of converting emotional response to an ad into a Star rating (1 Star = no growth amplification to 5 Star = high growth amplification), which, when applied to a whole category, can be used to adjust upwards or downwards a brand’s share of voice to explain market share growth over a longer time period. Fig.9 shows the ability of brand ESOV to predict share of market, with and without a correction for emotional response. 

Fig. 9 The effects of TV ESOV on subsequent category market share, with and without a correction for emotional response to advertising. Data from System1 Group 2020, originally published by the IPA in Lemon, and re-published with permission in the series of All Weather Marketing essays by the B2B Institute.

 

So what is happening to the Star rating of ads today?

System1 tests every ad that airs on TV, within a day of it airing, for emotional response across a number of key sectors in the US and the UK. Looking at a daily feed of emotional response scores enables us to see whether there has been any change in the ability of ads to connect with audiences – an indication of its effectiveness. Fig.10 below shows the aggregate daily Star rating from our testing. The bar chart (top) shows that, as of 27 March, across all ads in the UK and the US, there has been no appreciable change in the ability of ads to connect with audiences. The drop on 17 March is the result of just one new ad appearing that day, and performing particularly poorly  (the bar chart beneath shows the number of new ads appearing and being tested daily in our system). 

This is reassuring, but to understand this more definitively System1 re-tested 100 ads — mostly B2C — in the UK (50 ads) and the US (50 ads) from January and February 2020 (the period before the pandemic hit these countries) to investigate whether these ads are connecting any differently today. The ads were chosen at random from across the sectors covered and the re-test was conducted over the weekend of 21-22 March. 

Table 1 showing the effects of re-testing ads from January and February 2020 during the Coronavirus crisis in the US and the UK on System1’s key effectiveness measures of Star Rating, Spike Index and Fluency. Data from System1 Group 2020, published in the series of All Weather Marketing essays by the B2B Institute.

 

 

The results of the retest show that, on aggregate, ads from January and February 2020 are connecting just as strongly today as they did then, as the table below shows. 

We would expect to see some fluctuation in scores from one test to the next on account of sample error, and indeed, reversion to the mean, but the correlation (fit or relationship) between the scores before and during Coronavirus is very strong and significant. The scatter plot below shows the relationship between the original score and the score today for each ad. 

Fig. 11 Comparison of original and retested Star rating scores for each ad in the US and UK (100 ads). Data from System1 Group 2020, published in the series of All Weather Marketing essays by the B2B Institute.

 

Interesting and useful patterns emerge, however, at the fringes, in the ads that display the biggest differences in scores between the original test and the re-test. From these we can offer some helpful guidance to advertisers as to what might work better (and what might not work so well) during this period of crisis.
 
Creative Guidance For The Crisis

In his accompanying essay for LinkedIn on Advertising In Recession: Long, Short, or Dark, Peter Field makes an argument for airing brand building advertising in the crisis. This is supported by the analysis of the creative that follows. The features of the ads that are performing slightly better today read like descriptions of classic brand building advertising; the features of the ads performing slightly less well today, like descriptions of classic sales activation advertising. The ads that are performing better today feature many of the right-brain features that are so effective at connecting with audiences and eliciting an emotional response. Conversely, the ads that perform slightly less well today are those ads which feel distinctly left-brained — those focused on things over people, those that are direct, self-conscious, and reliant on words and rhythm, those that are competitive, those that focus on control and performance, and those that more aggressive in tone. 

What follows are five features of ads that are holding up well in today’s context, five that aren’t holding up well, and corresponding examples. 

 
What Holds Up Well
  1. Fluent Devices — Characters. Ads that feature established brand characters — what I refer to as character fluent devices — continue to perform well. Xyzal’s owl reading a bedtime story goes from 2.0 to 3.1 Stars and the Philadelphia Schmelier, who goes to extreme lengths to craft the perfect cream cheese, moves from 4.0 to 4.6 Stars. Established characters provide consistency in a time of crisis. Characters also have the benefit of operating in a slightly parallel brand world; one that can remain unaffected by world events and allows brands to play with humor. They are therefore never out of place and can also be used to reference the current context safely from a distance.
  2. Fluent Devices — Scenarios.  Ads with a repeatedly used scenario or with a familiar tagline that makes sense of the conceit. Weetabix’s repeatedly used scenario fluent device — ‘She’s had her Weetabix’ (UK) moves from 4.0 to 4.3 Stars and Snickers’ ‘You’re not you when you’re hungry’ bank robbers (US) moves from 2.6 to 3.0 Stars. Again, these are established and often entertaining conceits, which play out in a slightly parallel make-believe world. They often depict a scene unfolding — a drama not a lecture — with characters or actors playing parts. 
  3. Ads set in the past. Ads that reference the past, that have a clearly defined sense of time and place. An ad for Amazon’s Alexa (US) asks ‘what did people do before Alexa?’, before showing us several humorous fictitious scenes from the past, where characters (in costume and historical sets) ask the type of questions we might ask Alexa today (ad moves from 3.7 to 4.4 Stars). A Doritos ad (US), again set in a fictitious past, which parodies a Western gun duel scene, moves from 5.1 to 5.9 Stars. Ads that are set in the past enable you to show groups, human connection and humor, while avoiding any sensitivities associated with a modern-day context.
  4. Ads celebrating ‘betweenness.’ Ads that celebrate human ‘betweenness’ — particularly in the household and small groups — continue to connect. An ad for Orbit in the US shows the flirtatious glances between a man and a woman at a poolside party. The man pops an Orbit in his mouth and instantly develops a peacock’s tail. The woman gives him a coy, knowing glance and approaches him, touching the peacock tail, wryly and knowingly poking fun at self-image and courtship rituals (the ad moves from 2.7 to 3.4 Stars). A Comcast cable ad depicting a humorous scene between flatmates consoling their friend after a break-up (US) moves from 1.6 to 2.1 Stars and a Donegal Insurance Group ad (US) showing — and describing protection for — families, moves from 1.0 to 1.6 Stars. One of the biggest fallers, on the other hand, is a Citroen ad describing how good it is to ‘disconnect more often’ (moves from 2.4 to 1.5 Stars). 
  5. Ads with strong connection to place and community. Ads that have a strong connection with our immediate surroundings – with place and community. A Patak’s sauces ad (UK) describes the Patak family’s arrival in the UK as first-generation immigrants. It opens on a shot of a UK city street and describes how a family created a ‘new family tradition’ with their recipes. The ad also references the past, with people in period clothes, and holds up well (moves from 3.7 to 4.0 stars). An ad for the Western & Southern Financial Group talks proudly of its roots in Cincinnati and invites people to re-locate to the city (move from 1.2 to 1.6 Stars). Ads which celebrate togetherness and local community will perform marginally better in today’s context. 
 
What Doesn't Hold Up Well
  1. The direct ‘hard sell’ ad, focused on price or promotion. Ads that stress price and offers — at least at this stage in the crisis. Examples include Talk Talk’s (UK) fibre broadband ad and BT’s (UK) broadband ad. Another example is a US Cellular’s cell phones ad, which uses a split-screen, features on-screen words, and voiceover repeatedly offering 50% off its phones (‘wait, you want more?’). The left brain focuses on things, wants and desires, the right brain on people, longing and yearning. It is notable that ads for these companies and their products should be performing less well today, when their product is in such demand with social distancing and increased homeworking.
  2. Ads focusing on things over people. Ads that focus on things or making things rather than people. Examples of this include Sara Lee’s Artesano bread range (US, which shows sandwiches being made) or Samsung’s S20 phone ad (UK), which features multiple shots of cameras, lenses, screens and phones, to a rhythmic soundtrack. 
  3. Ads that pander to vanity or self-image. Ads that are highly self-conscious and encourage you to project an image to the world. Examples of these include Billie razors (US), the ‘unicorn of razors’, showing shots of women who claim to be ‘obsessed’ with the product, shaving long hair off their legs, face and underarms. Maybelline’s Falsies Lash Lift (UK) relies on a rhythmic soundtrack and words on-screen. 
  4. Ads reliant on words and rhythm. Advertisers hoping to move quickly will be tempted to make use of words relaying messages on screen. An ad for the Good Feet Store (US) consists only of a series of sentences flashed up against a white background. Over-reliance on the use of on-screen words and rhythmic soundtracks are common features of ads that are performing worse today.
  5. Aggressive, competitive or performance-focused ads. A GMC truck ad (US) shows numerous objects being projected mechanically and violently at high velocity against a GMC truck bed to demonstrate its strength. An ad for Acura cars shows high octane and highly competitive racing scenes, punctuated with the line ‘beat that’ (also flashed up as words on screen). It is high energy, loud and aggressive in the current context. 
 
What about B2B ads?

Most of the ads described so far have been B2C ads. 

What about the B2B ads in our testing? How do they perform?

B2B ads tend to connect less well emotionally than B2C ads, though this needn’t be the case. An analysis of B2B advertising before the crisis shows the distribution of B2B ad scores against B2C ads (Fig. 12). More than 75% of B2B ads achieve only 1-Star and tend to feature many of the left-brain characteristics described above.

However, one B2B ad stands out as performing much better today than when it first aired: an ad for West Bend Mutual Insurance in the US (from 1.0 to 2.2 Star). This ad didn’t originally connect well, in part, because it is reliant on voiceover, which suppresses emotional response, and short sequences (rather than one scene unfolding). However, the ad rotates through scenes of entrepreneurs and small business owners (a beautician, a vet and a gym owner) interacting with their customers, showing them care and attention, and we see faces, smiles and connection. There is also music — a piano transcription of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, from Symphony no. 9.  

Fig.12 The distribution of Star scores for B2B and B2C ads. Data from System1 Group 2020, published in the series of All Weather Marketing essays by the B2B Institute.

 

 
Here is the West Bend ad’s voiceover:

Your business is made from your DNA | Your blood, your sweat, your tears. | From a gleam in your eye, you gave it what it needed to grow. | Into the pride and joy it has become. | You wouldn’t dream of letting anything happening to it. | So you lavish it with love | And wrap it in the cosy warmth of a silver lining. | Pamper your business, with a policy from West Bend.

In today’s context, as businesses close their doors and lay people off, the ad feels poignant. It feels highly empathetic, and is gentle and supportive in tone, which may be why we see its score increase. 

While the West Bend results suggest that this reassuring tone will land better in the crisis than it might have done a month ago, its Star score still indicates the creative approach is not optimal for long-term growth. 

B2B brands can benefit greatly from B2C practices, if they can learn to adopt its more right-brained characteristics.

 
Call to Action

The temptation for many companies, assuming they are advertising at all, will be to take a rather linear approach to advertising in this crisis. With production companies unable to conduct real-life shoots, there’s a danger that those developing new campaigns will adopt a left-brained approach that’s reliant on words, stock imagery or testimonials to camera. But this style of advertising will be unlikely to work so well and is not the only route you can take.

Here are three questions that marketers might ask themselves about advertising now:

  1. Does my ad still connect in today’s world? The likelihood is “yes it does” as scores have changed little at the time of writing, but movement at the fringes also points to what will connect better in this period. Consider the descriptions above of ads that are working better or worse today, and ask yourself where your work would fall. If you are unsure then you might consider testing your ad. This can be done very quickly and cheaply. And if you’re operating in the US or the UK, System1 most probably also has a record of how it performed when it first aired. 
  2. What if I need to develop a new campaign? Existing advertising may still work very well for you, but you may also need to create a new campaign for your company. It’s still possible to make new ads with user-generated content, illustrations, animations and CGI. It’s also possible to brush off and re-edit successful work from the past, and don’t just restrict yourself to the recent past either. Many ads from decades ago have the right-brain features that are nowadays in such short supply and continue to connect very well: a recent test of Hovis’ re-edit of Boy on a Bike, the original Smash Martians and Honey Monster ads (all UK) put them all in the top 1- 2% of ads made. The right brain also has a greater tendency towards nostalgia, so the idea is notas odd as it may sound.
  3. How can I insure myself against this problem in the future? Consider this as you develop your next campaign: brands that use a fluent device – an established character or established scenario and tagline – have, in some small way, insured themselves against this kind of unexpected event. These types of creative are highly effective in ‘normal’ times, driving broader and longer effects, and ensure that if the unexpected happens, you have a strong brand to protect you going into a crisis. They also enable you to continue advertising in a time of crisis with few changes, if any, to your creative, and to use your device in any new tactical work that’s needed. 

This crisis has heightened our sense of empathy. As the world closes off the many things that the right brain cherishes, advertisers (and TV broadcasters too) will do well to cater to the right brain’s priorities. People might well start to feel isolated, separated and cut-off from their families and friends. Digital connectivity will help enormously, but a lack of physical human connection and day-to-day novelty could lead to loneliness and mental health problems. The ‘living’, characters, betweenness, humor, a clear sense of place, altruism, visual depth, music and metaphor — things of the right brain — will be even more greatly valued in the coming months and will continue to connect strongly.

Brands must today, more than ever, show their generosity, spontaneity, humility and self-awareness, even give people something to smile about. It is these most human of characteristics that advertisers need to adopt, if they are to come out of the crisis, and come out of it stronger. 

 

Orlando Wood is a B2B Institute Research Fellow, a group of distinguished expert practitioners and academics undertaking research about the future of the marketing sector. This essay sits within a compendium of essays the B2B Institute commissioned from world experts to help marketers make good decisions during our uncertain times. The essays draw on empirical evidence to formulate practical recommendations on media, creative, and business.

Orlando is Chief Innovation Officer of the System1 Group, Honorary Fellow of the IPA, and author of recently published and widely acclaimed advertising book,” Lemon” (IPA, 2019). “Lemon” draws on neuroscience, cultural history and advertising research to show how left-brain thinking has come to dominate business and culture, undermining creativity and making advertising less effective. He is also co-author of “System1, Unlocking Profitable Growth” (2017). System1 Group is an ad testing and tracking firm, which tests creative and emotional response to help marketers to predict the potential of their ads. To access System1’s latest tracking data on Coronavirus ads and download the latest reports on how Coronavirus is affecting consumer mood and advertising performance, see https://system1group.com/coronavirusReaders can sign up to test your own ad against these benchmarks with a Test Your Ad trial at testyourad.com.  

The B2B Institute is a think tank funded by LinkedIn studying the future of business-to-business marketing and decision making. For more information, to sign up for their newsletter, and to download research reports visit www.b2binstitute.org.

Let’s go. What do you think?

By Orlando Wood - Chief Innovation Officer, System1 Group

18 May 2020 10min read