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By: Sue Elms, Head of Global Brand Management, Millward Brown
Advertising is in surplus right now. There is so much of it that we’ll never run short of messages from brands. The danger is that in constantly pushing out messages the industry will damage its most precious resource – the willingness of consumers to receive them.
The volume of ad impressions we see rises year-on-year as online and mobile expand the opportunities to reach consumers.
Digital has enabled brands to target us more frequently and in more places. We are growing the advertising mountain but also consumer intolerance of what we do.
Our challenge is a bit like global warming. When the percentage of Co2 is within the right bounds, there is no risk of climate change, but when it rises beyond a critical level we put our long-term existence at risk.
That sounds over dramatic but I see an ominous portent already: The ad awareness iceberg is melting.
Of course, ad awareness is not the only reason for advertising, but it’s a sensitive indicator, linked to short-term sales response, and it’s been nicely responsive to advertising for many years.
However, after taking out the effect of creative quality and media weight, ad awareness at a brand level has shown declines over recent years.
You could argue that the decline in ad awareness is mainly because multiple distracting activities now seem to dominate all our lives, whether that is checking your phone while walking down the street and, not paying attention to out of home advertising, or watching TV and surfing the net at the same time.
TV remains a large part of spend but an increasingly significant chunk of viewing is distracted by multi-screening. That is bound to have an impact on ad recall.
Our global AdReaction study shows that amongst people with access to multiple devices, an average of 35% of TV viewing time was spent simultaneously watching TV and another device. Nielsen research commissioned by AOL, suggested that TV ads were recalled by around a quarter as many multi-screening consumers as those focused on the single screen.
But receptivity is a bigger problem than TV and our clients are rightly asking why advertising impact is declining for many campaigns.
The fundamental issue is one of general market clutter. We know that declining ad awareness correlates with advertising clutter and this has escalated dramatically, generally thanks to the volume of digital advertising that we all see.
Unfortunately, the reaction to reducing ad awareness in cluttered markets (and a natural human reaction to low attention) has been to shout still louder.
Because we as a research industry have “proved” that share of voice is an important factor in determining share of market, our clients appear to be incentivized and advised to make more noise regardless of the consequences.
We have to take notice of the diminishing returns in frequency and recency and stop excess advertising impressions. We need to demonstrate that share of voice achieved in the wrong way has an impact not just on the wider advertising industry but also their efforts.
Digital targeting and re-targeting offer us the chance to be more strategic in our messaging; after all if we can get the right commercial in front of the right person at the right moment, we can be more relevant, and have more impact.
However frequencies can be too high and re-targeting, if a consumer has visited an eCommerce site, for example, can reach excessive levels.
The creative response can be similarly irritating.
Some brands such as Red Bull have addressed the receptivity challenge by creating inspiring and original branded content, but most are still not far enough down that path.
Some brands have gone for cuddly creatures – think Comparethemarket.com and John Lewis’s Monty the Penguin but others have gone for memorable jingles that quickly become a nuisance – in the UK its Webuyanycar.com or Gocompare.com.
We need to better monitor current levels of receptivity and the impact it could have on our business.
According to Kantar Media’s large-scale TGI surveys, a large chunk of people find advertising “a waste of my time”. Across 10 countries the percentage of people endorsing this statement hovers between mid-30 to mid-40 and this looks to be on the increase.
Other studies concur about low brand engagement, which we risk dropping even lower.
In 2014, Forrester found that on six of seven social networks, the brands they studied achieved an engagement rate of less than 0.1%. Analysis of the 6,000 plus studies from Millward Brown’s Neuroscience Practice found that people don’t really care about brands. On a scale from strong attraction to strong rejection, 90% of brands currently sit at a point that can be labeled “weakly positive”.
We need to know more about the consumers who see our messages and their willingness to acknowledge or register them. Unless we can track their receptivity (and identify the moments when it’s likely to be higher) then we won’t understand how we can maximize this precious resource.
People are going to hear much more from brands as the ambient internet, pervasive and connecting data, devices, screens and sensors transform the media landscape.
In a climate that is heating up so rapidly, it’s imperative that we educate our industry to think carefully about receptivity. We all need to walk more in the consumers’ shoes to understand and respect the precious resource they are.
Some brands may be able to count on a consumer predisposed to be receptive (Apple for instance) and some will have earned it (like Red Bull), but the vast majority of brands rely on a more general “environmental” receptivity to make themselves heard. If we abuse it then we may find it ever harder to make an effective impact. Let’s plant the advertising equivalent of more trees.