Are Short-term Advertisers Doomed? System1 Investigates

  • Calculating the Spike Rating
  • The Findings: How to Enhance your Spike Rating

TV advertising’s wide reach and ability to hold audiences’ attention make it an ideal channel for long-term brand building. But it’s also a frequently used tool for sales activation. Today’s viewers are exposed to promotional and seasonal advertisements as well as storytelling-focused messages that support long-term growth. This is because many marketers are simultaneously tasked with delivering on the Short while also focusing on the Long.

Yet not every brand has the luxury of large-scale budgets for campaigns featuring celebrities, pricey chart-topping soundtracks and cinematic locales. In some cases, unlocking additional marketing budget for these types of campaigns first requires marketers to hit short-term sales goals. From recent research, we know that focusing on the Long will often drive the Short too, while the opposite is less likely to happen.

So, are marketers who prioritize the Short doomed? Is there a way to strategically harness creative for immediate short-term impact without neglecting the Long?

As leaders in advertising effectiveness, we have thousands of advertisements at our fingertips via our Test Your Ad platform. In a joint study with ITV, we take a closer look into Spike – our metric that predicts short-term sales potential – to uncover how brands can do both well.

Calculating the Spike Rating

As our research recently found, a focus on the long term almost always translates into short-term potential. In fact, 97.9% of ads that land in the 5-Star range on our scale from 1.0 to 5.9 also achieve above average Spike. But the same can’t be said when the opposite approach is taken. The Short has little impact on the Long. Three in five ads (60.3%) with above average Spike only score 1- or 2-Stars, meaning they won’t move the needle on market share growth.

This doesn’t mean it’s impossible for marketers to make ads that are strong on delivering short-term success and long-term results. It’s an opportunity to find out which ads do both and what they have in common so that these learnings can be applied in future campaigns.

In order to do that, it’s best to revisit how we calculate the Spike Rating. We ask respondents to view an ad, and ask them to select how it makes them feel. We also capture their levels of emotional intensity to determine how strongly they feel these emotions. This is the first element of Spike. Then, we measure the speed of branding through speed of recognition and recall accuracy. Do people know which brand the ad is for? This second piece of the puzzle combines with emotional intensity to form a single Spike Rating.

Looking at our UK Premium database, consisting of over 20,000 TV ads, we found that less than 1 in 5 ads achieve an Exceptional Spike Rating (see Figure 1). Charities and Non-Profits, Household Goods and Food are the top categories in our Test Your Ad database for Spike. Meanwhile, Telecommunication, Transport & Travel and Office Technology are the lowest-performing categories.

The Findings: How to Enhance your Spike Rating

Our meta-analysis of the UK database found that the top-performing categories in speed of branding (Cosmetics & Toiletries, Household Goods, Retail) tend to do less well at generating intense emotional reactions. But the top-performing categories in emotional intensity (Charities & Non-Profits, Drinks, Food) consistently achieve good speed of branding scores. And we know that the more people feel, the more they buy. With the exception of Charities & Non-Profits, categories that perform highest on emotional intensity also perform above average on Star. Herein lies the overarching secret to success: Play up the emotional and downplay the rational.

We next coded ads for left- and right-brained features.

  • Left-brain features like abstracted products, features, ingredients and body parts, words obtruding the ad, voiceover and rhythmic music appeal more to the narrow-beam attention of the left brain. They appeal to those already in buying mode.
  • Conversely, right-brain features like a clear sense of place, characters with agency, scenes unfolding, dialogue and music with melody appeal to the broad-beam attention of the right brain. A larger proportion of right-brain features is correlated with market share and profit gain (i.e. Star Rating). Yet left-brain features have grown in popularity and there are fewer and fewer right-brain features in today’s ads.

For this coding exercise, we selected 250 ads from the database, with varying performance in terms of speed of branding and emotional intensity. We found that left-brain features are most common in ads that perform well in speed of branding, and particularly so in those that are weak in emotional intensity. Conversely, right-brain features are much more prevalent in emotionally-intense ads. While the correlation is not as strong as with Star Rating, we concluded that right-brain features and Spike are positively correlated.

  • Subtly embed brand cues into humorous narratives

Let your brand be in on the joke – clever references to the brand within a humorous context work effectively to drive intensity and speed of branding. For example, Lidl’s 2022 Christmas advert features Lidl bear, a play on words whilst dressing Lidl bear in a trendy Lidl jumper. DFS immerses itself into the world of Wallace and Gromit, embedding brand cues seamlessly into the narrative.

  • Bring Fluent Devices to life with right-brained narratives.

Fluent Devices can be extremely effective at speeding up brand recognition and strengthening emotional intensity, if incorporated into a right-brained narrative. Give Fluent Devices agency, allow them to interact with other characters, make it clear where they are located in the narrative, like inside a cozy home during a snowstorm or skateboarding outside on a sunny day like in Churchill’s ad. In some cases, Fluent Devices can also help deliver a recurring, sonic signature.

  • Aim for a consistent narrative and messaging. 

Cadbury is one example of a brand that has executed a consistent narrative for years, celebrating the small moments of generosity that unite family, friends, neighbours or strangers. The style and everyday British scenery remains largely the same from ad to ad, with minor tweaks to the characters. This results in consistently high Spike Ratings across the years, despite there being no immediate introduction of product, logo or distinctive assets that are typically used to enhance brand fluency.

Our full Spike study looks at ads that fall into four distinct categories: 1) ads generating low emotional intensity but high speed of branding; 2) ads generating high emotional intensity but low speed of branding; 3) ads generating high emotional intensity and high speed of branding; and 4) ads generating low emotional intensity and low speed of branding.

Contact our team to walk you through the findings in greater detail.