Five Mark Ritson Soundbites from Uncensored CMO

Following System1’s recent “Ritson on Recession” webinar, we’re pleased to once again welcome brand consultant and founder of the ‘Mini MBA in Marketing’ Mark Ritson to discuss brand building best practices with us. This time it’s for the first Uncensored CMO podcast of 2023, hosted by chief customer officer Jon Evans.

Ritson and Evans count down some of the top performing ads and advertisers of 2022, talk about the incredible results of the UK’s Christmas ads this season and what that might mean for future campaigns, and dive deeper into the value that ad testing can offer brand managers and agencies.

Here are just a few of Ritson’s notable soundbites, which you can listen to in full via Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts and more, and watch via YouTube:

“When most companies set price, they look at their costs and they look at competitors, neither of which are actually main factors in making good pricing decisions. You have to understand value and therefore, you have to understand the customer that’s judging the value. Only marketers can do that.”

When asked what will matter in 2023, Ritson remarked that the two greatest challenges will be to maintain advertising investment during the recession and get marketers involved in pricing and price rises. Marketers are best equipped to frame and communicate pricing so that it doesn’t negatively impact an organisation’s reputation. They have the data at their fingertips to be able to feed into decisions around pricing. Right now, there are opportunities for marketers to make their mark.

Ritson goes on to explain that companies often overthink the actual price. “Marketers are able to anchor and contextualize price and make the actual price much less importance in the process,” he says. Referencing research from OC&C, he reminds us that most customers don’t know the price of the products they purchase.

“[Coke’s ‘Holidays are Coming’] is the quintessential Christmas ad because they’ve got more than one Christmas to build it up. Ultimately, the great story about not doing new ads… four out of five new campaigns aren’t as good as the one they replaced.”

Advertising during this Christmas season was exceptional, with a record-breaking number of 5-Star ads. In the UK especially, Christmas creative is a fierce competition, with brands trying to top each other and their own executions from years past. In 2022, Coca-Cola did not develop an additional Christmas campaign, instead leaning into its beloved “Holidays are Coming” ad that’s aired annually since debuting in 1995.  

It’s a lesson that sometimes the best brand-building move is to continue leveraging what works well rather than try to reinvent the wheel. And if you’re intent on developing new creative for the festive season, look to Aldi as an example of how to do it successfully. The retailer consistently features its popular “Kevin the Carrot” character to drive brand recognition even as the scenarios change. 

The same advice goes for non-Christmas ads – don’t give up on creative if it’s helping you gain market share just because the advertising industry is known for continuously rolling out new campaigns.  

“[Brand recognition] is the first challenge. First, they must know that it’s you. And most ads… fail and fall at that first hurdle.”

At System1, we know that nearly half of all advertising (48%) does not deliver long-term market share growth. In many cases, this is because people feel neutral about the creative. Feeling something is better than feeling nothing at all, even if it’s sadness or fear. Another reason advertising falls short is because it’s not distinctive enough. As Ritson points out, it’s a hurdle, and often blocks brands from successfully crossing the finish line and cementing themselves in viewers’ minds. Those in certain categories struggle more than others to differentiate themselves in a sea of sameness, like car brands and cell phone manufacturers and service providers.

Regardless of the category, making your brand known early on is key to helping audiences recognize and remember you. Perhaps it’s an identifiable product placed in the first few frames of the commercial, or a voiceover stating your brand name several times throughout. Even better is when you have established cues that signal to audiences who the ad is for. These Fluent Devices can be in the form of recurring characters or scenarios. As Ritson notes during the discussion, “The King or Queen of them all is the jingle. It smashes all of the other distinctive assets.”

“If you get that big spanking $200,000 soundtrack, the other implication is, when the license runs out, you can’t show the ad anymore. That happens a lot.”

Music is a special kind of magic. It plays such an integral part in building emotion in viewers, and can impact the perceptions they make about a story. Choose a sad song and you’ll certainly tug at their heartstrings. Select an upbeat track and you’ll create happiness among the audience, which is key for driving mental availability. Strategic song selection can even take a 3-Star concept into 4- or 5-Star territory for a finished film.

But it’s important to think beyond just the immediate impact that song selection has on viewers. What are the long-term consequences? As Ritson points out, investing in a pricey, popular track essentially puts an expiration date on an advertisement unless the brand is willing to extend the license. Before spending big on a catchy tune, it’s worth investigating the market share gain of the soundtrack. In some cases, ad testing may prove that it’s worth selecting a pricier piece of music and in other cases it can save you tens or hundreds of thousands by proving that it doesn’t move the needle with consumers.

“Brands are little things. To marketers they’re not. But to consumers, even consumers that like you, you’re a tiny unimportant fragment of their life if you’re lucky.”

As marketers, we live and breath our brands every day. We are much closer to them than consumers will ever be. Ritson notes that once marketers understand that brands are “little things,” they can manage brands better and make better ads. Too often, brands execute campaigns that try to have a higher purpose to connect with consumers. In the end though, they don’t resonate.

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