Fluent Devices 2: This Time It’s Digital

System1’s Orlando Wood presented at the IPA Effectiveness Week conference this week, debuting our latest market research into Fluent Devices – the repeating characters or slogans that can help turbo-charge long-term ad effectiveness.

We caught up with him to get the lowdown on the latest work:

Remind us, Orlando, what’s a Fluent Device?

Think the Comparethemarket Meerkats, or the Geico Gecko, or Snickers’ “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry”. They’re an idea that drives the creative of not just one ad, but a whole campaign, building familiarity and creating memory structures that help faster processing fluency. So they help people recognise brands more quickly, like a Distinctive Asset does. But they go further – they’re a special kind of Distinctive Asset which builds positive emotion and anticipation as well as recognition. With a Fluent Device, you can build Feeling and Fluency together.

They sound rather useful.

They certainly are. Last year, when we started looking at Fluent Devices, we explored the IPA DataMINE database of Effectiveness case studies to see how many of them used one, and whether they made campaigns more effective. We pulled data from our advertising insights platforms and our audience insights platforms. discovered that if you used a Fluent Device, your campaign was more likely to create a host of major long-term business effects, like profit gain, market share gain, and the ability to charge a price premium.

These were really exciting findings, so I was eager to dig into Fluent Devices again for Effectiveness Week this year. Especially since we now had our System1 Ad Ratings database to explain their effectiveness.

If the first study was about proving their usefulness, what’s this one about?

Working out how they’re being used today, and then putting a value on them. We used crowdsourcing to analyse our System1 Ad Ratings database, which has tested every UK TV ad in over 100 categories from July 2017 on, and identify how many Fluent Device characters were in use.

There were 72 Fluent Device characters on British TV in the year we looked at. We also partnered with Facebook, Twitter, Google, Royal Mail, and image analytics firm Picasso Labs to find out how many of those 72 were also being used in online media and direct mail.

What did you discover?

First of all, research from our brand monitoring tool showed that 72 devices seems a lot, but that’s only 7% of brands who use a Fluent Device character. And when you look online, you find that even those brands are very cautious about using their TV characters on other media – hardly any of them show up on Twitter, for instance.

Is that a problem?

Yes, I believe it is. The great thing about Fluent Devices is that because they’re recognisable, they grab attention and help stop people ignoring ads online. We ran a side-by-side test of a British Gas Facebook ad with and without Wilbur The Penguin, and found that including Wilbur boosted dwell time, effective reach and brand recall.

And Fluent Devices continue to be more effective on TV too, right?

Very much so. We were able to analyse media spend and our Star-rating measure of ad quality, and look at how Fluent Devices gave quality a boost. Looking at spend with and without Fluent Devices, we estimate using a Fluent Device gives you the equivalent of an extra twelve points of Share of Voice.

In other words, Fluent Devices have a real media value.

So what’s your advice for brand managers and marketers?

You should seriously consider using a Fluent Device. It doesn’t just boost your chance of success, it might give you a real competitive advantage. The use of Fluent Devices is on the decline and has been for years, even though they’re as effective as ever.

For me, there’s a joyful artifice in Fluent Devices that captures the magic of what great creative advertising is.

How do you get one?

They can be hard to brief for. The comedian and TV star Matt Lucas was speaking at the IPA too, and it really struck me how relevant what he said about creating great comedy characters was to advertising. You can’t force it. Often a brilliant catchphrase or character comes from serendipity and sometimes you don’t realise what you’ve got until you’ve worked with it.

That means you have to be nimble and trust your creative instincts. For profit gain, you must entertain. And fortunately that’s something marketers and advertisers are good at.


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