Can Challenger Brands Use TV Well?

This is a story about two new brands. They’re in different sectors – food and drink, and financial services – but aside from that they have a lot in common. They’re both British brands, founded in the last five years as online-first start-ups. They are challengers, offering radical new takes on their sectors. Monzo is a mobile-only bank which prioritises convenience and ease of use. Huel is a powdered-food product designed to offer complete nutrition as a meal replacement.

And within the last year, both brands ran their first TV advertising. But there the similarity ends.

Huel went on record as being disappointed and frustrated with the outcome of their TV ad, finding outcomes difficult to track. “I’m not a fan of offline really at all”, founder Julian Hearn told The Drum.

Monzo, on the other hand, were delighted with their ad performance. “It was pretty insane actually… by far our biggest month of sign-ups” said Head of Marketing Tristan Thomas to Marketing Week.

What can emerging brands learn from these two different forays into so-called ‘traditional’ media? What separates Huel’s TV underperformance from Monzo’s “insane” success?

Our answer is simple: creative quality.

Here’s the Huel ad. This scored 1.2-Stars on Ad Ratings – a poor score, with zero potential to help brand growth. More concerning for Huel as a new brand with an eye on direct response, its short-term Spike score was also below average, at 0.9.

Looking at the ad, it’s easy to see why. It’s a choppy piece of work, with no emotional throughline, a monotonous voiceover, constantly changing abstracted scenes and not even a single clear message. With the brand on screen literally throughout the whole ad, you’d expect it to perform well on Brand Fluency, but even there it comes in below average, probably because of its offputting visual style and lack of clarity. It looks like an extended remix of a Facebook ad or Instagram story – entirely unsuitable for TV, so its lack of performance is hardly a surprise.

Now here’s Monzo. This ad scored 2.9-Stars on Ad Ratings, which is a respectable score for a financial brand but not spectacular. On short-term Spike, though, the Monzo ad is a monster – its 1.33 Spike score would have been a very strong result for any brand, let alone a completely unfamiliar name.

Again, you can see what makes this ad stronger. It tells stories and has a sense of humour, which helps the strong branding stick in the mind. The brand plays a role in the ad as a narrator, which helps establish tone of voice and personality. The comical ups and downs of the ad’s cast makes it emotionally dynamic, which helps drive its short-term Spike score.

With a few tweaks, its long-term impact could have been stronger – maybe focusing on fewer stories and chopping between them less – but in the short term the ad has clearly lived up to its high Spike score and driven significant activity for the brand.

What’s the lesson here? Simply this – creative quality matters. As Monzo proves, for emerging companies looking to widen their customer base and grow their brand, broad-reach media like TV can be a fantastic investment. But as Huel shows, it’s not a magic bullet – if you don’t spend your media money on high-quality creative, there’s little point in spending it at all.

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