Spike Up Your Life! Our Spike Score Explained

Long-term brand-building should never be a luxury. But it isn’t the only game in town. Sales activation remains a crucial job for advertising. So when you’re testing ads, you need to understand their potential to create an immediate sales impact.

We call our prediction of short-term tales impact our Spike Rating – how likely is a given ad to create a sales spike?

Here are five things you need to know about Spike – how we measure it, how your marketing can create it, and why it’s not as simple as an either/or choice between long- and short-term growth.


One myth about short-term sales is that they’re all to do with persuasive messages and product offers, and emotional impact only matters in the long-term.

In fact, by measuring emotional response to ads you can make an accurate prediction about short and long-term success.

However, the kind of emotion you need to measure is different.

Short-term activation is less about the specific emotion created, more about the intensity that you feel it with. The more intense your response, the more likely you are to do something about it.

Neutrality – the absence of emotion – is bad for long-term impact, but in a world of constant communication and stimulation, it’s disastrous for short-term Spike.

This recent Google ad – an edit of a scene from the film Lady Bird – hit very high intensity levels, even if the emotion created isn’t all strictly positive! But it meant a strong Spike score.


Emotional intensity is half the Spike picture. The other half is brand. It’s all very well arousing emotional response, but for immediate impact it needs to be directed towards a particular brand. This is where Fluency comes in – how quickly and easily you can recognise a brand.

Remember, you don’t have to achieve Fluency by heavy branding. Smart and emotional use of distinctive assets – fonts, colours, sounds, or Fluent Device characters – can trigger recognition with just as much impact as heavy use of logos or voiceover.

Out of all this year’s Super Bowl ads, this Doritos one had the strongest Fluency – having the star munching the product in the first two seconds paid off in terms of Spike.


Intensity and Fluency together produce Spike. (We measure Intensity and Fluency in slightly different ways depending on media, but Spike metrics are comparable and consistent.)

We show Spike as a number between zero and two. A Spike score below 1 is below average, compared to our norms – such ads aren’t expected to create much short-term impact.

If your Spike score is higher than 1, you can expect some short-term gain from the ad. In this debranded validation, there’s a high (0.7) correlation between the ROI of individual ads (provided by our client) and each ad’s Spike score.

As Spike rises, the short-term potential increases. Anything above 1.32 shows exceptional potential, though for highly emotional ads with strong branding we’ve seen it go a lot higher.


Should marketers be forced to choose between long- and short-term impact? Some commentators suggest that aiming for both dilutes the clarity of your goals, and damages the quality of your creative. We disagree.

The factors that raise Star Ratings (long-term potential) and Spike (short-term) are different, but not mutually exclusive. You can aim for positive emotion, emotional intensity, and strong branding all at once.

How do we know this? Because we see the close relationship in our database. An ad that gets a high Star Rating is likely to also achieve a strong Spike Rating. An ad that gets 1-Star is probably doomed not to achieve much in the short-term either.

There are exceptions, of course. Some ads which use divisive humour or make clever use of negative emotion can still do well on Spike. And some carefully crafted, feelgood ads can fail to spark intensity or prompt recognition.

For instance, Nike’s highly controversial Colin Kaepernick video ad was emotionally intense but extremely divisive, with our sample split between positive and negative response. That meant only a modest Star score. But its Fluency and intensity meant a high Spike score – predicting the big short-term boost Nike did in fact enjoy.


If you want to boost your Spike score and improve your short-term prospects, how should you do it? There are three tactics which our data proves can take your brand higher – without sacrificing long-term gains.

Craft A Story Arc: If an ad raises negative emotions, but then resolves them positively, it boosts intensity and also makes the overall emotional experience stronger.

Be More Right-Brained: Our work on the left and right brain (see our SXSW write-up) has identified a bunch of executional tactics which can make work more appealing to the right brain and which raise emotional intensity. Music, dialogue, use of double meanings and cultural references, long shots instead of rapid cuts – all these and more can create a higher-impact ad.

Use A Fluent Device: A repeating character or scenario across an ad campaign can be a fantastic shortcut to Fluency and brand recognition without sacrificing emotion. In fact, a good one can build emotional response even more.

Spike Ratings are standard across all our ad testing, whether for Ad Ratings or using our more in-depth Creative Guidance System. If you want to learn more about Spike or our approach to advertising in general, get in touch!

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