The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective Characters

At the IPA’s Effectiveness Week Conference on October 9th, System1’s Orlando Wood is leading a track on creative effectiveness, with a particular focus on creativity in the service of long-term growth. He’ll be launching a major new study we’ve done on Fluent Devices in advertising – “distinctive assets on steroids”, recurring characters or slogans which drive the creative of a campaign. (Scroll down for details of Eff Week tickets and a special discount code.) This study will use data gathered from our advertising insights platform and our audience insights platform.

Orlando presented our initial Fluent Devices work at the Eff Week conference last year, proving that a Fluent Device boosts a campaign’s chances of achieving profit and share gain for a brand. This new work goes both broader and deeper.

We’ve leveraged the phenomenal power of our Ad Ratings database – 25,000 ads and growing from the last 18 months – to map the use and performance of character Fluent Devices in present-day advertising. We’ve worked with Facebook, Newsworks, Twitter, YouTube and many others to understand how Fluent Devices work in the digital environment. There are more character Fluent Devices about than you might think. But, we’d argue, considerably fewer than there should be.

When it comes to creating memorable characters, there are few tougher environments than TV sketch comedy, so we’re thrilled to announce that the comedian, actor and screenwriter, Matt Lucas – of Little Britain and Doctor Who fame – is joining the track. From Vicki Pollard to George Dawes, Matt’s on-screen characters have become part of the UK’s pop culture. He’ll be sharing his thoughts on how to build and sustain a character, and how you know when you’ve got a good one.

So we’ve taken a look over our own Fluent Devices work and come up with some ideas of our own. For brands looking to create a character asset that audiences love, here are the Seven Habits Of Highly Effective Characters.

BUILD A WORLD (eg. Alexandr Orlov, Compare The Market)

Launched 10 years ago, loveable Russian meerkat Alexandr Orlov was an instant hit. But much of his staying power comes from the brand’s consistency of tone and creativity in generating a whole world around their Fluent Device – his extended family and the situations they find themselves in. Extended worlds make campaigns last longer and build emotion – they become places viewers look forward to visiting, even if only for 30 seconds.


PROVOKE CURIOSITY (eg. The Mustard Club, Colman’s Mustard)

Dating from the 1920s and created by mystery novelist Dorothy L Sayers, the Mustard Club is one of the first ever Fluent Devices. Ads – including early film ads! – detailed the doings of the club and consumers were invited to join. The Club became a craze, and it helped that Sayers began the campaign with mysterious teaser ads. Long-running serial ads, like the UK’s “Gold Blend Couple”, or the uproarious “Long Long Man” ads from Japan, are another way to provoke curiosity with a Fluent Device.

USE SCHADENFREUDE (eg Leonard Rossiter, Cinzano)

Schadenfreude – the pleasure we take in others’ misfortune – is one of the trickiest types of positive emotion to deploy. In Cinzano’s legendary 1970s ads, Leonard Rossiter stars as a wannabe sophisticate whose boorish attempts to impress end calamitously for Melissa (played by Joan Collins) every time. Market research shows that not all Fluent Devices need be loveable – sometimes, you can take joy in anticipating the inevitable disaster.

EMBRACE ARTIFICE (eg Otosan, Softbank)

This decade’s broad trends in advertising have been towards realism and attempts to present authentic consumer experiences onscreen. But Fluent Devices often work best as bits of glorious creative artifice. According to our brand monitoring tools, apanese telecom brand Softbank rose from nowhere to become the No.2 in the market, and its hundreds of ads starring brand icon Otosan helped. Otosan is a gruff Japanese family patriarch… who is also a talking dog. Pure surreal artifice, and wonderfully memorable

BE MEME-ABLE (eg Dilly Dilly, Bud Light)

Fluent Devices make ads and brands more memorable and familiar. That makes them particularly useful in a world of ultra-brief views and meme-driven social media. Not all Bud Light’s “Dilly Dilly” ads were great. But the “Dilly Dilly” catchphrase caught fire, and Bud was able to take advantage.

SIEZE OPPORTUNITIES (eg The Gobbledok, Smiths Crisps)

Crisp-guzzling Aussie monster The Gobbledok was never intended to be a Fluent Device. His debut in 1987 was meant as a one-off, and Smiths didn’t even build a costume that moved properly. When the ad was a hit, the brand acted with agility, and the Gobbledok came back again and again – with a better outfit this time. Sometimes consumers spot a great character for you – it’s a good idea to listen.


Finally, a lot of brand characters are really product characters. Especially in FMCG categories, you’ll find walking and talking salami, processed cheese, confectionery and cleaning products. It can feel a little lazy. But it can also be done very well – if you come up with enough ideas and situations to keep viewers entertained. M&Ms ads are often hilarious and regularly score highly in our tests – and their Brand Fluency (how quickly people recognise a brand in an ad) is, of course, sky-high.

Those are some of the broad things we’ve learned about brand characters. To see our detailed new Fluent Devices work, and to hear from a true expert in character creation, use the code EBEXT2017 when you buy your tickets here.

To learn more about our Ad Ratings project, which powered this new study, go here.


At System1, we help the world’s largest advertisers make confident creative decisions that lead to transformational business results. Our powerful ad testing platform (Test Your Ad) and our idea testing platform (Test Your Idea) help brands predict the commercial potential of ads and ideas. Complementing TYA and TYI is Test Your Brand, our brand tracking tool which measures the impact of ads and ideas on brand health, ensuring long-term brand growth through predictive success.

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