Can great advertising be predicted?

Or put another way, can advertisers know if an advertising campaign will be a hit before it is aired?

It would be great to know this because advertising is the gateway to positioning, consideration sets and brand salience. And everyone has an opinion about it. Especially the consumer.

But what exactly is ‘great advertising?’ How important is it in building sales and brand preference?

I’ll define ‘great advertising’ as advertising that is highly creative and strategically sound. Creativity speaks to inspiration, freshness and craft. Strategic soundness ties these to insight, brand associations and brand distinctiveness.

The marketing folks at the Kellogg School of Management have a useful strategic framework for judging Super Bowl ads, the ADPLAN. I have found it practical for appraising all brand advertising.

Attention – Does the advertising engage the audience?

Distinction – Is the execution unique in delivery?

Positioning – Is the category represented and a strong benefit featured?

Linkage – Will the brand and benefit be remembered?

Amplification – Are viewers’ thoughts favourable?

Net Equity – Is the advertising consistent with the brand’s history and reputation?

While the ADPLAN framework is very useful, it is largely a post- framework. It is for evaluating ads after they’ve been aired. It doesn’t necessarily tell how to make great advertising. Or the creative content that makes an ad sell more.

We can, of course, subject advertising ideas to Concept Tests and Copy Tests. But I am wary of tests to determine go/no-go for advertising concepts and execution. Test environments are artificial. They do not mirror where and how audiences consume advertising. Also, a finished ad is significantly different from the rough work usually taken into tests. Therefore responses from respondents are often skewed by what is very rough work. Advertising tests should be used as guides only. They should never have the power of life and death.

The Gunn Report and the UK’s Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) teamed up to explore the link between creativity and effectiveness.

In doing this, The Gunn Report – which makes an annual ‘worldwide league table’ of the most awarded campaigns and agencies – merged its awards data with the IPA’s effectiveness data.

The findings highlighted a strong correlation between creatively- awarded advertising and market success. Creatively-awarded ads drove market success; market share gains, in volume and value.

Importantly, the study also revealed that the link between creativity and effectiveness appears to be driven by two factors: emotional communication models and greater buzz effects. In essence, emotional campaigns are more effective and buzz-inclined than rational or persuasive campaigns.

That helps. Emotions, then, is a key ingredient for advertising success. Regret, nostalgia, humour, anxiety, love, hate, fear, pain, resolve, laughter, beliefs, attitudes etc. They are all good hooks for a compelling story.

The case for emotions will appear to tie in with Byron Sharp’s view that advertising can still be effective even if it is not explicitly persuasive. Or contain a ‘message.’

In How Brands Grow, Byron Sharp advances that all advertising needs to do to be successful is create and maintain distinctive ‘brand assets.’ Distinctive brand assets are designs like characters, imagery, voice, jingles, slogans etc. Think about the Energizer Bunny, Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ tagline and MasterCard’s ‘Priceless’ campaign. Distinctive brand assets should be uniquely linked to the brand be and top of mind. Sharp talked about the concept of the ‘meaningless distinctive.’

But knowing emotions and ‘meaningless distinctive’ are important ingredients for making great advertising doesn’t mean they are easy to do. Ariel’s Share The Load campaign and the Pepsi-Kendall Jenner ad are talked about for different reasons.

That is why the choice of an advertiser’s advertising agency is important.

Marketers must be interested in the DNA, past campaigns and quality of the agency’s creative and account planning team. The quality of an agency’s work and quality of personnel are directly proportional. And its DNA influences its hires.

Ultimately, making great advertising require exceptional creativity and thoughtful strategy. The strategy part, we can map. The creative part, not so much. It requires being comfortable with uncertainty and intuition. After all, there can’t be a blueprint for something that has not been done before.


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