Ads should be `efficient’ as well as effective

William RatcliffePresidentMillward Brown Canada, North York, Ont.In some ways, people aren't responding to television commercials all that much differently than they have over the years.They respond to advertising that talks to them, that understands where they are. The fact that their...

William Ratcliffe


Millward Brown Canada, North York, Ont.

In some ways, people aren’t responding to television commercials all that much differently than they have over the years.

They respond to advertising that talks to them, that understands where they are. The fact that their headspace has moved a little bit just means that the advertiser has to move with that.

We are dealing with a market in North America where there is lots of confusion, lots of clutter. Sometimes ads blend together – there’s confusion as to who the exact sponsor is. That’s a major challenge that advertisers face.

In some cases, consumers have the sense there’s a message there that would be of interest to them, but they feel they have to fight their way through to the message.

In an attempt to get attention, the advertising has some creative elements in it that distract from the message – that don’t work in terms of synergy, but really pull people away.

Consumers are not going to work too hard at television advertising. They will work much harder at print advertising, because in some sense they have control over that.

The one thing that is true is that people are increasingly sophisticated consumers of advertising, because they have seen so many different approaches, with so many angles, that there is very little new for them.

It’s harder to capture their attention, which is certainly true. It’s also a different time for advertisers. Unlike the ’50s and ’60s, when there were fewer brands, and when you could build a brand over time, it’s more difficult to do that now. Advertisers tend to have a shorter time horizon.

If I were to offer my advice, there are a couple of things advertisers should keep in mind.

Keep it relatively simple. Our experience indicates that if consumers don’t get the point, or if it’s too confusing or distracting on the first viewing, they don’t get it on the second, third and fourth viewing. They just tune it out. So it has to be relatively simple.

One of the things that’s especially important in the Canadian market is copy efficiency, in addition to effectiveness.

What I mean by efficiency is getting an audience and having them realize in terms of long-term memory, what brand is being advertised. If that came in the form of a recommendation it would be to integrate the commercial. Make it hard to talk about the commercial without talking about the brand.

If you think about the Lever 2000 soap commercials, you can’t talk about 2000 body parts, without talking about Lever 2000. They are just stuck together like glue. That’s an example of both efficient and effective advertising.

There is a tendency for advertisers to be very concerned with the message and the immediate response to their advertising. Whether it triggers a behavior change, an attitude change.

Agencies, on the other hand, tend to be focussed on the big idea, getting attention.

What gets lost in the shuffle is the connection between getting attention and the brand. The whole business of executional branding.

How many times have you seen an ad, and when you have described it to someone, you couldn’t remember who the advertiser was?

Our data indicate that in North America, on average, across a variety of categories, only 35% of the people who claim to be aware of an ad that we have described can accurately identify the advertiser.

The rest of the time, people are saying, ‘I don’t know who was advertising,’ or they misattribute it. That’s pretty pathetic.

That speaks to the cluttter. It also speaks to the me-too advertising that really is not differentiated.

What are you advertising, if they can’t remember the brand?

The whole question of how does one effectively brand one’s advertising, so people come away from it knowing who it is for, is a critical issue.