The most valuable thing that we possess as an industry is consumer willingness to consider our messages. Abuse that willingness and we will all suffer says Sue Elms, head of global brand management, Millward Brown.
We live in the age of advertising plenty. Every day and in every way, we receive hundreds of messages from brands. The volume of ad impressions delivered rises year on year as online and mobile expand the opportunities to reach consumers.
It’s fair to say that even as advertising practitioners we can sometimes find the volume of messages that we see as overwhelming. For the wider public, ad overkill simply leads to an increased intolerance of our work.
Perhaps the best way to consider this is to think of it like Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere. When the percentage of Co2 is within the right bounds, there is no risk of climate change, but when it rises beyond a critical level we put our long-term existence at risk.
That sounds over dramatic but I see an ominous portent already. The ad awareness iceberg is melting.
Of course, ad awareness is not the only reason for advertising, but it’s a sensitive indicator, linked to short term sales response, and it’s been nicely responsive to advertising for many years. However, after taking out the effect of creative quality and media weight, ad awareness at a brand level has shown declines over recent years.
People could say this is mainly a TV problem, after all TV is still a large part of spend and a significant chunk of viewing is distracted by multi-screening, impacting ad recall.
Our global AdReaction study shows that amongst people with access to multiple devices, an average of 35% of TV viewing time was spent simultaneously watching TV and another device. Nielsen research commissioned by AOL, suggested that TV ads were recalled by around a quarter as many multi-screening consumers as those focused on the single screen.
But it is a bigger problem than TV. Multiple distracting activities now seem to dominate all our lives, whether that is checking your phone while walking down the street and, not paying attention to out of home advertising, or watching TV while surfing the net (distraction goes both ways!).
I am most worried about general market clutter. We know that declining ad awareness correlates with advertising clutter and this has escalated dramatically, generally thanks to the internet. Unfortunately, the historic advertiser reaction to reducing ad awareness in cluttered markets has been to shout still louder.
We have always known that people have only a small place in their lives for brands but what does this mean for the future of our industry at a time when the ambient internet, pervasive and connecting data, devices, screens and sensors are transforming the media landscape.
Advertising and other brand content will be “always on” and targeted more and more tightly to contexts and situations and people, via the most appropriate device and screen. But the consumer will not all always be willing to receive that message. If we continue to boost the volume and intrusiveness of advertising then the critical level of receptivity will continue to drop.
What we need are some benchmarks – a good baseline – to track where we are and the impact it could have on our business.
Kantar Media’s large-scale TGI surveys contain a question “I find advertising a waste of my time”. A quick look at 10 countries from around the world shows figures in the mid-30 to mid-40 percent on this measure. But more worrying is the increase in people endorsing this measure since 2012 (the change is particularly notable in the UK).
My colleague (and rival blogger) Nigel Hollis, recently quoted a 2014 Forrester study finding that on six of seven social networks, the brands they studied achieved an engagement rate of less than 0.1%. Nigel also cites the 6,000 plus studies conducted by Millward Brown’s Neuroscience Practice revealing that people don’t really care about brands. On a scale from strong attraction to strong rejection, 90% of brands currently sit at a point that can be labelled “weakly positive”.
We need to know more about the consumers who see our messages and their willingness to acknowledge or register them.
Unless we can track their receptivity (and identify the moments when it’s likely to be higher) then we won’t understand how we can maximize this precious resource.
If our response as an industry is to pump out more and more ads then we will ultimately make it even harder for advertising to be effective.
Some brands such as Red Bull have addressed the receptivity challenge by creating inspiring content and events – things that consumers want to see – but most are still not far enough down that path.
It’s imperative that we as an industry think carefully about receptivity, not only do we need to track it but we also need to treat it as the precious resource it really is.
If advertisers fail to think about the long-term cumulative effect of their advertising on how people think and feel about their brands, they could end up over-spending, irritating consumers and turning them off advertising in general (as well as turning them off their brand).
Some brands may be able to count on a consumer predisposed to be receptive (Apple for instance) and some will have earned it (like Red Bull), but the vast majority of brands rely on a more general “environmental” receptivity to make themselves heard.
If we abuse it then we may find it ever harder to make an effective impact. Let’s plant the advertising equivalent of more trees.