In Rob Asghar’s recent Forbes piece he expresses the opinion that traditional forms of advertising are a waste of time and money, especially in today’s “information-overload society.” His concern? The advertising industry is littered with commercials that are popular, but have forgettable messages. The example he gives is of a “heartwarming commercial” about a man who took his father on a trip to Norway. The commercial might have been great, but does anyone remember the message or brand?
Asghar’s assertion that traditional advertising is a waste is a bit sensationalist, says Marnie Kain, former EVP, Managing Director at Saatchi & Saatchi NY. She now runs advertising and marketing consultancy, KAIN & CO, which outsources independent talent formerly with agencies including Saatchi, Mother, R/GA, Publicis and BBDO.
“Despite the author’s attempt to remedy the issue, his most salient point by far is about the importance of memorability,” Kain said. “Clearly with some thoughtful strategic adjustments, all ads could be more memorable and as a result, more effective and motivating.”
The article mentions the work of Dr. Tait Martin, chief research officer and managing partner of Taproot Creative and an affiliate professor of social marketing in the College of Public Health at the University of South Florida. He believes that advertisers “work under the illusion that, if they just make impressions or entertain the audience, consumers will then remember the sponsor positively and later take positive action.” His solution is that ads should incorporate four “levers” which are directed at getting people to act: feeling, function, compatibility and cost. These levers are important, particularly when it comes to product design, but they don’t address the article’s promising premise: lack of memorability in advertising. In order to act, the viewer first needs to remember the ad.
I advise a consultancy called Memory Layer that takes this issue head on by making messages more memorable. I asked co-founders James Jorasch and Chris Harwood to share a brief overview of the Memory WHEEL™ that they created to analyze and quantify the memorability of ads and make recommendations for improvement. The principles that encompass the Memory WHEEL might make the difference between making a valuable impression and simply being forgotten.
Abstract ideas that cannot be directly sensed carry little value. The brain has a difficult time internalising more esoteric concepts, such as ‘liberty’, ‘courage’, or ‘relief’. So how do you give weight to an abstract idea? The concept of relief, for example, was made tangible in the classic Alka Seltzer commercial, with its fizzy glass of water and memorable jingle: plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh, what a relief it is. This gives the product staying power and weight in the imagination of your audience.
Like a crew rowing in unison, the elements of an ad should operate toward a single key message. When the elements are more organized and harmonious, the brain is better able to process the message. Many ads make the mistake of using emotional elements that don’t fit the theme as a way to generate laughs, thinking that the humor will make the ad more memorable. And it will, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing as the memorable part will be the ad itself at the cost of the message.
Connecting the memorable parts of an ad to the message is extremely important yet often overlooked. Neglecting to do so may result in an entertaining commercial, but eyeballs on the screen is no longer an appropriate measurement of an ad’s success. Just putting your logo at the end of an ad does not entangle the memorability of the message with that of the commercial. More often it results in two separate commercials but only one worth remembering. If an ad is viewed by millions of people and it doesn’t achieve its true purpose of putting focus on the message, that’s money wasted.
In order for an advertisement to be truly experienced, it must engage the audience. The staying power of a message increases when the imagination is sparked. A passive audience is an uninterested audience and, as a result, a forgetful one. It’s the difference between getting on stage and belting out a tune during karaoke yourself or listening to a stranger sing “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.” One of the biggest advertising hits of the last decade, Old Spice’s The Man Your Man Could Smell Like campaign, mastered this principle by bringing the audience into the action and demanding imagination.
Attention is like a spotlight shining on a room filled with objects. Those objects under the spotlight are the ones most likely to be remembered while the others remain in the dark. The focus of the viewer needs to be directed at the most important elements at each moment of the ad. If you fail to leverage the attention of the audience, you’re wasting two precious resources: their time and your money.