What is worse – Ad wearout or under exposure?

Georgia Phillips
By Georgia Phillips | 1 April 2021
Georgia Phillips

Georgia Phillips, COO, Luma Research

So, I have a tough question for you. Is your ad REALLY worn out or are you just bored with it?

If there is just one piece of advice I could share with marketers about their advertising, it is to STOP changing ads so often.

I get it - making ads is fun. And it can also be rewarding (especially if you win awards) because it is tangible (we can share our ads on LinkedIn to show others what we have been doing) and we feel like we are making a difference our brand.

But, actually, in most cases, we are not making a difference for the brand. Only around a third of ads work and just because we made a good ad last time does not mean we will have a good ad next time. If we rush to make a new ad every year, statistically we are going to get caught out somewhere.

And even if we do get it right, it takes time for an ad to be seen and establish memories, feelings and associations in consumers’ minds. A single viewing of an ad is not usually enough to embed our brand perceptions and assets. Our ad needs time to establish itself, time for it to be enjoyed and time to build memory structures.

Changing your ad every year or 6 months makes that difficult. We have some clients who change their ads every 4-6 weeks.

Why? Good question! If you are a retailer and want to change your price and product messages for the seasons, it makes sense. But if you are a FMCG brand or working in financial services, there is no need to make so many ads – you will just confuse your audience and their perceptions of you. This is the risk of us changing our ads so much – we have no time to consistently build our brand.

“But, what about wearout?” I hear you asking. If we use the same ad for a long time, won’t people get sick of it?
Probably not! In most cases, ads don’t wear out that quickly. Here are 5 tips to consider…

1. What is wearout?
The marketing dictionary defines wearout as ‘the decline in effectiveness of an ad after exposure to the audience’. But for most of us people in marketing, wearout is a dirty word and we seem to be unnecessarily concerned about it. Wearout only happens when an ad is over-exposed. These days, with our reduced advertising budgets and fragmented media, we rarely have the luxury of having an ad which is over exposed. Mostly, we have the reverse problem – under exposure.

2. Wearout is driven more by media than the creative
If you are really worried about wearout, look at your media plan before changing your ad. Obviously if you have really heavy TRP weights, or high frequency on limited networks/media channels your ad may wearout more quickly. In the past I have seen clients spending upward of 400 TRPs a week on single executions. Few clients have the luxury of this sort of spend these days. But if you do have high media weights, giving your ad a ‘mini break’ can work wonders to refresh its impact.

3. Balance wearout with decay
A bigger issue for brands is actually the decay of brand memories. Decay is the ‘fading memory of an ad’ and it can set it within weeks of people being exposed to your advertising. This means that associations and feelings triggered by your ad are not long working to impact on your viewers. Your brand can start to be forgotten, your assets fade. So, this is why giving your ad a little rest can work so well – people have had a chance to forget it a little and even a rest of a few weeks can help.

4. Annoyance and boredom trigger wearout
If you want to minimise the wearout potential of your ad, you need to find creative constructs that are enduring. If you get the creative right, you can actually use it for years. The Mars brand seem to find the formula and then don’t mess with their ads. There are some great ads for M&Ms, Maltesers & Snickers which have long term appeal. They continue to make us smile every time we see them

We recently just tested the long-running M&Ms plane ad  and the Eclipse Mints ad to see how they rated.

Both were launched around ten years ago and have been pulsed on and off air pretty consistently since then. Today 74% claim to have see the M&Ms ad and 71% have seen the Eclipse one. So they must be worn out? Nope – both ads are ads are still engaging and leave people feeling good about their brands. The M&Ms ad is still amongst the top 30% of all the ad we have tested.

So, how do you make an ad like this? Base your creative on an insight – are you talking to a consumer need or human truth? If you are, and you execute the idea in an engaging way, chances are that the ad will continue to work in the long term.

It is only the ads which really annoy, offend or bore people that have people will actively tire of. And generally it is these ads which don’t really work in the first place. So it is not a question of whether the ads are worn out, but whether they are effective to begin with.

5. The come-back creative
It is interesting to see some brands return to familiar brand constructs from previous campaigns. Leveraging nostalgic references is a smart approach. Not only are we able to tap into positive brand memories, but also continue to reinforce our brand assets. Obviously it works best for the ads that people originally loved and that were true to the brand personality.

Don’t dismiss this approach as lazy marketing. When we have limited budgets we need to get the biggest bang for buck – this could be just the trick.

So, if you are feeling a little tired of your ad. Think again. Does your measurement show that it is really worn out? Or are you just sick of it? Building a brand is like climbing a mountain…it takes persistence, it takes courage and it takes time. Don’t give up too soon.

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