Alex Steer

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‘Brand’ vs ‘activation’ advertising: a matter of timing

511 words | ~3 min

Reposted from LinkedIn

This by Mark Ritson is a good summary of and thoughtful build upon the ‘long vs short’ work of Les Binet and Peter Field.

It makes the point that communications that build brand knowledge, memorability and perceptions, rather than merely using them to prompt direct action, rapidly become more effective when done well. They are not so much ‘long-term’ as ‘sustained’.

But, to build a bit further: the piece reminded me of the tendency I see a lot when discussing this topic, to spend too much time thinking about the advertisements and the media formats, and too little thinking about the people encountering them.

One of the biggest choices we make is whether to talk to people who are likely to buy soon, or not. (‘Soon’ varies by category - minutes for milk, weeks for cars.)

Direct response communications (which now includes a huge variety of digital media, search, and CRM) are immediately effective and valuable because they let us reach people who are about to buy and prompt them with actions we want them to take. Done well, this capitalises on existing brand associations to protect existing demand, and switch demand away from competitors. This can be done among known existing users (eg through CRM) or along intent non-users (eg through search). It’s an art in its own right and shouldn’t be undervalued or demeaned.

What we imprecisely call ‘brand’ communications are those largely shown to people who are not likely to buy soon. Is this a sensible thing to do? Yes, if it cost-effectively creates the associations mentioned above, that we capitalise on when prompting response. If selling a $10 product, it is better to spend $3 creating demand this month and $2 converting it next month than to spend $6 driving a response this month in the absence of any prior knowledge or association. Not for any great philosophical reasons, but because you get an extra $1 of profit. The only reason to do the opposite is if you’re in a hurry. ‘Short-term’ is an attribute best applied to marketers rather than their ads.

If we think of ‘brand’ ads as ‘ads shown to people unlikely to buy soon’, we see they are not fundamentally different in kind. You could show an ad saying ‘buy a Jeep’ to anyone… but you might expect better results from some people than others. So ‘brand’ ads tend to put something in your mind that will stay there until you are next ready to buy. One of those things is familiarity with a brand’s identity, products and services. An ad that says ‘buy some Spongles’ is unlikely to have much impact even on the most determined immediate buyer… whereas ‘buy some Pringles’ may. The other is some set of positive associations.

‘Brand’ ads also tend to benefit from the happy accident of being seen by imminent buyers as well, and to current brand users as well as non-users. So they can stimulate response among the intent, and prompt repeat buying… hence the immediate sales effect.

# Alex Steer (05/02/2023)