Advertising Effectiveness-Shift

Like many of you, over the past couple weeks I’ve been trying to catch up on the stack of weekly and monthly magazines and journals overtaking my desk and their related electronic companions flooding my email box. When poring over the articles I was struck by an opinion piece in the latest edition of Ad Age (click here to read the full article). The author (Rance Crain) reflects on the fact that the top advertising in terms of recall and consistency is coming from the auto-insurance industry. Sounds kind of crazy when you consider that auto-insurance probably doesn’t make it onto your list of the top 100 most interesting products. Just a few years ago, almost no one would have guessed that some of the most creative and memorable ads would be coming from this industry, but here we are and nearly everyone is familiar with the campaigns being run today by Geico (Gecko), Progressive (Flo), State Farm (Like a Good Neighbor…), and Allstate (Mayhem).

Crain reflects on the days when the “bastions of creativity” were beer, soft drinks, fast food, and rent-a-cars, and laments that these brands have suffered under a corporate perspective that is unfocused and pedestrian. Crain goes further to attribute this change to a couple of related factors; first that corporate executives have turned their focus to other areas of the organization when, in the past, they paid particular attention to the brands that defined who the company is, what the company does, and why the company does it. The second element is the consolidation of most ad agencies into mega-organizations themselves. Citing a famous partnership between Young & Rubicam and General Foods, Crain asks how likely is it today that the CEOs of an ad agency and a major corporation would check-in with each other every week to ensure the health of the corporation’s brands?

One obstacle to effective marketing in today’s world is “the obsession with quick results” and the author suggests that when senior executives are truly involved with the brands, the brands thrive and endure. Crain believes that in the insurance industry, executives “stay put” and by extension are engaged more consistently over time, leading to brand consistency and success.

The premise behind the article is interesting, but got me thinking a bit more about what else may be contributing to this “effectiveness-shift”. While executive involvement likely plays a role, I can’t help but think about how brand positioning strategy plays into this as well. The confluence of quick results, transient brand management, and poor brand positioning strategy can lead to schizophrenic advertising and confused consumers. Back in the days Crain reflects upon, teams weren’t afraid to clearly define their target customers, identify a strong brand positioning, and give their promotion and advertising a chance to create the perceptions defined by the positioning strategy. Today, the desire for fast results, whether driven by executive pressure or Wall Street reporting (or both), has stripped away the successful practice of developing and nurturing brands over time. The need for fast results and the growth of digital marketing, which throws off near immediate reporting, has forced many brand teams to target the broadest possible set of potential customers and go for the lowest hanging fruit. They frequently deliver on the short-term results management wants, but fail to deliver long-term value to the organization as the brands often grow then lag in a nauseating undulation of success and failure.

Does this mean that to create a successful brand you need to forgo short-term success? No, of course not. It means that brand teams often make the false choice of broadening their potential market and generalizing the brand’s positioning to ensure short-term success. It is very likely they would have achieved a similar level of short-term success by following good brand positioning principles with the added benefit of a healthy, robust brand over the long-term. We’ve covered this before in other PositioningTips®, defining a clear target customer and communicating the benefit your brand delivers to them increases the likelihood of success. If your brand positioning has been thoughtfully and carefully crafted, the ability to succeed in the short-term and continue to grow over the long-term is considerably stronger than one designed with an eye toward quick success.

Coming back to Crain’s article, is the fact that executive attention in industries such as auto-insurance, where the product offering is relatively narrow and leadership tenor longer, a key driver in marketing success? It certainly doesn’t hurt, especially when compared to industries where brand team leadership turns over more frequently and executive attention is spread across numerous products and businesses. If executive leadership doesn’t encourage and monitor the development of long-term brand health, who will? As long as organizations focus on the short-term, solid, traditional, brand development will suffer and quick-hit, campaign-less advertising will rule the day.