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Brand Advertising: Myths, Misinformation and Bull

Most brand advertising agencies never measure how their TV campaigns directly impact sales and, therefore, have little or no idea if their advertising actually works. All they really know are whether the client “liked” the work and nebulous references to “brand awareness”.

In the absence of any real data about the effectiveness of their work, most brand advertising agencies resort to misinformation, half-truths and good old-fashioned bull about what constitutes effective advertising. Sadly, many of these myths are taken as facts by those who don’t know any better.

Here are five of my personal favorites.

  1. Focus groups loved it! That’s exciting! Too bad focus groups are notoriously incapable of judging effective advertising. In fact, savvy marketers know that the TV commercials that drive the most sales rarely rank very high in focus groups. Why? Because focus groups like entertaining and exciting commercials. But what makes people buy from a commercial is not entertainment and excitement – it’s relevant, useful information about how a product or service is going to improve their life. See the disconnect?
  2. Unaided brand awareness went up two points! Guess what? When Martha Stewart was convicted of insider trading, her unaided brand awareness went up 10 points. Unfortunately, brand awareness is not directly related to a consumer’s propensity to buy your product or service. If it was, commercials that build brand would by definition also drive sales, but many advertising campaigns manage to raise awareness without moving the sales needle one iota.
  3. The best commercials are short and snappy. Well, if “best” means “wasted the client’s money”, then I agree. But if it means “improved sales dramatically, drove retail traffic, and delivered a fantastic ROI”, then there is little doubt that short commercials suck. Anyone who has ever tested how consumers respond to commercials knows that, with very few exceptions, 60-second commercials significantly outperform 30-second ones.
  4. It’s fresh! It’s hip! It’s a hit! Everyone loves to be young and hip, especially brand advertising agencies full of young, hip people. And if you’re selling cell phones to teenagers, go for it! Otherwise, talk to the consumer in the visual and auditory language they are comfortable with and I guarantee you will sell a lot more product. It may not win you many awards, but it will win your client’s undying loyalty, which is considerably more valuable.
  5. Good ads don’t sell, they seduce: And when was the last time you were “seduced” into switching to a new auto insurance company, donating to charity or taking out a mortgage? Exactly. If you are uncomfortable with the idea of helping your client “sell” their product or service, I suggest you reconsider your chosen profession. As advertising professionals, we must do everything we can to help our clients grow their business and that means helping them sell their products and services. Yes, I said “sell”.

There you have it: five modern myths about TV advertising. Go to any brand presentation or award show and you’ll hear one or all of these ideas tossed around as if they are gospel truths. And they all make me very grateful I’m in the direct response business!

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About the author

Ian French, Head of Strategy

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