Thursday, September 8, 2011

Why do brand names accompany punch lines?

When simply watching TV commercials or even when thinking about the creative process behind making those commercials, it seems intuitive to build them up towards a punch line and to present the brand name (and/or the product) together with this punch line. Still, it keeps me baffled just to see how often this is almost the only brand name mention in some of these ads. From a strategic rather than a creative point of view, such practices are pretty much like stone age wisdom applied. Granted, TV might not be the most sexy and up-to-date advertising medium according to some of the advertising innovators, but stone age...? Or am I missing something and is there a vast amount of research out there contesting some of the old school wisdom?

My fast and frugal selection of such old school findings could start with Stewart & Koslow (1989 - wow, Mark Zuckerberg was only 5 years old) who replicated prior findings on commercials and clearly demonstrated the benefit of commercials where the product or brand had ample screen time, where the main message appeared quickly and where the brand or product name appeared quickly. Did the younger generation's attention span triple such that we do not have to bother about it anymore? I don't think so.
Another piece of evidence could come from studies demonstrating the residual effect of partially avoided commercials. As you might know, active avoidance is a real problem in TV commercials because people, for instance, use commercial breaks to zap or go to the fridge. Bellman and colleagues (granted, the research is not so old school - published in 2010) showed that partially avoided ads still increase the ads effectiveness in persuading people if people have seen the ad at least once before. So, these partially perceived ads act as reminders. Given this, it seems rational to suggest that this residual effectiveness of partial ads would be better if the brand name is included in the beginning of the ad, before the avoidance kicks in.
Add to the above that the crux of a truly effective creative ad should be about associating the ad with the brand. Whether you regard associative learning as something low level (like Pavlovian or evaluative conditioning) or more high level as in propositional learning, one core idea of course is that you should provide the learner with the associative concepts (i.e. the creative commercial and the brand). That is the very intuitive reason why brand name cueing, brand name imprinting or brand name salience (e.g., Baker 2003) seem so important to me.

Just to make it more tangible, here is one example of a new commercial in Flanders for a newspaper (De Morgen, commercial created by Famous). Irrespective of the ad's creative value and attention grabbing weirdness, I'm very curious on how well it scores on brand recall.


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