The Folly of the ‘The Long and the Short of It’

Posted 17 Nov 2020
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The theory goes, you can maximise sales by separating your advertising into a two-step process comprising of brand building and direct response. It is reasoned that brand building communication (the long) will create an emotional store that can be drawn from when direct response (the short) communication is aired and in doing so, progress the prospect through the purchase funnel.

Creatives and media partners proposing a two-step process often contend that the emotion-based brand building should be aired on linear TV and the more direct response, bottom of the funnel message delivered on search and social channels.

Splitting the communication into a two-step process creates its own challenges. At both stages the communication must be both seen[i] and attributed to the advertiser’s brand. That is, recognition and linkage. In implementing a two-step process, we have entered the world of conditional probabilities and multiplying fractions by fractions.

Despite very significant media investment, we have seen instances in which fewer than 3% of prospective customers have transversed the two-step process. And to be clear, that is NOT progressing to a sale. This is just recognition and linkage to the correct brand for both the brand building and direct response communications. (Please see ‘The Funnel Alibi: Why brand building and activation should be undertaken simultaneously’ – WARC July 2020.)

On the other hand, we have seen the separation of brand building and direct response well managed to maximise the combined outcome. We have worked with clients that have executed the brand building and direct response in different creatives however, executed in the one ad break. Better still, we have worked with many clients that have very successfully undertaken brand building and direct response in the one creative. At Forethought we call this the Communications Triple Play. Triple play because the creative elicits an emotion and communicates price competitiveness and quality – the ingredients of brand building and direct response. In our view, the Triple Play is by far, the most efficient and successful form of brand building and direct response marketing communications.

The Purpose of Emotion in Communication

When contemplating implementing a two-step process it is worthwhile revisiting the importance of emotion in brand building. For the purposes of marketing communication, emotion serves a number of roles. First, emotion aides in laying down new memories. The communication needs to disrupt (attention is non-divisible), stimulate an emotion, and provide a reason to believe to be laid down as a memory. The rationale for laying down a memory is to achieve relative strength (distinctiveness and salience) for a primary quality and price rational driver of choice. Communication designed only to elicit an emotion unaccompanied by a reason to believe are a frightfully inefficient and wasteful if not entirely ineffectual way to spend the communications budget.

Second, emotion in advertising is used to create a neural pathway between product usage and an implicit brand association. The rationale for building the neural pathway is to facilitate the non-conscious, affective choice of your brand. For example, cocoa consumption releases serotonin – a building blocks of happiness. Over the generations, Hershey has built an implicit bond between happiness and the Hershey’s brand (Forethought has been part of this journey). When a prospect desires a lift in mood there is a pre-existing implicit association with Hershey’s and with that emotional detonator comes choice. We cannot decide without an emotional detonator. A quick word of caution, the brand also needs to perform well. Continuing the chocolate example, perform well on rational criteria like taste and price. It is not a purely emotional choice and nor should your advertising.

Building neural pathway between brand and choice and the associated marketing communications investment falls squarely into the category of brand building. However, there are two precursors. The first is to identify the emotion you are seeking to elicit and the second is endurance in building that association. I recently asked a CMO which discrete emotion he was building a brand association with. He confidently answered “help.” Therein lies the first challenge; know what an emotion is and how it relates to consumer choice. Help is not an emotion. So, the first building block is to understand the link between the category’s discrete emotion and consumption/usage. Frankly, it is uncommon to encounter a brand owner that can tell you which discrete emotion they are seeking to elicit in marketing communication. Brand owners generally outsource the core responsibility of identifying which discrete emotion to elicit in marketing communication to the creative agency which instead, in our view should be part of the brand owner’s creative brief. Creative agencies do not have the scientific means for assessing which discrete emotion is most associated with the consumption/use in your category.

The second building block is endurance. This means selecting the discrete emotion and building the association in perpetuity. Most purely emotional advertising is not brand building because, it elicits the big idea emotion and not the emotion in consumption or use and the campaigns are done in bursts which is fine for winning awards but ineffective in brand building. Awards jurors seem to love the big emotional anthem but in all instances that we have objectively measured, they are not long run or short run, brand building.

The alternative to the emotional anthem

So, what is the solution? Brand response campaigns should embody a Communications Triple Play that includes 1) a price competitiveness element, 2) a single non-price reason to believe and 3) an emotional detonator which is linked to the purchase decision. This drives brand building and activate now.

Please let me help by providing three quotes from the Binet and Field report which support the need for a holistic messaging approach:

  • ‘Most profitable of all are campaigns that drive both volume and pricing: as will be shown, many of these combine a long-term brand-building strand and a short-term activation strand designed to work together.’ (Page 19)
  • ‘Traditionally, brands seeking to stimulate short and long-term sales have run separate ‘direct response’ and ‘brand’ campaigns. Recent decades have seen the emergence of hybrid ‘brand response’ campaigns in which the brand ‘idea’ has been chosen for its adaptability as both a driver of long-term preference as well as a vehicle for short-term activation activity. Thus, the two campaign strands are not disparate, each powerfully evoking the other. This makes them more roundly effective and thus more profitable than either pure brand or pure response campaigns.’ (Page 28)
  • ‘So, all long-term brand-building campaigns should include an element designed to convert the improving demand for the brand into immediate sales.’ (Page 28)
    Or, put a little more assertively by Hugh Johnston, Vice Chairman and Chief Financial Officer of PepsiCo, “Any idiot can do short term. Any idiot can do long term. The trick is to do both.” Indeed, the real trick is to do both brand building and direct response not in a single campaign but in every single communication element of the campaign. The most wasteful advertising is unquestionably the stand-alone emotional anthem.

Ken Roberts, Chairman Forethought


[i] Forethought uses recognition to also capture low attention processing.