Monday, January 26, 2015

When It Comes to Super Bowl Advertising, Emotional Engagement Beats Entertainment. Always.

Fewer than half of Super Bowl XLIX’s advertisers will score big on their considerable investments, according to the 13th annual Super Bowl Ad Engagement Survey conducted by Brand Keys.

When it comes to Super Bowl ad playbooks, brands hope ads will score big in five ways: 1) big audiences, 2) big creative, 3) big buzz, and 4) big social networking, and 5) big levels of emotional brand engagement. That last one is most important! It’s a leading-indicator of consumers’ positive behavior toward the brand in the only arena that counts – the real-world marketplace.

The Super Bowl, one of the most-watched events in broadcasting, has long been a showcase for innovative advertising creativity, but in an attempt to level the ad playing field, marketers have increasingly moved to create up-front buzz for their ads, a tacit recognition that it’s a given their ads will get noticed – along with everyone else’s.

Sure, brands need to entertain if they want buzz, but today, if brands want a real return, it isn’t enough just to entertain, they need to emotionally engage consumers with their ads.  Do that, and consumers come away feeling the brand better meets their expectations for their Ideal in the category where the brand competes. That’s what real brand engagement is all about, and way different than entertainment or methods of engagement. 

Assessments collected via mobile software from 2,705 men and women measured social networking activities for 26 brands reported in the media to be Super Bowl advertisers calculating consumers’ emotional engagement for the brand itself, the levels of anticipated advertising entertainment (according to social interactions and buzz), and the brand within the context of the Super Bowl broadcast. Results were perceptually mapped to identify where consumers saw the brand falling, identifying whether consumers felt the brand will engage and entertain, entertain only, engage but not entertain or neither engage nor entertain. Each combination results in a different in-market outcome for the brand and for this year’s results, just click here.

It turns out that only 46% of the brands were assessed by consumers as both engaging and entertaining (only 12 of the 26 brands), slightly lower than the 12-year historical average of 50%. Those included Pepsi, WeatherTech, Doritos, GoDaddy, and Dove Men+Care. According to social networking inputs, brands assessed to be highly entertaining but with low engagement levels included Budweiser, Coke, and McDonald’s.

Agencies and marketers all pretty much assume their ads will be entertaining, but advertising really shouldn’t be judged only by entertainment value or related social network activities, but how it ultimately performs in the marketplace. Does the ad emotionally engage and build brand equity?  Does it engage enough to drive sales? If so, you’ll see positive bottom line impact - even if the advertising wasn’t as entertaining as envisioned. A brand that can both engage and entertain is a real Super Bowl winner.

With 30-second spots selling for a reported $4.5 million plus, marketers need a new game plan when it comes to ad effectiveness and ROI. Monday-morning creative quarterbacking is always fun. Ad entertainment and social networking reviews generate lots of chatter, traditional and digital. But these days that’s not enough.

On this particular Sunday, when a brand gets into people’s living rooms and on their computer or mobile device screens, it doesn’t matter how many consumers tweet, like, or share if, ultimately, it doesn’t increase emotional brand engagement levels, positive consumer behavior, and sales. Otherwise what brands have produced are very short, very expensive movies!

And sticking with this Sunday’s theme, it’s worth remembering that there may not be an “I” in “team,” but there is one in “ROI.”

Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Super Bowl 2015: Professors vs. Researchers

Since a good researcher always gives attribution, I want to give credit properly. The title of this column was taken from Tom Lehrer’s satiric song, “Bright College Days,” originally composed as a song for graduates to sing at reunions.

But it occurred to me it was an equally appropriate phrase to describe some Business School Professors when they pontificate about the real marketplace. Why gripe about this? Well, every year Brand Keys conducts our Super Bowl Ad Engagement survey. It measures not whether people just see the ad for a brand, and more than if they just liked the ad, but whether the ad engages them.

By “engages” we mean did the viewers of this ad come away with a feeling that the brand better meets the expectations they hold for the Ideal in the category in which the brand competes. Would they watch and behave better toward the brand? Would they feel the brand was doing something that that made them say, “Wow, what a great brand!” as opposed to “Wow, that was a funny/sad ad, and I think I should share that with my Mom/sister/100,000 Facebook friends because they all like Puppies. She doesn’t drink beer, and I wouldn't buy that brand of beer and none of my friends do either, but it was sure a funny/sad commercial. I think I’ll tweet about it!”

As most of the post-game ratings just have to do with awareness and/or creative reactions and not the criteria that counts – does the brand do well in the marketplace because of this ad – few marketers (and even fewer of the Business School folks) actually bother to look back and see what the market effects – Bayesian or otherwise – turned out to be.

OK, so why grumble? Why not be content wit the old cliché “Those who can, do. Those who can’t teach”? Well, I read something that got me going. It was a column about the Super Bowl from one of those ivy-covered professors. I’m not going to give you their name or school – the quality of mercy is not strained even in the research industry – but here are some things that were asserted, and how a real-world research practitioner sees it. I’ve paraphrased their extraordinarily optimistic view of Super Bowl advertising, and there were not caveats or demurs. As a researcher of some experience and repute, I think I’ve fairly captured their view (indicated in bold).

The Super Bowl is a really good opportunity for brands.
Well, to be fair, for some brands, but not all brands. In fact, not for most brands, no matter what the MBA profs assert. Especially not if you’re expecting to see some actual returns in the actual marketplace, short-term or long-term.

You reach an immense audience.
True. The largest audience in human history, but not everyone is your brand’s target audience, and some might have been on a beer run when your brand’s commercial ran. No, seriously, hasn’t anyone told these guys that awareness is the longest way to profitability there is? The awareness model is not only outdated in today’s Daedalean digi-verse, but there are questions as to its soundness even in simpler times. And as some YouTube spots receive 60,000,000+ views, if exposure is all you want, there’s lots cheaper ways than a 30-second Super Bowl spot. But more about that below. (BTW, we are aware that some of the smaller brands break open the marketing piggy bank to buy a spot hoping to create some buzz. But buzz doth not bottom-line engagement make.)

The Super Bowl can drive customer engagement.
Well, that depends on how you define “engagement.” The whole advertising exercise is, or should be, about benefiting the brand. You know, getting people to think you’re better than the competition. Buying more of you more often. Making money. Historically speaking, that doesn’t transpire for almost half the brands that spend their gabillions of dollars for production and time. Engagement is not just getting it out there or even getting it out there and having people tweet about it. It’s getting it out there and selling something!

The Super Bowl provides you with a really good platform for integrating social media.
Yeah, so? As mentioned, that only matters if counting tweets and shares and likes actually correlated with real brand engagement and market effects, and that is more the exception than the rule. Here’s an example from last year, for a smaller brand, the massively socially-networked SodaStream commercial starring the massively sexy Scarlet Johansson.

First, that commercial (and others) are so reliant on buzz in order to feel secure about their effort, that it was released online before the actual game. Kind of defeats the argument about the immense Super Bowl audience, but OK, let’s leave it at that, and say that last year, all anybody could share/tweet/talk and watch on YouTube was the Scarlet Johansson SodaStream commercial. We will, for the record and any textbooks, totally acknowledge that SodaStream’s entry was immensely entertaining.

But according to our professor, those commercials would qualify as “engaging.” And while sex may sell, the commercial was not engaging for the brand as we define it from a behavioral perspective. Revenue for the company was down 13%; U.S. sales were down 41%. The company was forced to close one of their companies and they are currently repositioning the home soda maker as a “sparkling water maker.” This same pattern and bottom-lines showed up for bigger brands and perennial Super Bowl advertisers like Budweiser, McDonald’s, and Coca-Cola. Entertainment is no replacement for brand engagement. Oh, by the way, we don’t think that they are mutually exclusive. The best advertising is both, but if you only have one play, go with “engagement.”

Finally, advertising on the Super Bowl declares that the company is committed to investing in the brand and growing their market share.
Well, not entirely. Sure they’re committed, but based on the actual market results, some brand managers should be committed. OK, old Groucho Marx joke, but a couple of things: First, the brands that perennially advertise on the Super Bowl are pretty much known by most sentient beings already, and in this century are mostly expected by consumers to show up for the big game. It isn’t a surprise to them that Doritos is there again this year or one of the film studios is promoting a new movie. More importantly, it often turns out to be a pretty bad investment if the brand was expecting to influence consumer behavior and grow their profits and market share. Just ask the entertaining SodaStream. Or sentimental Budweiser, the diverting McDonald’s, or equally enjoyable Coca Cola. For all the creative kudos and social shares, they’re not doing so hot in the marketplace these days.

These comments aren’t schadenfreude. They are market realities. There’s a bottom line for brands looking to successfully invest in any event like the Super Bowl that those of us that do this day in and day out really understand: unless your advertising can create emotional brand engagement, it doesn’t matter how big the audience is because you may be spending a lot of money just to entertain a lot of people. Which is a really nice thing to do, but – outside of the classroom – ultimately is not the outcome brands are really looking for.

So I invite all of you to think about what I’ve said about “engagement” and check back on the results of this year’s Brand Keys Super Bowl Ad Engagement study, which will be released next week and see how things really turn out. For the professors out there evangelizing the Super Bowl, I think it’s fair to remind them that while there may not be an “I” in “TEAM,” there is one in Return-On-Investment!

Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Predictive Metrics Only Work If They Actually Predict Something!

If that sounds self-evident, before you go, “well, duh,” think about this: Many companies talk the talk about “prediction” and “predictive metrics” and how everything from neuroscience measures to keeping tabs on tweets, scoring social network shares, and listing ‘likes’ are predictive and can accurately forecast consumer behavior. But, alas, ultimately they don’t do the required walk. It turns out that making predictions tends to be a far more popular pastime than actually checking on their accuracy. Few researchers or marketers put their predictions to the test, so we decided to do something about it.

The sixth annual Brand Keys What Happened? audio recording series that addresses predictive brand, marketing and advertising metrics, and was posted this week. This year’s review focuses on over a dozen categories including technology, pizza, ride-sharing apps, fast food, fast-casual food, retail, phablets, and coffee. The predictive review also examines consumer market effects related to emotional engagement values like patriotism, luxury, and innovation.

What Happened? examines predictions made about brands like Apple, Google, Louis Vuitton, Uber McDonald’s, Harley Davidson, Sears, Starbucks, Disney, Domino’s Jeep, Coca-Cola, Pizza Hut, Samsung, Hermés, and Chipotle, and reviews the accuracy of those predictions by examining what actually happened in the marketplace. The free recordings may be found at

The predictive metrics were extracted from Brand Keys’ 2014 Customer Loyalty Engagement Index, a 32,000 consumer-based assessment of 64 B2B and B2C categories and 600 brands, and reviews predictions made as early as the first week of January 2014. The engagement and loyalty process allows marketers to measure what is going to happen because the approach measures the real emotions and expectations attached to brands and associated marketing and advertising efforts on a scalable basis.

They identify the really important emotions and expectations and category shifts 12 to 18 months ahead of traditional research, well ahead of MRI-driven neuroresearch, which, for some reason marketers seem to believe delivers super-charged research insights into emotions connected to categories and brands. Maybe it’s all the lights and colors. Storytelling and entertainment are all well and good, but aren’t adequate substitutes for engaged consumers, sales or brand profitability. Prediction is remarkably less risky, is 100% consumer-driven, requires no wires, and produce validated metrics that point to what people will actually do, instead of what they say they are going to do. And provide marketers with the answer to the ultimate question, “What’s going to happen to my brand?”

The thing is a cursory review of claims about traditional survey-based brand research and even copy testing might lead one to believe that they work well at predicting the impact on sales of different strategies and campaigns, but we disagree. If their predictions are so good, why are marketers unable to accurately predict brand trajectories, especially when they suffer losses of sales and customers? Why don’t research results match actual market results? Why does that “predictive” research allow brands to fail?

The new generation of market researchers may have forgotten, but back in the late ‘60s marketers tried the same thing with galvanic skin response measures. They didn’t light up, but they did have wires, and it turned out they interesting, but not predictive. Lab tests are well and good and we applaud those who push the boundaries of marketing science, but it’s important not to allow enthusiasm for chasing the newest shiny thing to get in the way of accurate prediction.

Winston Churchill once noted, “No matter how beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” Today he’d need to add, “no matter how beautifully told the story,” “how cinematographically filmed,” “how many tweets and views were received,” or “what part of the brain lit up.” If nothing else, we hope our own review will inspire marketers to demand more from their research. Maybe do a little digging on their own “predictive” metrics, and about what was promised and what actually transpired. Because there’s a big difference between truly predictive metrics and interestingly collected data, and it’s worth marketers’ time to note the distinction.

You’re betting you brands’ futures on it.

Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Brand And Marketing Trends for 2015

It’s been said that there are three kinds of marketers and how they deal with them: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened! So, for smart marketers who want to fall into that second group, paying attention to what looms ahead is the wisest move they can make.

Twenty-fifteen, and the future it will bring, will soon be upon us. In numerology the combination of number 1 (representing leadership and forward movement) and the number 5 (the numeric for business and finance) becomes 15, the fusion of leadership and forward, profitable momentum. This is only useful, of course, assuming you’re a marketer willing to bet your brand’s success on a divine relationship between numbers and impending events.

In the real world, however, when it comes to trends and the future, a Brand Keys’ review over 150,000 predictive loyalty and engagement assessments is a more reliable way to identify trends coming down the road in 2015. Take a look:
  1. Everyone of a Kind: Consumers will crave more and expect more customized and personalized products, services and experiences. This will be fueled by. . .
  2. Magnified Human Technology: Digital and mobile in all forms will fuel the sense of empowerment and possibility for consumers.
  3. Real Brand Engagement: With awareness a given, marketers will link “engagement” to how well the brand is perceived versus their category’s Ideal, rather than just counting “likes” or leveraging imagery.
  4. The Everything Expectation: The ability for brands to measure real, unarticulated, and constantly expanding emotional consumer expectations will provide advantages to engage, delight, and profit.
  5. Real-Time Becomes Real Important: Increased real-time brand expectations will spread to product availability, delivery, and customer service.
  6. It’s Still The Brand, Stupid: Increased consumer expectations will increase perceptions of products/services as commodities. Brands will need to differentiate and stand for something meaningful, emotional, and important to consumers. Oh, and. . .
  7. Category is King: To engage those smarter, high-expectation consumers, brand wills need to be smarter about category-specific emotional values that they can leverage and believably own.
  8. Brands Will Get Emotional: Successful brands will need to identify emotional values in their categories and use them as a foundation for meaningful positioning, differentiation, and authentic storytelling.
  9. Non-Fiction Storytelling: Storytelling is fine, but the stories brands tell must reflect real brand values and category realities that differentiate and meet consumers’ believability criteria, otherwise marketers will end up entertaining rather than engaging.
  10. The Closing of the Showroom: The consumer will use 5+ online sources to facilitate actual purchase decisions, reducing reliance on traditional brick-and-mortars retail. But having identified that trend. . .
  11. High-End Shoppers Expect High-Tech Shopping Experiences: Retail will include a seamless transition from human-only service to digital assistants and virtual valets. Watch for more RFID, beacons, and touchscreens to supercharge the retail-shopping experience.
  12. Much More Multiculturalism: As ethnic groups grow, brands and retailers will integrate a sense of culture and culture-specific brand experience with all forms of outreach.
  13. Online Authenticity: As ‘The Internet of All Things’ matures, consumers will expect greater security as regards personal purchase data, which will act as a confidence builder for online sources and the brands using them.
  14. Dead-On Digital: Brands will shift their digital platform question from “should I be here?” to “what should I do now that I am here?” with success linked not to just outreach alone, but contextual relevance.
  15. Going Native: Content marketing will continue to become a specialty unto itself. Tools like Digital Platform GPS can optimize placement and resolve issues related to native advertising and shorter consumer attention spans. Metrics will move away from counting the number of views, sharing, and likes, toward real engagement (see Trend #3).
One doesn’t need predictive metrics to know that every day marketers face new challenges. But, as the saying goes, if you want to do something new, you have to stop doing something old. These emotionally-derived engagement trends provide brands with the opportunity to break old habits and discard old-century legacy measures, and instead embrace new methods of brand engagement, new business models, and new and profitable opportunities for the coming year.

All the best for 2015.

Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

McDonald’s Arch Deluxe Redux

Well, not precisely the Arch Deluxe, but more about that below.

McDonald's just posted sharper-than-expected November sales declines. Global sales are down 2.2%. In the U.S. sales fell more than twice that – 4.6%, the lowest sales month for them in over a decade, and almost four times worse than analysts had projected. Those wacky Wall Street analysts! Wherever were they getting their research? As a matter of fact, it raises the same question for McDonald’s. Where are they getting their research? Or, more precisely, where are they getting their brand research?

And if Google’s slogan is “Do no evil,” McDonald’s unofficial corporate slogan seems to have been “We can do that too,” or something along the lines of “watch what the competition is doing and where consumers are engaging and try and do that too! No really. You certainly can’t fault McDonald’s competitive research. They haven’t missed the big happenings in the category or the lack of happenings in their stores. To wit:

Millennials have migrated to fast-casual restaurants because they believe that they get better, higher quality, tastier and customized food.

Gen-Xers want good food fast.

Boomers believe fast-casuals provide the kind of service they deserve. And are willing to pay for it. Oh, and healthier options.

And everybody wants – and is willing to pay for – what they see as value-for-dollar, as opposed to price-value – so everyone seems willing to pay more for healthier, fresher, customized foods with better service. Younger consumers have taken to characterizing fast food as  “dollar food,” and do not mean it as a compliment.

Anyway, McDonald’s is looking for a way to reverse the downward slide. But, we fear, in all the wrong places, and likely with the wrong research. McDonald’s, having the production and distribution infrastructure and the financial wherewithal has consistently watched what competitors were offering and then slapped a “Mc” on it and added it to their menu. Salads, wraps, premium coffee. Like those.

On the health front they currently have a plan designed to recapture consumers now spending money at chains like Panera and Chipotle via transparency, with a new campaign based on the idea that McDonald’s wants to be transparent and not hide what they put in their food and they too are natural and fresh and premium and. . .  wholesome? 

But as regards the problem McDonald’s faces à la consumers looking for better service, increasingly complicated McDonald’s menus have made fast service increasingly problematic. What to do, what to do?

Their answer? If your younger customers are deserting you, focus and maybe try and woo back Boomers. “But with what,” we hear you ask. “What with, if their already extensive menus create service issues and their food is regarded somewhat less fresh and natural than fast-casual offerings?”

Glad you asked. After dropping their Angus burger, McDonald’s is expanding their offerings and is test marketing a build-your-own burger made with – wait for it – premium ingredients. Makes you wonder about the currently level of transparency. Aren’t they trying to convince people that what they currently use is premium?

Anyway, the test burger currently offers 20 topping and sauces, white cheddar, applewood smoked bacon and things like guacamole, grilled mushrooms, caramelized onions, and garlic sauce. You can add bacon (or an extra patty) for a buck extra and (currently in test) sells for $5.79. You can have it char-grilled it to order and you know it’s going to be good because you order it on an iPad!  And it is rumored to be delivered by a server dressed in a black and white pinstriped chef’s apron and they say they can do it all in six minutes.

All of which raises another question. Does anybody at McDonald’s headquarters remember the Arch Deluxe debacle? For those of you too young to remember, that was McDonald’s response to competition for adults too. You can probably look up the historical details on your iPad too.

Briefly, McDonald’s saw that adults came into their restaurants with their kids, bought food for the kids, and a cup of coffee of a cola for themselves, but no food. Hmmmm, what to do? So they asked. “Why aren’t you eating something too? And enough adults responded, “because you really don’t have anything for me. This is kid food,” or something very, very close to that. And, no fool McDonald's, they asked “If we had something just for you, would you eat that?” And many of the respondents said, “sure.” A direct question, and easy answer, why not?

McDonald’s likely did it more elegantly than that, and there are nuances to this story, but this is a column and not a case history, but the result of their market and competitive research was the Arch Deluxe, an adult burger backed by $100,000,000 of advertising and promotion. Think Ronald McDonald in a suit and tie. Ronald on a golf course. No, seriously. There was a teaser campaign where all you could see his big red clown shoes in adult situations. They couponed, the hell out it, and it tanked. McDonald’s has since rationalized that they had the pricing strategy wrong, but we disagree. Based on the promotional campaign, there were maybe a dozen people who actually ended up having to pay full price. OK, maybe more, but not a lot. And not enough to make it profitable.

The problem came back to “brand.” The burger was fine.  Everything McDonalds serves up is ultimately fine. It’s just that nobody, that is to say, adults, actually believed that McDonald’s could make a burger that would meet their adult expectations. Maybe the iPad will help this time. But technology notwithstanding, engaging customers is about understanding their expectations and knowing how your brand can believably be seen to meet those expectations. It’s a brand issue not a product-mix issue. Or a lack of more social or traditional advertising.

One other side-question that occurs to us is, if McDonald’s is having problems with menu complexity and speed of service currently, how is char-grilling and customizing these burgers going to speed things up? Based on current reported options, and calculating for a reasonable number of selections, it looks to be someplace in the neighborhood of 53,000 possible combinations. Maybe there’s an app on the iPad for that.

The bottom line: McDonald’s is mired in the past. In how they measure what will truly engage customers and how they measure how their brand is really perceived. What’s clear from the consumer engagement assessments is that McDonald’s has lost brand meaning. They stand for ubiquitous hamburgers and fries and “dollar food,” and they desperately need to fix the brand.

If they think more advertising, or custom burgers via apps or tablets are the answer to what ails them they’re in a lot more trouble than they – or the analysts – realize!

Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.