What drives advertising effectiveness? This is the question that brand consultant and former marketing professor Mark Ritson focuses on in much of his work. As an authoritative figure on the topic, Ritson has conducted extensive research into which factors influence advertising effectiveness. In this article, we’ll be taking a look at Ritson’s talk at think v’s “Media, Marketing & Effectiveness” event at the end of 2019. The talk draws on research and analysis based on almost 6,000 submissions to the Effies from the 1990s and outlines Ritson’s 10 most important drivers of advertising effectiveness. We’ll be breaking down the most important factors, giving our own creative marketing agency analysis on Ritson’s 10 factors and highlighting key takeaways and lessons.
Ritson’s 10 key factors – in reverse order of importance:
Research is the foundation upon which strategy is built, from his analysis on the entries for the Effies, Ritson found that there is a clear correlation between research and success, however, this correlation does seem to plateau after a certain level. The key here is that brands and agencies should definitely undertake research in order to develop a clear strategy but doing additional research doesn’t necessarily elevate your success rate. As Ritson put it, ‘doing more research doesn’t do you any harm but it doesn’t do you any more good’ so marketers should be aware of doing excessive research.
Strategic objectives need to be explicit – and need to be distinct from tactical objectives. Whereas tactical objectives are more closely linked to performance metrics, Ritson argues that the following components are required for an effective strategic objective:
Here he uses the example of Dare Iced Coffee in Australia which had the specific strategic objective of increasing consideration among blue collar workers from 15% to 65% by June 2016.
He also argues that too many strategic objectives could be detrimental to brands. Based on his analysis of Effie cases, Ritson found that two is the optimal number of strategic objectives with success rates beginning to dive after five objectives. Trying to assume too many positions and target too many segments is ultimately more difficult to achieve and thus brands should stick to two or three key strategic objectives.
Much like Byron Sharp, Ritson doesn’t believe that differentiation is as important as previously assumed. However, unlike Sharp, he does believe that relative differentiation is possible and can make some impact. Ritson argues that it is extremely difficult for brands to have a completely unique positioning and thus differentiation can only really be achieved relative to salience, competitors and other brand associations.
Salience can be understood as the prominence of a brand and its ability to be quickly recognised. In October 2019 at the Festival of Marketing, Ritson said: “Salience is the biggest part of the job. With the greatest respect to marketers, I don’t think most of them get it. It’s about whether your brand stands out to the consumer, whether it looks like itself, whether it comes to mind… The first rule of brand should be, first they must know it’s me.”
Dispelling the idea that one channel is more important than the other, Ritson states that the more channels we use, the more successful our campaigns will be. This is a really important consideration for brands who prioritise one channel over another and it is equally important to realise that different media channels can boost the impact of the others. Ritson describes this as a ‘catalytic effect’ which boosts performance for brands when they advertise across multiple channels.
This thinking is supported by research conducted by Les Binet and Peter Field for Thinkbox in 2017. The evidence from their research found that ‘the main way brands grow is still by increasing penetration, not loyalty.’ Thus, brands should really think about distributing their content across multiple channels as ‘broad-reach campaigns are the best way to drive market share’.
Long and short
Referring to Les Binet and Peter Field’s The Long and Short Of It, Ritson argues that brands should adopt both a long-term and short-term approach. He acknowledges that most people agree with this sentiment, but highlights that very few people follow this principle, and this is because most marketers work in sub-12 month periods and therefore are unlikely to see long-term results.
Research has shown that the ROI on long campaigns do not begin to show until after a year, which often makes them appear ineffective when compared to short campaigns but Ritson argues that brands should persist.
He quotes Peter Drucker who once said that “you have to produce results in the short term. But you also have to produce results in the long term. And the long term is not simply the adding up of short terms.” Indeed, brands should not just focus on short-term campaigns but they should persist with long-term campaigns to maximise their impact.
Targeting and mass marketing
Ritson has been a quite vocal critic of Byron Sharp’s argument that sophisticated mass marketing is more effective than segmentation. However, on this occasion Ritson was willing to concede to the evidence that mass marketing tactics were more successful than segmentation tactics based on the analysis of the Effies entries.
Yet, he wasn’t completely ready to concede that segmentation and targeting weren’t effective. He instead argued that both methods – mass marketing and targeting – should be used together to maximise effectiveness.
Excess Share of Voice can be understood as when a brand has more share of voice than it does share of the market. Research shows that when brands invest more in advertising and marketing, eventually their share of the market will also grow. Whilst their share of voice will exceed their share of the market initially, this additional spending will have the long term effect of increasing share of market and create an equilibrium. Conversely, when brands decrease their spending on share of voice, their share of the market will follow suit. Thus, if brands are really keen to grow their market share they really need to consider their spending on marketing efforts to ensure that their share of voice is increased.
In October 2020, Les Binet published a paper exploring share of search as a proxy for measuring share of voice for smaller brands. After experimenting with this metric for the past six years, Binet found that the share of organic search queries correlates with market share for brands: when Share of Search goes up, Share of Market tends to match this trend. Extra Share of Search has also proven to be a solid indicator of market share movements. For brands, Share of Search could be the most cost effective and efficient metric to measure market share.
Rather than distinctiveness, brands and marketers should be thinking more about distinctiveness and making sure that their brand is recognisable and distinguishable from the rest. Codes, or distinctive brand assets, are how brands can make themselves recognisable. Ritson describes codes as ‘things that are associated sartorially or visually with a brand’, including assets such as logos, shapes, colours. BrandZ scored the top codes that help buyers distinguish between brands and found that logo, shapes and patterns and founders were the most distinctive assets.
Ritson really hammers in the point that codes cannot be overused. The more that these distinct assets are used, the more likely that consumers will begin to associate them with your brand and therefore choose them. Using the example of Veuve Cliquot, Ritson highlights that the yellow branding and packaging for the brand makes it instantly recognisable in bars and restaurants and makes it easier for customers to choose to buy and drink it.
“Creativity drives so much of effectiveness – and we’ve all forgotten it in the last decade”
Between 2011 and 2015, Ritson’s research showed that there was a shift towards media and away from creative. From 2016 onwards, this shift reversed itself and the Effie submissions for 2016 and 2017 placed an emphasis on either creative or a joint emphasis on media and creative. What Ritson really tries to highlight here is that exceptional creative work can help brands and make a real difference. Despite the trend towards increased spend in media, Ritson argues that creative is much more important than distribution – content that lacks creative flair but is distributed well will not help brands achieve success.
The research from Nielsen (below) shows that creative has 47% influence on the effectiveness of advertising.
The last factor, Ritson admits himself, is an unfair one yet remains the most influential factor in marketing effectiveness. The evidence points to the unfortunate truth that larger brands are much more likely to achieve marketing success. Ritson shows that these brands with structures and distribution channels in place can afford to spend less on share of voice without compromising their position.
Whilst this is not something that smaller brands can immediately put into action, it’s definitely an important factor to consider when setting long-term goals. Large brands have achieved their success by building long lasting marketing structures that have set them up for success and it’s something that growing brands should aim towards.
The multiplier effect:
Whilst these factors are all important, Ritson does emphasise that they are not equal. He emphasises that brands should focus on the higher ranked factors such as brand size and creativity if they want to maximise their effectiveness. Ritson also highlights that it is important to recognise the multiplier effect that these factors have on each other. For example, strong creative will multiply and enhance the effect of strong strategy. In conjunction with one another, these 10 factors can maximise each other and so it’s important to make your efforts as strong as possible for as many factors as possible.
- Long & short approaches to targeting are equally important and brands should really try to take the two-pronged approach more frequently when they have the capacity to do so
- Target as many channels as you can afford as they have a multiplier effect on each other
- Make sure your strategic objectives are specific – and don’t set too many to make sure that you can focus your efforts on achieving these goals
- Solid research is essential for strategy and a cohesive strategy is essential for brand tactics
- Don’t take your distinctive brand assets for granted – make sure to always use them and don’t try to change them too frequently so that your brand becomes unrecognisable. In the long term, distinctive codes will help establish brand salience.
How to incorporate Ritson’s lessons into your own work:
By weaving Ritson’s key factors into the campaign production cycle, brands can maximise the effectiveness of marketing and advertising campaigns. Starting with sufficient research and insight-led strategy sets the stage for a more effective campaign, when combined with strong creative, broad distribution and distinctive brand assets.
What we can all learn from Ritson’s talk is how to prioritise these different processes and ensure that we are as effective as possible throughout our campaign journeys. Ritson makes a really important point in differentiating between strategic objectives and tactical objectives and this is something that marketers need to apply to their own work.
Strategy should also incorporate long and short term objectives – whilst this is harder for agencies who are restricted by constraints imposed by clients, brands should certainly be thinking about their long term strategy alongside more immediate goals and how these can work in conjunction with one another. Once these have been solidified, brands should consider discussing long and short term objectives with their respective agencies to allow for more cohesive campaigns that will pave the way for longer term growth.
Finally, we believe that creativity really is as important as Ritson argues it to be. Whilst it’s difficult for marketers to dictate brand size, we should place a great deal of importance in our creative work and take real pride on our creative processes. Using our research and strategy we can create concepts that really resonate with our audiences and achieve campaign effectiveness. Creativity only makes up one part of the process yet it still remains the most important part of a marketing campaign.
With so much underperforming content being produced, we think that Ritson’s 10 factors are a hugely useful sense check to make sure you are producing content that works.
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Video sourced from thinktv.