New evidence on tangible value of creativity

Pioneering new study from System1, presented at the IPA’s cross-industry Eff Week Conference.

Advertising that uses creativity, in the form of brand characters or motifs, to repeatedly drive the narrative of their advertising, markedly improves its emotional response and brand recognition, and holds a key opportunity for advertisers to generate long-term growth.

Yet only 10% of all television advertising spend is currently invested on characters within ads. This is according to a pioneering new study from System1, presented at the IPA’s cross-industry 2017 Eff Week Conference.

System1 have tested every TV ad that has aired in the UK and the US across six categories for emotional response from over 22,300 ads for its new Ad Ratings service. Building on work by Les Binet and Peter Field for the IPA, System1’s extensive testing demonstrates how empirically-measured emotional response, combined with share of voice data, can be used to give CFOs, CMOs and agencies a prediction of their future long-term market share growth.

System1’s 2017 work used the IPA’s Databank of Effectiveness Awards’ cases to show that long-term campaigns with a repeated character or scenario – what System1 call a ‘Fluent Device’ - outperform long-term campaigns with none. The study also showed how their use had decreased from 41% (in 1992) to 12% (in 2016) of long-term campaigns submitted to the IPA.

Developing this theory further in this latest study, System1 has conducted a tagging exercise on all 3,252 ads airing on UK TV last year to identify ads using character Fluent Devices and establish the opportunities their use holds for advertisers. Their testing shows that these creative campaigns work better because they generate greater emotional response and establish memory structures that enable fast and reliable brand recognition.

Key findings:

As much as 43% of all TV ad spend is unlikely to contribute to long-term growth

The study measures the emotional response to every ad in an entire category, which, when combined with a brand’s ESOV, enables System1 to calculate the brand’s annual market share growth in the following year. They assign a Star Rating ‘an emotional share of voice amplifier’ to each ad for each brand, which markedly improves the predictive power of ESOV alone, and reveals the value of creativewhen it comes to generating long-term growth. The research reveals that, in the UK, 43% of all TV advertising spend is on work of an emotional quality unlikely to contribute to long-term share growth (1-Star) and the picture is very similar in the US.

Creative advertising using characters drives brand recognition and recall

One way for advertisers to create work that leads to long-term growth is to use Fluent Devices within their ad campaigns. The research shows that advertising that uses brand characters like Comparethemarket’s Meerkats, Churchill’s Dog, and the PG Tips’ Monkey, for example, is more emotive than advertising with no character, both overall and within brand, and across ad lengths. It suggests this emotional surplus is equivalent, in media terms, to as much as 12 bonus points of share of voice.  Furthermore, the research reveals that TV spend has a greater impact on brand recognition when a Fluent Device is used.

Fluent Devices are being overlooked in advertising

Despite the conclusive findings of the advantages of using a character Fluent Device in advertising, only 7% of TV ads use them and they account for only 10% of all TV spend. This is not very high for a medium that, with its broad reach, helps to establish a character and is well placed to generate long-term effects.

Brands are failing to use this type of creativity widely and consistently

Furthermore, even when brands do use a character, they are not using them widely and consistently, either on TV or across other platforms. Among those brands using a character Fluent Device on TV:

  • Only 63% of their TV ads feature their character
  • Only 39% of their YouTube ads feature their character
  • Only 39% of their mail packs feature their character
  • Only 26% of their Facebook ads and 24% of their Facebook content features their character
  • Only 21% of their ads on Twitter feature their character

Fluent Devices offer an opportunity for online channels to contribute to the long-term growth story for brands

Not using a Fluent Device online is an opportunity missed. In an online split test, the presence of a character Fluent Device is shown to command greater attention and 50% greater dwell-time; evidence to suggest that character Fluent Devices result in greater effective reach online, as well as greater brand-building emotional response and brand recognition.

Says Orlando Wood, Chief Innovation Officer, System1 Group: “Building on the brilliant work of the IPA, we have given the industry a means of predicting the long-term growth associated with emotional work. By testing every ad that airs, we’ve also revealed the lack of investment in emotional advertising today, which will have damaging consequences for long-term brand growth. But we’ve also revealed a creative means by which to achieve long-term growth: the Fluent Device makes your investment go further, not only on TV, but across online media channels.

Not only does this comprehensive study manage to put a value on creativity – no mean feat – but it also exposes some real opportunities that more advertisers can capitalise on to truly engage on an emotional level with their audiences. We now have tangible evidence of the commercial advantage of using recognisable and repeated characters and motifs, consistently within our communications.

Janet Hull OBE
Last updated 01 May 2024