Worn Out on Wearout

08 Oct 2014|Added Value

Of the debates raging in the advertising and market research communities, one that continues to sizzle is figuring out the exact day, hour, minute and nanosecond when a TV commercial ceases to gain notice and thereby, effectively influence the viewer. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as “wearout.”

Media and stats gurus as well as every known industry smarty-pants feel they have the definitive answer, or, continue to pursue the unlocking, to the exact dollar amount., when wearout occurs. Yet, for all the whitepapers, forums, conferences and blogs on the subject, there remains a diversity of opinion. So, in keeping with this theme, I thought I might add my own spark of diversity to keep the debate flame alive or until a blaze of wearout consumes me.

I start by removing ads that are, for the most part, ineffective or annoying to such a degree that it’s purposely ignored or renders one physically or mentally incapacitated with subsequent viewings. In these cases, we expect a shorter on-air life cycle and a higher-than-normal doctor bill. More challenging to diagnose is the life cycle of “effective” ads that deliver the goods and make viewers, the creative agency, marketing honchos and the CEO ecstatically happy and proud. But, for all the joy it brings, an ad’s romance can last only so long before one tires of the same old thing and gets an itch for something new and kinky. Wait, I am talking advertising right? Yes….yes I am.

The cycle runs as such: An “effective” ad launches. Eyeballs fixate. Messages and themes are internalized in one full viewing or, maybe it takes 3-5 times all the way through for the message to seep into consciousness, take hold of the senses, create a desired impression and, as in an hypnotic trance, inspire a click, a call or a trip to the store. All is right with the world as happy advertisers earn more than their money’s worth from this, ever so wise, investment. This first blush of romance is often referred to as the “wearing in” stage. The phrase suggests that, like a good pair of jeans, it takes a few wearings and washings to get them feeling just right. But, no matter what one calls this golden period of an ad’s life, all is new, fresh, interesting and inspiring to a growing number of eager buyers.

You wish this love could last forever, but, alas, it shall not, it cannot. It is here I am tempted to break into an Elizabethan sonnet. Because, like my sonnet interpretations, there comes a time when interest and attention wanes, no matter how brilliant an ad. For my sonnet it happens after a few syllables, but for an ad it may arrive at 6, 10, 20, 136 viewings. Many ad experts assign 4 to 5 times as the most impactful viewing frequency of an ad. Most humans, and some dolphins, assign 4 to 5 letters as the “hate you” level of my sonnet. Whether it happens at one viewing/syllable or 10, depends on viewer interest in the category, the brand, the offer, the ad’s creativity and/or viewer relatability to the themes and scenarios portrayed. Hence, the single syllable limitations of my sonnet.

It is at this multiple frequency point where you hear the first mumblings and rumblings of “wearout” as there is an understanding that an ad, no matter how beloved, will slowly fade into the sunset. The question is, how slowly the fade and how much life can be squeezed out before digging the grave? Or, maybe that’s my wife’s question, but I think I’ve heard it elsewhere as well.

Enter statistical modelers and gurus to offer scientific clarity based on gobs and globs of data as to the exact number, time and place of wearout. For you media and stats aficionados, this “exact” spend ranges from as little as 800 to as many as 2000 GRPS. For the lay person feeling contempt for my ego-driven attempt at displaying a technical expertise I do not possess, a GRP, or gross (but not disgusting) rating point, is a term used in advertising to measure the size of an audience reached by specific media. In dollars, 800 to 2000 GRPs is, in technical terms, a lot. While there is a general and debatable proximity of spending where sensitivity to wearout should be contemplated, the question remains: When does a TV ad cease to deliver a desired response to which the cost of continuing to run this brilliance is higher than the cost of developing, creating and testing new brilliance and putting that on-air instead?

An ad jives and thrives during the aforementioned “golden” stage of life. While achieving nirvana, there comes that point when fewer new viewers are touched and tantalized and a growing frequency of viewership acts more as timely reminder rather than an invigorating learning experience. For many, this maintenance phase is about holding on to achievements as long as you can and as long as outcomes outweigh the cost of keeping the ad on-air. For others, it’s a time for action, for seizing the day and climbing to impressive new heights. You got folks attention, now’s the time to strike with something new, inspiring, kinky, or maybe a sonnet or two? Whatever the road to brand success, this stage should be a time of intense scrutiny as the clock is ticking. There is a diminishing return when an increasing number of viewers sense they’ve seen an ad many, many, many times, a gazillion in fact. There’s a danger an ad becomes like wallpaper, a background adornment beautiful at first sight, but barely noticed by the 18th visit. Unless, it’s that flowery monstrosity in my mom’s living room, so appalling it inspires Freddy Kruger-like nightmares.
The key is keeping a keen eye on metrics that matter most to an ad’s success. General rules, like 800 to 2000 GRPs, work at forcing and focusing attention on wearout and making me seem smart. But, general rules are just that. Gauging proper response comes down to specifics like brand goals, budgets, consumer response, competitive activity, seasonality, cultural and category trends, the creativity of the ads, my IQ, etc. Because, once an ad slides from nirvana into maintenance, plans should be set and ready to roll the moment metric declines begin.
Let me illustrate. Warning: brand names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Brand A, let’s call it “Thor” launches an ad with a goal of exploding brand awareness. He hammers away with the ad, delivering a surge of awareness and maintaining enchantment before ever reaching the aforementioned 800 GRP range. All is well with the universe until Brand B, let’s call it “Loki,” counters with an ad of his own in his mad quest to thwart Thor (say that 5 times fast) and gain the throne. And it works. Thor Awareness descends, and worse, dictated by an adherence to general wearout rules, the ad is scheduled to run another 8 weeks. Dollars are now being wasted on an ad that, as fine as it is, no longer delivers a wallop in a category demanding new and fresh. Now, the Thor I know (we’re buds) would never let a conniving Loki steal his thunder and would be ready to retaliate with lightening speed. But, for this to occur would take laser-like scrutiny of brand awareness progress. Armed with scientific analytics, Thor could calculate a causal relationship between ad dollars and brand awareness and sensitively monitor the dwindling influence spending has on awareness. Thor would have timely ammo needed to immediately lay down the hammer and plot his marketing revenge. Waiting 8 weeks would leave Thor thoroughly thwarted.

But, there are other sides to the wearout saga, for example:
Brand C, let’s call it “The Dude,” launches an ad for a new product with a goal of growing product awareness, consideration and sales. The ad’s calming, zen-like charm is a relaxing respite from the high decibel clamor that is today’s TV. He also plays it cool by not blasting viewers with his brilliance week in and week out, but pulses it a few weeks on, a few weeks off, a few weeks on, with each subsequent wave lifting the product higher and higher. Before you know it, the ad breezes by wearout’s outer limits of 2000 TRPS with nary a care in the world. This goes on for years. Had “The Dude” followed other people’s rules, he’d have wasted valuable cash developing new creative that could be better spent on bowling and white Russians. In this case, “The Dude” did not abide, and he’s the better for it.

These are, but a few, wild and wacky wearout stories demonstrating the risks of being ruled by generalized wearout directives. And, why a strict and timely adherence to an ad’s specific goals and intentions becomes an imperative brand and money saver.

So, to sum: You have them at hello with your brilliance, you are white hot and filled with a desire you can’t contain. Time passes, alas, passions fade, but sweet to touch hands as a fond remembrance of what was. Before you realize, you are taking little regard of one another as you anxiously await the Salisbury steak early bird special at Golden Corral. You can’t abide this any further, especially the steak, and seek expert advice to re-kindle passion and lift the relationship to new heights. Criteria for everlasting bliss is born, religiously followed and acted upon. It works. You, once again, have them at hello with your brilliance, you are white hot and filled with a desire you can’t contain. Time passes…

Written by Glenn Rosenberg, EVP, Managing Director, AV LA

Image source: Lego

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