Effective Television Commercials - What I learned from my 10 year old

March 12, 2015 Author: Roy Eduardo Kokoyachuk

I was watching television with my daughter last week and during a block of commercials she made me rewind and play part of an ad she liked. This happened again at the next commercial break. I wasn’t particularly interested in the program so I went along with her ad viewing requests. She wasn’t paying attention to whole 30 second ads. The parts of the ads she stopped to look at weren’t speaking about the product. She was drawn to small pieces of each ad that contained a little bit of emotion, truth or silliness. Often times it was a look or expression that she stopped to enjoy. After a while it didn’t feel like I was watching commercials but vines on the internet. She was repurposing the content into a medium that was more palatable to her, a six second vine.

I’ve spent a lot of time in my life watching television commercials both from my couch and office chair. I’ve been testing television commercials for more than a decade. I’ve tested both English and Spanish language ads for P&G, SC Johnson, Clorox, Energizer and many others. One of the key measures I look at after recall and purchase intent is whether the ad connects on an emotional level. We make judgments on whether we like/accept/want something almost instantaneously. We can do that because we don’t make those decisions intellectually, they’re based on emotion. We may think we’re using our powers of reason but those powers are usually reserved for justifying decisions we’ve already made at a deeper level. An ad can make a very good argument for buying a product (more absorbent, easier to use, new-and-improved) and we might think that we’re swayed by those arguments but they’re really only used to justify our decision to buy based on deeper emotions and whether something in the ad resonated with us.

I realized that the parts of the ads that my daughter was zeroing in on was their emotional cores. Those emotional cores can be conveyed in six seconds as proven by the explosion of the popularity of vines. Effective ads don’t so much tell us something about the product but about ourselves. When an ad makes us laugh, cry or groan we’re comparing a belief we already have with the idea being conveyed in the ad. Ads that hook us emotionally don’t need to sell us on the merits of the product. If our heart’s invested in the message our heads will follow. Emotional hooks happen really quickly, 30, 15, even 6 seconds is more than enough time to connect with our hearts. The difficult part is finding an emotional hook that resonates with the audience you’re targeting. I’ve tested ads that had strong emotional scores from Hispanic moms and average scores from their non-Hispanic peers.

As part of our ThinkNow LinkTM copy test we test ads among Spanish speaking Hispanics, English speaking Hispanics and English speaking non-Hispanics. This allows us to see if Total Market Strategies that use common themes resonate across cultural lines. So far we see that there are some themes, such as showing babies in ads targeting moms, which seem to work across cultures but most ads resonate with specific constituencies. For example, showing a character in “dead-end” job might resonate with non-Hispanic White millennials who feels that they won’t achieve as much as their parents did but not work with Hispanic Millennials who are more optimistic about their future and ability to surpass their parent’s accomplishments.

As researchers, we’re still looking for the Holy Grail of insights that will make an ad connect with all viewers. Until we find that insight, however, an ad that reveals a truth or makes a comment on the human condition and presents it in a culturally relevant context will outperform the competition. We’re here to help you find that insight. And, if all else fails…show kittens. Everyone likes kittens.