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By Laurence Green
Let's start with the likeable, and improbable, triumph of a gin-loving pensioner peddling cut-price tea for a discount retailer.
Drawing on what it calls "the UK's most comprehensive ongoing analysis of how the viewing public engages with TV ads", heavyweight market research group Nielsen crowned this short commercial for Aldi the most liked of 2011, ahead of several more commonly celebrated campaigns.
One of a subversive series aired by the retailer, the commercial finished top of a pile of 4,000 ads tracked during prime time as measured by Nielsen's "likeability index": the number of people who liked an ad they saw and can remember the brand.
Aldi headed a top 10 comprising more familiar brands and faces: from comparethemarket's meerkats to Volkswagen's wannabe Darth Vader, from John Lewis's wistful Christmas gift-giver to Walkers' perennial front man, Gary Lineker.
Nielsen's conclusion from its findings, that: "relatable characters – people like you and me – have replaced celebrities as the central characters in the TV ads we love the most", demands more debate.
But their study is also worthy of attention for serious business reasons, and not just as an arbiter of advertising fashion or piece of "pop culture".
Why? Because study after study has shown that the likeability of advertising copy, whimsical as it may seem on first inspection, is one of the key drivers of its effectiveness.
Advertisers and research companies everywhere have long been in search of the holy grail: a "one size fits all" model for predicting sales and brand effects.
But as long ago as 1991, America's Advertising Research Foundation – setting out to validate 35 competing commercial "pre-testing" methodologies and establishing that none could be rejected – concluded that one measure, likeability, outperformed all others as a predictive metric.
In other words, there was no "silver bullet" available to advertisers and effectiveness was best predicted simply by whether people liked your commercial.
Their findings divided American advertising opinion, and still do, but Nielsen's UK top 10 have the look of brands enjoying sales success, and it would be the obvious next piece of analysis for them to conduct.
Over the past few years, mechanistic research models that favour measures such as recall and persuasion have been in gradual retreat as we learn more about brands, communication and the way the human brain makes decisions.
Rory Sutherland has memorably compared our brains not to the Oval Office "making executive decisions" but rather to the press office "issuing explanations for actions we've already taken" – an echo of Einstein's description of the brain as "a faithful servant" to the intuitive mind.
Reassuringly, "rational" measures that record what people think, or think they think, are increasingly being challenged by metrics that better capture the underlying emotions that drive our actions.
As one influence on these, and for all its attractiveness as a simple predictor of advertising success, even advertising likeability requires a little definition. The most straightforward study in this area concludes that it springs from "relevant information combined with empathy and entertainment".
It's as good a summary as any of why a pensioner comparing tea price points before declaring "I don't like tea... I like gin" might prove Britain's most likeable commercial in these austere times.
If you can't charm your way to advertising success, however, it seems you might still be able to irritate your way to it instead.
Marketing magazine's annual poll of Britain's most irritating adverts this year places Webuyanycar.com top, albeit in the company of big brands boasting bigger production budgets (the Halifax and M&S sit alongside a discount-sofa business and an online bingo brand).
For at least some of these advertisers it's entirely plausible – as they claim – that their brands seize more "share of mind" precisely because of, and not despite of, their high irritation levels. It is that saliency that can power sales.
Indeed, perhaps the most dangerous place to be for an advertiser is in the quicksand between likeability and irritation: that is, doing the work that is neither great nor grates, that fails to create a reaction.
But if emotion is what drives us and drives brand preference over the long haul, most advertisers would do well to chase likeability. Dement your audience and you may enjoy short-term ad success; delight it and you may enjoy a bigger prize.
As seen here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/businessclub/management-advice/9014231/Think-Tank-Likeability-is-still-a-key-driver-of-advertisings-effectiveness.html and here http://www.cmo.com/advertising/likeability-still-key-driver-advertisings-effectiveness#ixzz1jkPGDQiV
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