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Advertising that stays at the forefront of consumers' minds

Advertisers should be aware that familiarity is not a safe bet when it comes to grabbing the attention of consumers, writes John Hallward, global director of new product development for Ipsos ASI.

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Repetitive television ads that are aired continuously simply become wallpaper, with people desensitising themselves from the content and thereby disconnecting from the brand and what it stands for.

The human brain is programmed to detect, process, evaluate and emotionally tag new stimuli. For new stimuli, we pay attention and judge it for threat or pleasure, and we build new neural networks. Thus, new advertising, new packaging and new ways to think about a brand will catch the consumers' attention.

The combination of these facts has a significant part to play in how advertisers should look at utilising their budgets effectively. It also raises a key question; at what point does advertising become ineffective? At Ipsos ASI, we feel an ad has worn out when it is no longer the best use of your next advertising pound. This happens before the ad stops working. This definition of wear-out reflects the point of inefficiency. In the Ipsos Ad*Graph tracking databases of TV adverts, the point of inefficiency appears (in general) at about 1,000 to 1,300 cumulative GRPs of exposure.

There are many creative ways for advertisers to look at how they can bring new stimuli to consumers before the point of desensitisation. However when freshening and changing the brand campaign, advertisers should think evolution rather than revolution. This is because while the brain takes full advantage of new stimuli, there still needs to be recognisable brand properties in order to make it easy for consumers to appreciate the change. Marketing programs that are too distant from consumers' current understanding of the brand are more likely to fail.

The marketing needs to recognise the consumers' current impressions rather than to suddenly pretend the current situation is over and now it is time to add a new and different brand proposition. Confusing marketing can lead consumers to develop a "cognitive dissonance" -- a disconnect between what they know and what they are now seeing. Ultimately this leads to brand failure, doubt, confusion and then denial.

Any new marketing efforts need to help the consumer evolve and bring them along into the future. The most effective approach is to constantly bring fresh new advertising stimuli to avoid disensitisation while not causing a revolutionary change leading to a brand disconnect. Advertisers should think in terms of evolving the campaign platform to add newness while leveraging proven or known brand properties. And they should avoid excessive frequency.

John Hallward is global director of new product development for Ipsos ASI, the Advertising Research Company, and author of the newly released book, 'Gimme! The Human Nature of Successful Marketing' (John Wiley & Sons, 2007).

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