DO SPECTACULAR ADS GENERATE SPECTACULAR RESULTS? Excerpts from Starch Tested Copy: Highlighted Areas focusing on unique Americhip products It is probably the most asked question that Starch hears: How much of a lift in readership scores will we see if we create a multi-page or a “spectacular” ad that goes beyond the typical one- or two page format? (For our purposes here, we will define a “spectacular” ad as any ad that exceeds two pages and/or appears on a special paper stock – insert – of some kind.) Rarely is anyone pleased with the answer, which invariably begins, “Well, it depends. . .” We recall, in particular, the look of surprise (and some pain) when we explained to one advertiser that placing a four-page ad will not yield results four times greater than if he had placed a one-page ad. Rather, the increases in readership are incremental and not directly proportional to the increase in size. Nevertheless, ads in atypical formats can generate extraordinary results, and it is important to keep in mind that incremental gains in a magazine with a healthy circulation can mean the increased awareness and involvement of tens of thousands of potential new consumers. That “It depends. . .” qualifier, incidentally, is almost invariably followed by what has become a kind of Starch mantra: The full sentence is usually, “It depends on the creative execution.” As our previous Tested Copy on engagement attempted to bring home, the factor that is the greatest determinant of high or low levels of ad readership is not size or color or engagement with the publication (though all of those most certainly play a role), but rather the individual make-up of the ad – the extent to which the photograph demands attention, the legibility of the body copy, the exploitation of the reader’s demand for an explication of product benefits, and so on. Nevertheless, there is no getting around the fact that various factors external to the creative execution also affect advertising readership. It is clear that sheer tonnage does matter – that increasing the number of pages or altering the size and “weight” of the page increases the probability of an ad’s being seen. Thus, having offered the “That depends. . .” caveat, we fully recognize the need to gauge and report on the extent to which various, atypical ad formats affect readership of advertising. . . . on average.
It is clear that sheer tonnage does matter – that increasing the number of pages or altering the size and “weight” of the page increases the probability of an ad’s being seen.
One of the great advantages of the Starch Communications Division of GfK is that we own and operate the world’s largest print-ad database: It contains data from studies of more than 500,000 ads in almost every product category imaginable. That database is particularly relevant today when a number of publishers have begun to notice that readership services that conduct studies solely online very often yield counterintuitive results – that is, they show little or no gain for ads in larger sizes. It is, therefore, perfectly reasonable to wonder what the Starch “gold standard” – based on in-person studies of advertising in people’s homes or place of business – reveals about these spectacular ads, if for no other reason than to gauge the extent to which online readership services (including Starch) are accurately reporting readership of the spectaculars. The purpose of this Tested Copy, commissioned by Time, Inc, is to review the average readership performance of these atypical ads and to offer a relative gauge of how they tend to perform. In addition, in keeping with our emphasis on the power of creative, we have reviewed some spectacular ads that performed either very well or rather poorly, and we analyze five of those ads in order to explain why the ads performed as they did.
Methodology For this study, we gathered readership data for all Starch in-person studies from January 2000 – October 2005. We then segmented and examined the data by various size/color categories, concentrating on those size/color categories that contain a sufficient number of cases in their base (20 or more) to provide a meaningful analysis.
have established a clear tendency: Many Americans are uncomfortable with ambiguity and tend not to respond to advertising that raises questions like, “What is that thing in the picture?” “What does this ad mean?” Rather they prefer that their advertisements provide them with the answer to their most pressing question, “What’s in it for me?”
Thus, the Hewlett-Packard ad is a question poser: What is the meaning of those branches? Why are those arrows emanating from them? Why is one “branch” much higher than the other? Moreover, the questions are not clearly answered by the verbiage on the page: “love change” and “Solutions for the adaptive enterprise.” What, then, provides an incentive to open the gatefold in the same way that the Applebee’s ad did? For those who did open the gatefold, the mystery continues. On the left is a photograph with what is usually an arresting shade of green, but the image is unclear and out of focus – and Starch studies also suggest that out-of-focus photography rarely is associated with high levels of attention. The presentation of the male model is similarly obscure. He is a silhouette rather than an identifiable individual, and our data indicate that most readers prefer to see a fleshed-out human being rather than the kind of abstraction a silhouette represents.
Many Americans are uncomfortable with ambiguity and tend not to respond to advertising that raises questions like, “What is that thing in the picture?” “What does this ad mean?” Rather they prefer that their advertisements provide them with the answer to their most pressing question, “What’s in it for me?” .
Moreover, once again, the “meaning” of the photograph is not readily apparent. The silhouette walks past (perhaps he has been walking around?) a large, green, glowing structure. Why is he doing that? What is his purpose? The photograph is certainly colorful, but we have found that color without meaning is lost on most readers. The matter of meaning is further exacerbated by the position of the body copy, which resides in the lower left corner and which has the power to explain the meaning and purpose of the ad. The problem is that the focal point of the ad – the green structure and the man in front of it – is to the right of the copy. Moreover, the man is walking to the right . . . and away from the copy. This rightward flow of action almost invariably undermines copy that is positioned to the left because the reader’s natural
inclination is to keep moving to the right and, ultimately, off the page. The combination of these factors decreases the likelihood of high readership levels, and in this case the ad earned considerably below-average scores across all measures. Body copy is not much of an issue with the Estee Lauder Pleasures ad because like many fragrance ads there is no block of copy. Nevertheless, the ad employs several elements that Starch studies have found consistently lead to high readership scores. Attractive models make frequent appearances in all cosmetics ads, and this model is no exception. But Estee Lauder adds another character to the cast. It is an old, tried-and-true advertising axiom that an advertiser rarely goes wrong by featuring babies and puppies, and this advertiser has successfully featured Labrador puppies and a delighted model whose demeanor aptly reinforces the product name. Previous Starch studies have revealed that a healthy percentage of women are immediately drawn to scented-strip ads, which are seen as a trouble-free means to test a product and to inform a purchase decision. Thus the format of a scented-strip ad has an inherent advantage over many other ads. But Estee Lauder exploits that advantage by depicting a colorful, charming, and deceptively simple scene, and the exceptionally high readership scores are the logical result of that combination. The Aquafina Sparkling Water ad (pg. 6) demonstrates how a clever and innovative spectacular ad can not only attract attention, but involve readers in a way that few ordinary print ads can even approach. It is a two-page insert, the back page of Indexes which is adjacent to a run-of-book, Noted 124 3 complementary page of the ad. Associated 120 The illustration is beautifully Read Some 130
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simple and emphasizes another of the most eye-catching colors, blue, and so the ad already has an edge over most print ads. But the most distinctive element in the Aquafina ad is a small swath of “bubble wrap” within the outline of the bottle in the center. You may notice that the bubble wrap is not readily visible on the page. This is the primary reason that many advertisers prefer to test spectacular ads in person rather than relying on a method using a two-demensional medium— such as the online method. The bubble wrap adds, literally, a new dimension to the advertising. The creators of the ad brilliantly exploited one of the great psychological drives of modern times: the inexplicable compulsion to pop the bubbles in a bubble wrap. Fifty percent of issue readers, when asked, said they were so attracted by the tactile quality of this portion of the ad that they engaged in popping at least some of the “bubbles” in the insert. In a very real sense, the Aquafina ad does something that few if any ordinary ads can do: It takes print advertising to a new level by providing readers with the opportunity for physical interactivity – the opportunity to take part in a kind of sensory experience that is absent from the vast majority of print advertisements. Although the bubble insert itself is a remarkable innovation, the ad further capitalizes on the attention it receives through the addition of the third, run-of-book page, which hawks the health benefits of drinking water. The Aquafina ad’s stellar performance indicates that when an ad’s creative make up (whether spectacular or not) is constructed in such a way that it catches the eye and emphasizes the benefits of
the product, it is bound to attract a high level of readership—and when a fresh and unusual element is included, readers not only notice the ad and read the copy, but, perhaps most important, become more involved with the ad. Print advertising cannot get much better than that—and few print ads ever have. Last is a truly spectacular ad with spectacular readership performance. The Clairol Herbal Essences ad appeared in October 2003. A four-page insert, its outstanding characteristic is that upon opening the first page, the reader is greeted with a brief but enthusiastic and very audible musical interlude from Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. . . . except that the name of the product, Hawafena, rings out in place of “Hallelujah!”
In a very real sense, the Aquafina ad does something that few if any ordinary ads can do: It takes print advertising to a new level by providing readers with the opportunity for physical interactivity – the opportunity to take part in a kind of sensory experience that is absent from the vast majority of print advertisements.
The readership scores for the ad are extraordinary: 100% of the readers Noted, Associated, and Read Some of the ad. (Because of the relatively small amount of copy – fewer than 50 words – we do not report the Read Most score.) Compared with the other (generally high-scoring) ads in the issue, the Scores Indexes Noted score is 24% above Noted 96% 157 4 the median for all ads in Associated 95% 173 the issue; Associated is Read Some 82% 210 31% above; and Read Read Most 26% 173
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Some, 44%. When compared to other inserts in the publication (comprising cosmetics and clothing products, which are usually high-interest categories), the Clairol ad indexes 35% higher in Noted, 52% in Associated, and 70% in Read Some. Although this consistently high level of readership compared to the various median scores is most impressive, the comparison does not really reflect the exceptional nature of the performance of this ad. In the many years of looking at print advertising readership scores, no one currently working for Starch can remember ever seeing an ad that earned a 100% level for any of the Starch measures – never mind three of them. We believe that it is the highest scoring ad that we have studied in the past 30 years at least. Moreover, there is little doubt that the driving force behind the response to the ad is its “voice,” which not only attracted universal initial attention (which might be expected of an ad that draws attention to itself with such energy), but also registered the advertiser’s name with so many readers. Extremely rare is the ad in any publication that earns an Associated score above 90%. An Associated of 100% is unheard of. Until now.
mindful of the factors that draw the eye, usually through powerful photography and stunning colors, and that involve the reader, primarily by presenting a clear product benefit. When these elements are combined artfully and innovatively, they are a sure bet to capture and then keep the reader’s rapt attention. A spectacular ad, then, will do its job not simply because it is spectacular, but rather because it effectively makes the most of the format to “put it all together.”
Conclusion Regarding spectacular ads, an analogy is in order: A beautifully wrapped gift might delight the eye at first, but if the box contains nothing to sustain interest, the experience will ultimately be disappointing and interest will be lost. There are numerous examples of ads that strive to gain reader attention by being different for the sake of being different or through tonnage alone. But the ads that both gain Scores Indexes attention and involve Noted 100% 124 5 readers, regardless of size Associated 100% 131 Read Some 100% 144 or level of innovation, are those whose creators are
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Starch Ad Readership Studies For more than eight decades, Starch has set the industry standard for research designed to measure print ad readership. In fact, our in-person methodology has helped to make the Starch name synonymous with ad readership studies. Our unique blend of proprietary insights and years of practical experience—all bolstered by the most extensive print ad database in the world—give you a better understanding of your target markets and audiences, allowing you to effectively and efficiently plan your growth opportunities.
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