I’ve always loved adverts so evaluating the performance of adverts is something of a dream job for me. Having undertaken hundreds of campaign evaluations over the last two decades, I thought I’d share a few things I have learned over the years that consistently make advertising effective.

When I was a kid getting sent to bed after my TV programme finished, it was a running joke in my household that I would beg to watch the ad break before I went. Today I get a real sense of nostalgia looking at ads in magazines I read as a child. When there’s a scene in a UK film from the 80s, I am constantly peering at poster ads in the background, seeing if I recognise any of them.

I brought the products too – at least the ones I was allowed to at the time (and a few I wasn’t).

To this day, I know which toilet roll is soft, strong and very long. I know what beanz meanz. I know which lager refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach. And, I remember the cough I used to get whilst exploring whether happiness was indeed a cigar.

But what makes advertising work – or work harder?

1. The impact of a multi-media campaign can be greater than the sum of its parts

I suspect most of us have those moments where you see a poster ad, and before you know it, you’re humming a jingle in your head from another ad for the same product.

A print ad for an insurance brand featuring a meerkat becomes significantly more effective once you have been exposed to the long-running TV campaign with a meerkat saying “simples” a lot.

This is the beauty of ad media working together.

When we’ve quantified the impact of including multiple media touchpoints in our research, we often see a truly dramatic incremental impact that far exceeds that of any single ad media in isolation.

One such example comes from a study where we evaluated a number of campaigns for Newsworks. Some respondents were only exposed to the print ads, some only to the digital ads (mobile, tablet and/or PC), and a third group were exposed to both.

The results were incredible:

Clearly, something fundamental happens to our perceptions of a brand when we recognise a message we have already seen repeated in a new way or a new context.

2. A face can launch a thousand brand perceptions

We’ve seen George Clooney drinking coffee, Gary Lineker stealing crisps and Nicole Scherzinger getting yoghurt on her nose. A well-known face can be familiar, aspirational and trusted. For advertisers, the power of a celebrity endorsement is nothing new.

When there is an obvious link between the advocate and the product, the effect can be particularly powerful.

I remember a product placement campaign we evaluated where Jamie Oliver had used Uncle Ben’s microwaveable rice in one of his Fifteen Minute Meals.

At the pre-stage, Jamie’s viewers had distinct reservations about microwaveable rice – after all, this audience tended to enjoy cooking and “that’s just microwaving stuff”.

After Jamie used it, though, we saw significant uplifts – not just on the brand KPIs but on perceptions of the whole microwavable rice category. There were significant increases in the view that it always comes out right, it tastes as good as home-cooked rice, and it’s good quality.

If it’s good enough for Jamie, it seems it’s good enough for his viewers too.

3. Targeting is enormously powerful…

We were fortunate enough to start evaluating addressable TV ad campaigns when Sky’s AdSmart product launched.

This proved an interesting and challenging format to evaluate because we wanted to measure both the effectiveness of the ad itself and AdSmart’s ability to target extremely precisely (it can target viewers by postcode, amongst other things).

The solution was to use two control groups – one matched on the same targeted criteria (but not exposed) and one deliberately unmatched.

Measures would typically go up in increments: targeted respondents tended to score higher than untargeted ones on advertiser metrics, despite not being exposed to any advertising, simply because the brand was more relevant to them and they were more likely to be in-market. Exposed respondents scored higher still because they benefitted from the same targeted advantages and were exposed to the advertising on top of that.

Ultimately, we found that, on average, we could attribute 56% of overall campaign impact to targeting vs 44% to actual exposure to the campaign itself.

4. So is context

Channel 4 felt so strongly that context was beneficial to TV advertising they developed a product called Contextual Moments. It uses artificial intelligence techniques to automatically identify a specific moment in a TV programme as being contextually ‘valuable’ for advertisers, who can then place their ad in an adjacent break to ‘match’ this moment.

We undertook a large force exposed study to test whether the product worked as well as expected.

The results proved fascinating, and in some cases, surprising. Compared to the same ad being placed in a non-contextual setting, a spot ad placed in context achieved

To further explore why context works, we developed ‘Erroneous Recollection’, a technique based on an experiment into schematic processing conducted by psychologists W.F. Brewer and J.C. Treyens. Their original experiment found that a significant number of subjects ‘recalled’ seeing books in a room that they had been told was a professor’s study, even though there were actually no books. This demonstrated that the expectation of the presence of an object was sometimes sufficient to trigger its erroneous recollection.

Our test found that those exposed to a Contextual Moments spot ad were indeed – on average – significantly more likely to erroneously “recall” having seen the brand in the programme. Consequently, they attributed the brand with similar positive perceptions they held for the programme.

When it comes to advertising, context is indeed king.

5. Experience drives impact

We have evaluated well over 50 experiential campaigns over the years – these have included branded bars at music festivals, installations at shopping centres and train stations and even an exhibition at the Science Museum.

These are challenging to evaluate because the events are usually so immersive it would be faintly ridiculous to ask brand KPIs at the time of exposure. Instead, we collect respondent’s contact details at the event and do a telephone survey with them two weeks later.

The results to date from these types of campaigns have been truly remarkable.

One such campaign was for Nivea, which undertook a roadshow in shopping centres across the country. Individual skincare consultations were given to determine which products within the Nivea Visage range would be most suitable for the customer and complimentary gift bags were given out.

Two weeks after the event, attendees were 92% more likely to purchase Nivea Visage in future and 47% less likely to purchase Olay – the nearest competitor.

We saw similarly spectacular results with other interactive ad formats, such as TV ads where viewers could interact by pressing the red button (remember those?) and campaigns that encourage dual screening (for example, playing along with the Million Pound Drop on a mobile device and being served an ad).

There is something about interacting with a brand that deeply affects a person, driving consistently strong shifts across the whole purchase funnel.

I’d love to tell you more – such as our findings around how overt a brand should be when undertaking branded content, how takeover ad breaks are not just great fun but also highly effective and how in-game advertising is a great way to engage younger, hard to reach consumers, but I’m limited both by time and confidentiality. If you do have any campaigns that need evaluating, though, feel free to get in touch.