28 September 2022

When a fleeting glance might not be enough

A further look into Byron Sharp’s latest teachings and what it means for the brands we are guardians for. Whilst Sharp’s word can often be taken as gospel, it’s important we review what it means for us and the specific brand challenges we work on.

Building on last week’s POV, this week we have another rummage under the bonnet of Prof. Byron Sharp’s theories and approaches to success in growing brands. As has been proven in the past, the Australian marketing sage has significant influence in how we market the brands we support and look after but ensuring we don’t just take what he says as gospel is absolutely crucial.

Our last POV homed in on the importance of being where the people are, as an agency we have already structured how we plan around this thought; FLOW planning prioritises understanding the behaviours of the audiences we target ahead of the channels we deem to be most effective.

This piece aims to focus a little more on the question of attention, once we’ve understood where people are spending their time, how is it we want to make them take notice of what we have to say? The matter of attention is not something Sharp holds in particularly high regard, his latest talk suggested that anything beyond “fleeting attention is a waste of money”.

We’ll address this point first. There is some truth in saying we don’t always need someone’s full attention, or double-digit seconds worth of it, in order to achieve what we set out to do. That said, this doesn’t necessarily work in reverse order, whilst we may not always need high levels of attention sometimes, we do. 

Highly recognisable brands (typically synonymous with high investment power) can often get away with extremely low levels of attention. To give an example of this, Carlsberg have invested a lifetime of marketing effort into owning the word “Probably”, as such the word alone (in the correct font, though not exclusively) has the power to immediately generate brand recall and compound existing mental availability.

On the other end of the spectrum a brand that has lower levels of awareness/recognisability, and much tighter purse strings, isn’t likely to see the same kind of success from low levels of advertising attention. The lack of either a strong base of mental availability or the high budget levels required to begin to build one means the overall effectiveness of a campaign is likely to suffer if it goes largely unnoticed. Another symptom of the factors mentioned above is these brands tend to only get a handful of attempts in any given year to increase mental availability and subsequently their share of market. Small, low awareness brand ability to generate consistently high reach (at any level of attention) simply doesn’t match that of the large, volume driving brands that Sharp tends to comment on.

The below graph attempts to show how this is more about balance than a right or wrong answer scenario.

Challenges at either side of this graph can also be experienced by the same brand but across different products, EA games being a prime example of this. When releasing the latest iteration of the FIFA series, the recognition and following is so strong that even a slight flash of the logo and the according year is enough to spark pandemonium. The other side of this is in the launch of unknown titles, generating a big splash is important for these games that are starting at a base of zero. They need to generate attention and interest in order to build the same kind of following that larger titles benefit from, and therefore the luxury of being able to succeed on lower levels of advertising attention. Fundamentally this comes down to storytelling, in the case of FIFA there is a powerful existing story and therefore media’s task is to remind gamers of the product and reinforce the emotional connection it drives. The inverse of this is true for the lesser-known titles, there is no existing story and therefore media must begin to build one, communicating the product and creating new emotional connections among its audiences.

Whilst it may not be true we always need maximum attention, generally what’s considered to be optimal is an advertising experience that captures people’s interest and emotions. When we achieve this, we can blur the lines between promotion and entertainment, which is something the greatest advertising campaigns have in common. As another mSix strategist recently said in response to the idea that all advertising can be reduced to mental availability via distinctive assets and frequency, “if that were true then this wouldn’t be the best advert I’ve ever seen, and it 100% is”. For the record, it’s 10 minutes long; sometimes the magic outweighs the logic.

Following on from the importance of attention, or at least recognition of when it’s most important, we look at another truth; people do buy brands. Even in categories where one may argue that a strong brand isn’t as important as cost and function, cleaning products for example, we still see examples of strong brand character being a powerful driver of growth. Our very own Method is proof of this point, it’s by no means the brand with the greatest SOV or buying clout but it has something to say and generates a more emotive response from those that see or buy it as a result. By establishing a clear and relevant purpose, brands are able to arm themselves against competitors relying on reach and frequency alone. This becomes particularly true when purpose chimes with the zeitgeist of the moment, again we see this to be true in Method’s crusade against the poor environmental practices of its category.

To close, it’s important to note this isn’t a rebuttal of Sharp’s principles, instead it’s a reminder that we must leave room for magic in media plans and that sometimes a more emotive story needs telling. The combination of a strong brand and a media experience that captures the attention of those it’s trying to reach has a transformative power for smaller/challenger/faded brands.