When More Becomes Less: Debunking the Advertising Wear-out Fallacy

By Justine O’Neill, Senior Director, Analytic Partners

Radio and TV as background noise while cooking dinner, two hours of social media each day with influencers promoting the latest and greatest products, unwanted pop-ups while browsing websites, flickering billboards in the city centre – consumers are constantly with information and advertising, whether they’re interested or not. Although information overload is not a new concept, it certainly has a part to play in our decreasing attention span spiralling out of control.

But while attention is getting lower for irrelevant advertising, the same people are binge-watching shows or sitting in the cinema for 206 minutes – thanks, Martin Scorsese. So, maybe attention is not the problem after all. Perhaps they just don’t like the ad or the channels they’re receiving it on. Maybe they’re tired of seeing another irrelevantly placed ad with yet another creative or promoted by yet another influencer.

Have marketers grown impatient with their ads?

Many marketers are strong believers in the phrase “new is always better”. Brands are constantly scrapping their creatives and campaigns before they can reach their full potential. This is mainly due to two factors: the belief among marketers that creative content has a finite lifespan, i.e. that it wears out, and the inclination of newly appointed CMOs to imprint their distinct mark on the brand.

We can’t do much about the eagerness of a new CMO, but we can give our perspective on the fallacy of creative wear-out.  Earlier this year, System 1 tested the theory of wear-out and confirmed that marketers are not making the most of their creatives. that consumers have a greater tolerance and threshold for advertising repetition (more than 10 exposures) than suggested previously.

In our own research in Australia, only 14 of over 50,000 creatives were exhibiting signs of wear-out. Wear-out was defined as the cost of the new creative outweighing the drop-off in performance of the old creative. As part of many of our other global customer programmes and research, we have uncovered that run their full course and reach their full potential. Many are pulled from the market without even considering or supporting their performance, missing the point of letting them “wear” into the consumer’s mind and thus creating brand recall. Brand campaigns run the biggest risk of this, as they typically need between one to three years to fully wear in; think McDonald’s ‘I’m Lovin’ It’ jingle – ba da da da daaa.

A little less conversation, a little more creativity please

During the ‘TV only’ era, a widely accepted rule of thumb was to cap advertising at 2,000 GRPs before experiencing wear-out. Today, because many brands are pulling their creatives prematurely, it is hard to say exactly when creative wear-out starts. But, during lockdown we were able to quantify the benefits of wear-in. In a time when restrictions prevented many brands from filming new creative material, there were higher responses and ROIs when they had to continue using the “old” creative.

This doesn’t mean that every “old” campaign has great creatives that will last forever. A bad ad is still a bad ad and will not result in positive responses. But this suggests that rather than consistently rolling out new creatives, brands should invest time in crafting high quality creatives with their agencies and build media plans that track the right KPIs and allow time for wear-in. Furthermore, providing consistent support means avoiding the constant effort of setting up new campaigns. Allowing a creative to endure for a more extended period—anywhere from six more weeks—can significantly impact response rates and overall efficiency.

Where a long running campaign will likely not work is when seasonality becomes a factor. This is also where wear-out is most tangible. No matter how much we love Coca Cola’s “Holidays are coming”, nobody wants to see the exact same Christmas ad for two months. In those cases, and with many other campaigns, marketers should get creative with format, ad length and other executional elements. Refining the idea, continuing the story over time, and leveraging media channel synergies that will expand the creative impact.

Campaign overload – Creative wear-out’s twin sister

Efficiency is crucial in the current economic climate. With plummeting consumer confidence and rising inflation, aiming for higher levels of efficiency is on many businesses’ minds. Marketing budgets are under enormous pressure and must deliver short-term gains while maximising  long-term benefits.

In this challenging environment, the disparity in business outcomes between average and highly impactful creative approaches can be significant. Our   shows that two thirds of the impact of a video impression is driven by the quality of the creative itself. So, not only can brands expect higher responses to their campaigns, but they will also be able to save a large amount of money on development and production costs.

And it doesn’t stop at the creative. Many brands are running an enormous number of campaigns per year, some spending even twice the amount of money on production than on actual media placement. Many are also working with a siloed approach to creative development and media execution which does not allow for a full effectiveness picture .

Not only does this create information overload for the , but it also leads to sub-optimal execution, diminishing the impact for brands. Many measurement programs only look at working costs rather than the total costs that include all fees needed to produce those creatives. This makes it incredibly hard to parse out what creatives were strong but underperformed due to lack of support vs. the weaker creatives that received optimal support. This, in turn, is another significant waste of money that could be avoided if those brands would have a commercial view of their whole business.

Don’t overdo it

With a commercial analytics approach, brands can get a true commercial evaluation of what’s required when creating new ads, including the total costs. We’ve found that numerous of our global clients had more campaigns in development than they could effectively support. they could optimise their non-working spend and inform campaign development on the number of campaigns needed for each market while maintaining an ideal production cost to media spend ratio, time in market, and number of supporting metrics.

Within other projects, we see that too many campaigns are running at the same time. Another global customer had eight campaigns running at the same time. Analysis revealed that the optimal number of campaigns running at the same time would be three. Both examples show the enormous amount of excess spending on campaigns that do not deliver the highest possible return.

Less is often more

Declining attention, media fragmentation and tales of creative wear-out have  had many brands striving for quantity at the expense of quality in their campaigns and creatives. But marketers must account for the long-term impact of advertising and invest smartly and more efficiently in new creatives and campaigns. As we approach 2024, these four takeaways should be top of mind for everyone planning their media strategies, aiming to both cut costs and enhance effectiveness:

  • Be consistent: Campaigns and creatives need time to wear in. Brand awareness is built over months and years.
  • Take your time: Developing good creative takes time. The impact of a good creative, even if it has worn out, will be worth far more than running three terrible creatives.
  • Believe in your work: instead of culling a creative or campaign after four weeks, let it run a few more months to see its impact unfold in line with the wear-in.
  • Refresh your brand platform: Instead of creating a whole “new is always better” brand platform or campaign, refreshing the existing platform and ideas, e.g., in new formats or on different channels.