Kantar Millward Brown established that brands that are meaningfully different have the greatest chance of financial success. These brands achieve greater share, and can command a higher price premium. We also know the importance of needs-based salience in helping to influence brand choice when the consumer is in a decision making stage.
While the relative importance of being meaningful, different and salient differs by category and country, all brands should set out to deliver impressions that are meaningfully different. Superior functional differentiation offers perhaps the best way to motivate people to buy, but too many ads try to tell people what the brand does instead of demonstrating the benefits for them as consumers. And, as we all know, functional differentiation is hard to maintain in today's competitive world, so brands end up perpetually innovating to maintain position.
More sustainable competitive advantage that doesn't require continuous innovation can come through building a brand's emotional meaningful difference. Emotional meaningfulness is about a brand being more liked by consumers than other brands, and emotional difference is about a brand behaving in a way that makes it seem more dynamic or progressive than other brands. The way a brand communicates can be valuable in conveying meaningful difference. Meaningful impressions are often suggested rather than claimed.
As we noted earlier, the majority of ads developed today continue to use an explicit approach to deliver a message. This is perhaps more understandable for new brands or products, where it's important to quickly establish what the brand is and what it does. However our research showed that nearly two thirds of brands are telling people what benefits they offer, even after being well established.
Emotional meaningful difference often comes from dramatising a brand's purpose – what the brand stands for, its point of view, and its values. There are a number of good examples of brands whose ads are incredibly engaging and highly viewed in digital channels that also leave behind impressions which will support the brand long term.
In 2013, feminine care brand, Always, moved away from the category norm of developing ads showing women happily getting on with life during their period –backed up with reassuring product demos. Instead, Always focused its attention on what the brand has long stood for, empowering girls through puberty education1. Always built a new and more meaningful understanding of confidence which would resonate with the next generation of female consumers at a time when they may feel awkward and less confident. The 'Like a girl' campaign was born.
"We really had to start thinking about a different way to elevate the brand to go from just functional superiority to what we call 'emotional superiority'."
– Karuna Rawal, EVP/Business Director, Arc Worldwide2
In the 2016 ad, 'Like a girl: keep playing', Always encouraged girls to continue playing sports. The ad was based on the insight that 70% of girls don't feel they belong, and half drop out of sports even though it can help them remain confident through puberty. While the "keep playing" message is quite overt, there is no product message.
Without saying a word about Always products, the ad positions the brand as different from its competitors. At an instinctive level, the ad makes viewers see the brand as a leader – confident and supportive.
Our research showed that the Always ad scored in the top third for Active Involvement. This was proven in market by achieving 28 million views on YouTube, and by being the seventh most watched ad on the platform, and second among women.
top third of ads
top third of ads
28 million views
show the ad to convey Supportive, Leader, and confident associations.
Another good example of emotional meaningful difference came from Amazon in 2016. Their 'Priest and Imam' ad celebrates interfaith friendship, and according to the company, is about "selflessness and thinking of other people3". In the ad, the two old friends meet and both realise they're not quite as young as they once were. The priest has a great idea and orders knee pads from Amazon for his friend. The viewer soon sees that the imam has the same idea.
There are few overt product messages in the ad, instead we see the priest using the Amazon app and the emotional payoff of being able to order with one click and have a gift delivered the next day. The ad closes without an end line or use of the brand's name. Instead, we just see the Amazon Smile.
The 'Priest and the Imam' aired on TV and then achieved viral fame. Twitter was filled with comments from people who said it was a beautiful ad that made them cry; others said it gave them hope. It wasn't warmly received universally, and some criticised the ad for pushing an agenda of Islamic tolerance. When we researched the ad for this project, the response was very positive. It triggered very strong emotional responses, with enjoyment in the top 20% of ads tested in the UK, and the app usage drove strong linkage to the Amazon brand. Most importantly, the ad's Power Contribution score, which is a Kantar Millward Brown measure of the ad's likelihood to drive long term brand equity was in the top quarter of ads tested, showing that it gave people reasons to be predisposed to Amazon into the future.
The Story Resonates with Viewers
Facial coding shows strong smiles were generated at key points throughout the 'Priest and Imam' ad.
Sources: Kantar Millward Brown, 2017; Affdex for Market Research, Affectiva
Branding top quarter
Affinity top 15%
Source: Kantar Millward Brown, 2017
Arguably, going down the path of more implicit impressions is even more important in digital ads, where brands have to overcome the viewer's intended goal and get them to view the video (pre-roll). While we do see greater use of implicit delivery in digital ads than in TV, the majority of brand content is still explicit and focuses on message.
Even without purpose, it's possible for a brand to communicate in a way that resonates with viewers: it may reflect their values, their experiences, their personality or their aspirations. It might be as simple as showing viewers things that they like, or that make them laugh. Some of the world's strongest campaigns have been built on the platform of an idea that is personally relevant to viewers or on insights that reflects fundamental human truths.