The three games every advertiser must play to be effective

by Nigel Hollis | July 15, 2019

In an a WARC newsletter item Keith Weed, then chief marketing and communications officer at Unilever, talks about the need for his company to play two games: support global brands based on universal truths and manage a portfolio of targeted, niche brands. But I would suggest that brands actually need to play three games at once.

If you are marketing a reasonably-sized brand of any type, you have to ensure that you are building sales now and for the future. To do so, as we highlighted in our Mastering Momentum report brands need to outperform their competition at experience, exposure, and activation. The most important to growth is exposure, but once a brand reaches a reasonable size it inevitably needs to start reaching out to a more diverse set of customers and that presents the need to achieve to different and sometimes opposed objectives: reach and relevance. So, to be effective you need to reach a general audience and target specific niche groups at the same time.


If you want to influence someone with your advertising you first have to reach them and for a multitude of reasons, not least the way campaigns are planned, bought and delivered, most digital campaigns tend not reach a wide audience. Buying a lot of cheap impressions does not guarantee reach and it certainly does not guarantee that anyone is going to pay attention to the ads. On the other hand, the obvious benefit of digital is the ability to target specific groups of people. But, particularly if that targeting is informed only by behavioural data, it is likely that people will be exposed to the advertising late in the day, close to the decision point when they may already have made up their mind about which brand to buy (or in the case of retargeting, after it has been made). If advertising is going to deflect behaviour at this point it must not only engage attention, it must make its impression compelling enough to disrupt people’s instinctive inclination and appeal to a more deliberative mindset. It needs to be hyper-relevant. And that is tough thing to achieve across disparate groups of people.

This is why some advertisers have found it far more productive to balance digital calls to action with brand building advertising that seeks to predispose people to buy before they even start shopping. This is the equivalent of the global brand, a broad platform based on real consumer insight that can appeal across a wide audience, enabling the use of high reach media. And thanks to the IPA Awards we have obvious and successful cases in high activation categories where this has proven to be effective: Premier Inn, Direct Line and the AA. Campaigns that effectively balance brand building and activation smooth the way to a purchase by predisposing people to choose the brand and makes them more likely to pay attention its advertising when shopping the category.

So, what do you think? Should all advertisers play these three games?  Please share your thoughts.

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