Steve Olenski, senior content strategist at Responsys, a leading global provider of on-demand email and cross-channel marketing solutions, in his article in Forbes, asks What Makes a TV Commercial Memorable and Effective?

A few years Steve queried a number of people about these two questions:
  • “What makes a TV commercial memorable?”
  • “Is it the product/brand you remember or just the commercial itself?”

Here are some of his findings about what makes a commercial memorable:

  • Humor (the most common answer.)
  • Tagline and jingle.
  • Iconic-type character, making the ad stand out from the pack.

The Element of Disruption

What stands out to me in the responses Steve has provided are that so many of them point to the element of disruption, which makes sense in view of findings in behavioral economics that show that it takes a great deal to overcome behavioral biases and catch a person’s attention:

Generally for me, a TV spot has to score high in 2 areas to be memorable: sheer entertainment value and disruption/thought-provoking ability. That second category covers those few ingenious spots every year that go completely against the settled order of things to really achieve something different. As for whether I remember the product or just the commercial itself, that varies…Those of us in the biz latch on to the sponsor probably five times more often than the average viewing Joe or Jane — so if we’re inconsistent in our recall, imagine how they do on that score.”

Disrupting Behavioral Biases

Research in behavioral economics points to behavioral biases that often stand in the way of allowing a person to give due consideration to a product offered as an alternative to the type of product they have grown accustomed to.  For instance, status quo bias – which is the tendency to inertia, or not to change – becomes especially strong when choices are complex, as with financial decisions. Overcoming this inertia and moving a customer to consideration are key goals of positioning, framing and design.

Some of the responses Steve received illustrate ways that an ad can break through habitual behaviors:

Be Unconventional: One respondent pointed out that to stand out and become memorable, it must be unconventional, because the conventional is boring, and forgotten because it never engages the consumer:
If you don’t remember the product or service, the ad is a failure. The ad should address a need, demonstrate how the product or service meets the need, and do it in a compelling, memorable way, with a device known as a hook. 25 years after it ran, people still remember Wendy’s “Where’s the beef?” ad.
Use A Hook:  A hook is an interesting way to introduce a new habitual pattern, countering an older perception. It reframes the product so that it is perceived in a new light, and reinforces that new perception through an addictive phrase or idea.

Shock: The element of disruption can be introduced via the depiction of a shocking event. Consider this response:

Commercials that portray people getting hurt are most memorable, i.e. falling off the ladder, walking into the glass door, the football player hitting office workers. Interestingly, I can’t say for certain which products they were pitching.

Be Ironic:  Irony is another way of introducing the unexpected. The element of humor or bad taste can rouse someone from the slumber of the mundane:

Stupid commercials are the most memorable, followed by funny ones. I tend to remember a commercial first then the product.”

Be Heartfelt:  One of the respondents pointed to “a human truth engagingly presented. good example is the commercial for the SPCA, showing pictures of homeless cats and dogs while Sarah McLachlan‘s song “Angel”is played the background. That two-minute advertisement generated a record-breaking $30 million for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The commercial became the most successful fund-raising effort for the ASPCA and  created a buzz among animal rescue organizations. It also attracted nearly 200,000 new donors to the organization, and prompted the SPCA to increased its grant program to smaller rescue groups by 900%.

Ally Does It Again

Irony Used to Disrupt Habitual Thinking Patterns: In financial services, I have highlighted Ally’s brilliant commercials, which disrupt ordinary thinking patterns with interesting twists. Now Ally’s “prediction commercial uses irony to attempt to change the way people are accustomed to thinking about Certificates of Deposit.
The ad, created by Grey New York, features an interview with economist and Nobel laureate Thomas Sargent. The prestigious guest is presented with pomp on stage and interviewed as follows:
Interviewer: “Can you tell me what CD rates will be in 2 years.”
Professor Sargent: “No”
Announcer: “If he can’t, no one can. That’s why Ally has a raise your rate CD.”

Since launching the Ally Bank brand in 2009, the Bank has been committed to offering customers industry-leading features and services, and this new ad campaign builds on the momentum. Results: in 2012, Ally Bank customer loyalty has remained strong, with customer accounts having grown 27%t year-over-year to to nearly 1.1 million, with a steadily increasing deposit base.

Steve Olenski is named one of the Top 100 Influencers In Social Media (#41) by Social Technology Review and a Top 50 Social Media Blogger by Kred.

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