“Entertain me.” A phrase uttered by the likes of despotic emperors, overindulged toddlers, and, now, your everyday consumer?
For decades, marketers have done their best to inform and entertain consumers, encouraging them to use their products or services. But with more companies vying for consumers’ attention than ever before, is it even possible to come up with ads that are truly new or fresh?
Modern-day consumers are obsessed with innovation — and expect brands to continuously entertain them with fun stories for new or reimagined products. They’re sick of the brands using the same old messaging year after year and many feel that if an ad is going to disrupt their day, it better be entertaining.
While that’s a lot of pressure for marketers to deal with, it’s also unavoidable. So what should a smart brand manager do to remain innovative and entertaining? Their research.
Brand managers need to keep their finger on the pulse of their brand perception and reception — particularly within their target audience. They need to gather consumer insights continuously, that way they can spot disinterest or disapproval before it becomes a real issue.
With advanced consumer insights, you’ll be able to see when it’s necessary to change up your communication. Maybe consumers find your messaging outdated, boring, or even offensive — you won’t know until you ask.
This article will provide a brief retrospective on historically entertaining ads, as well as give a few tips to help brand managers assess whether or not it’s time to change up their own brand communication.
Are You Not Entertained?
What qualifies as “entertainment” has definitely changed over time. From the slapstick humor of late 19th century silent films to the weird and wonky humor of many modern ads, consumers’ tastes have evolved as well.
So, let’s explore some “funny” ads from the last few decades to see if there are any unifying themes.
1. Schlitz, 1952: Acceptably Sexist Humor
Many ads considered “funny” or “entertaining” in the mid-20th century would now be considered aggressively sexist. But at a time when this kind of humor was commonly accepted, this 1952 ad from beer company Schlitz was all the rage.
In the eyes of a 1950s consumer, we see a compassionate husband consoling his distraught young wife — she’s burned their dinner, failing one of her top “wifely duties”. But instead of reprimanding her like he has every right to, her kind and funny husband points out that at least she didn’t burn the beer.
What a mensch.
So, why was this ad deemed entertaining? It played on the gender expectations of the time — instead of getting upset, the husband makes an unexpected joke about the beer. Cutting edge and surprising, consumers of the time delighted in this ad.
As we can see, what was considered great advertising 70 or so years ago would now be laughed out of town… and not in a fun way.
2. Trebor Softmints, 1987: Strange, Psychedelic Humor
With a catchy jingle and unforgettable visuals, Trebor’s “Mr. Soft” commercial was a huge hit in the 1980s. Odd and somewhat psychedelic, this ad had all markers of its time considered entertaining.
Mr. Soft is a soft man in a soft world… eating Trebor Softmints. And as he’s dancing down the street, grooving to the music — he hits a “not so soft” lamp post and falls over.
Once again, what makes this ad fun and entertaining is the unexpected happening. We think we know what kind of world Mr. Soft lives in, until we don’t. The surprise made consumers laugh and the jingle stuck in their heads for weeks.
The song “Mr. Soft” was originally sung by British rock band Cockney Rebel. However, Trebor purchased the rights to the song, rewrote the lyrics, and rerecorded it with a Steve Harley sound-alike.
The result was a familiar tune and voice — one people knew and loved — but now associated with a brand.
Even if an ad like this probably wouldn’t go down as well with modern consumers — this kind of odd, slightly off-kilter humor worked in the 1980s and people responded positively to it.
3. QLED + Aviation Gin + 6 Underground, 2019: Witty, Irreverent Humor
In this ad for not one but three different products, Ryan Reynolds shines — charismatic, dry-humored, and witty, he’s pulling off an ad within an ad…. within an ad.
Ad-ception, if you will.
The golden boy of comedy for the last few years, Reynolds’ trademark goofy, irreverent humor has taken his career to new heights. From movies like Deadpool and 6 Underground to his own gin brand, Aviation Gin, Reynolds has been unstoppable.
And this ad perfectly encapsulates his humor and the humor consumers currently respond to — cheeky and witty, with a dash of impudence.
Once again, we must ask ourselves why the ad is entertaining. While you could attribute it to Reynolds’ charm and execution, we still can identify a similar theme: surprise and delight.
The commercial starts out as expected — Reynolds is extolling the virtues of the Samsung QLED TV while his Netflix film, 6 Underground, shows on the screen. A few seconds in, however, the screen unexpectedly switches to an ad for Aviation gin.
The commercial’s director then enters the scene, asking Reynolds what’s happening. He explains that he’s purchased ad space within the ad. Something so nonsensical, it actually works.
By providing consumers with the unexpected, the ad succeeds in being both entertaining and memorable.
No matter the decade or medium, the makeup of an entertaining ad has remained largely consistent — consumers want to be surprised and amused. Essentially, while the flavor of the humor used changes over the decades, the formula remains the same.
So, how can you make sure your brand is sticking to this age-old formula for success and offering up fresh, new content? By using consumer research to track consumer perception and test out new concepts.
Is It Time to Shake Up Your Own Communication?
These days, brands are able to communicate with consumers via far more avenues than ever before. Gone are the days of relying on print ads or TV spots alone to garner consumer attention — now brands can (and are expected to) communicate directly with users through social media as well.
This means that a brand’s style of communication — which encapsulates its brand image via a certain tone and personality — must be consistent across all platforms. Are you informal and funny on Instagram and Facebook? Try and instill your ads with the same kind of humor.
Do you take a more conventionally formal approach to your ads and website copy? Don’t attempt to reel in consumers with out-of-place humor on your socials. Consistency is the key here.
However, what if consumers aren’t responding well to your messaging at all? Formal or informal, funny or serious — it doesn’t matter. If customers don’t like your messaging, you’re not going to succeed as a brand.
But before you go making big and expensive changes, you need to set a baseline for consumer perceptions.
So, to figure out how consumers perceive your brand image — your messaging, personality, and overall communication style — you need to invest in consumer research.
Step 1: Utilize Consumer Research
So, how can you tell if your brand communication is succeeding? Here are a few methods.
1. Research Your Brand Associations
Brand associations are the characteristics and traits that consumers associate with your brand. Ideally, they should align with your brand values and mission.
For example, if your brand values state that you’re invested in reducing plastic waste in your packaging, you’d hope that consumers associate your brand with being “eco-conscious”.
So how can researching your brand associations help you figure out if your communication is succeeding? Well, if you’ve recently released new ads which all utilize an irreverent, dry style of humor — you’ll want to know how they went down with your target audience.
By identifying your brand associations, you can figure out how your target audience is responding to said ads. Perhaps, after viewing your new ad, they feel your brand is “light-hearted” or “down to earth”. Or, they think your brand is “nonsensical” or “trying too hard”.
Positive or negative, you need to be aware of how your target audience feels about your brand communication. And how can you gather these insights? With brand tracking software that provides reliable, accurate data on your target audience’s preferences.
That way, you can get ahead of any real backlash from consumers who don’t jive with your brand messaging or figure out if it’s time to overhaul your brand communication strategy.
2. Show Your Ads to Focus Groups
It’s a decades-old approach, but no less effective than it was in 1970. By showing your ads to focus groups made up of your target audience, you’re able to get first-hand feedback — which you can then use to alter or tweak your ads before they go live.
Maybe an ad your entire (male-dominated) marketing team thought was hilarious falls flat with a large portion of your female audience. Instead of attributing its failure to something nebulous like “bad timing”, you’ll know exactly what it was that went wrong.
As a brand manager, you can take this kind of information and use it to refine and improve your brand communication. By showing your ads to focus groups, you’ll be able to get a feel for how consumers are responding to your brand messaging in real-time.
Keep in mind, a focus group is usually composed of no more than 20 people — meaning the insights you gather from such a process will not be helpful, but not statistically significant.
3. Utilize Social Listening to See What Consumers Think of Your Brand
Another method that can help you figure out how consumers are responding to your brand communication is by utilizing social listening tools.
Social listening allows brand managers to track commentary about their brand, analyze consumers’ perceptions, and respond to conversations on the internet.
Usually, social listening is run via software that monitors these types of online interactions for you. All information gathered is divided into three groups: positive, neutral, and negative sentiment.
How would this help you assess consumers’ perceptions of your brand communication? You’ll be able to see actual user comments on your ads, social media posts, and more. If a good percentage of your target audience seems to dislike your brand messaging, you’ll know it’s time to shake things up.
However, like the previous option, social listening has its downfalls. Namely, the 90-9-1 Rule — which states that 90% of the online community simply lurk and observe, 9% comment from time to time, and only 1% comment/interact regularly.
Translation? Insights gathered via social listening come from only 1% of online users. So, again, not statistically significant.
Step 2: Use Your Data to Inform Your Brand Communication Strategy
Now that you’re aware of how consumers feel about your brand communication, you can assess whether or not it’s time to make changes.
Keep in mind that the percentage of consumers represented and the reliability of this data is directly linked to your chosen method of collection.
If you decide to go with social listening or focus groups, remember that the insights you gather won’t necessarily represent your entire target audience accurately.
That being said, if you go with brand tracking software, you’re setting yourself up for success. As an example, let’s look at a company that used our brand tracking software to revamp their brand communication, reBuy.
Case Study: reBuy
When reBuy — a platform that allows users to buy and sell previously used electronics and media — first came to us, they had a major issue: they were losing touch with their target audience and weren’t sure why.
Without data on what their target audience thought of their products and services, reBuy found it difficult to craft brand communication that resonated with their audience. So, they used Latana to track brand associations.
While they wanted to see where they stood in comparison to competitors for their core associations (quality, price, and value), they also wanted to explore new target audiences they hadn’t previously been interested in.
With the data that Latana provided, reBuy was able to discover a new target audience: younger consumers interested in sustainability. While they knew sustainability was a part of their appeal, they had not been using this USP in their brand communications.
Using this data, reBuy underwent a rebranding process and made important changes to their brand messaging going forward. Now that they were aware of what consumers associated with them and how they were responding to the brand’s overall message, they were able to better appeal to future consumers.
Not all brands need to change up their communication — consider giants like Coca-Cola or Nike who actually benefit from sticking to their traditional brand messaging.
However, as a small to mid-sized company, you need to be more flexible with your brand communication and willing to listen to your consumers’ opinions. If they aren’t entertained and impressed by your ads, social media posts, and other interactions, you risk losing them to the competition.
Ensuring your consumers are happy is what makes you money, after all.
So, before you decide to do a full 180 with your brand communication, do your research. Find out if you’re entertaining your customers or if you need to go back to the drawing board.
And most importantly, remember that your work doesn’t end there. A successful brand gathers consumer insights and uses them to inform more than just decisions on brand communication — but marketing strategies overall.