Oh, the holidays. The winter holiday season is the make or break time to hit sales targets for many consumer brands. Year after year, the usual techniques are used: video commercials, print ads (remember those?!), coupons, and discounts. They’re all designed to get people to buy.
But we all know that consumers are inundated with ads during this time… so what can you do to stand out from the noise and create an ad that has an impact (on your consumers’ brains) and inspires action?
Here are 10 best practices based on thousands of ads tested using Immersion:
1. Tap into storytelling.
The most important thing you can do to sustain neurologic immersion is to go back to English 101 and always, always, build a narrative arc for your commercial. A montage of unconnected holiday scenes may seem like a good way to connect your brand to gift purchases, but our data show that with the montage approach, within 10 to 15 seconds, the brain "gets it" and there is little reason to spend the metabolic energy to continue to be immersed. Low immersion shows that the information is unimportant and will not be remembered.
On the flip side, more immersion means more sales - because the brain values and remembers the content. Your commercial has to grab and grow immersion to be successful. A dramatic arc that introduces characters who face a dilemma that they then resolve keeps the brain immersed and wanting more. The data shows that a complete story arc can be done in as little as 6 seconds, so you don't need Tolstoy to write your script - and we all know you usually have 15 to 30 seconds to get your message across.
Regardless of the time you have, you do need to have product-story congruence. That is, the commercial must weave the product into the dramatic arc in a natural way. Many holiday commercials tell wonderful stories and then just drop a "buy now"at the end. This does not cut it. Tell a story and make your product part of the plot.
2. Showcase authentic emotions.
This is a key point, so I'm going to make it really clear. Attention does not move the sales needle. Emotions do. Customers must have an emotional connection to your commercial that carries over to the featured product before a sale occurs.
Story opens the door to influence behavior; but it's emotions that carry the customer through the door. The emotions shown in holiday ads must be authentic to the story itself.
The story and those who embody it need to express genuine emotions that are absorbed by viewers and get them to care about your product as much or more than the many other things they care about. Solid narrative and writing, good actors and voiceover artists, and thoughtful directors are all necessary to create a hit holiday ad. It is really not surprising, but it is worth noting... quality counts.
3. Focus on fun not fear.
UK department store John Lewis ran holiday ads a few years ago that showed how stressed people were trying to find the right present, or any present, for a loved one. It did not have the impacts they had hoped for. Fear drives attention, but it does not move product because most people avoid fear.
It’s empathy, connection, and warm feelings that immerse people in the content of an ad and ultimately cause them to remember a brand when they are shopping. Holiday ads need to focus on positive holiday experiences in order to capture positive emotional experiences. Fear based ads can work for some products, but this approach is less impactful and immersive for holiday videos.
4. Include family. (Avoid gratuitous babies.)
Most content creators know that babies are immediate emotion-eliciting machines. You may have even uttered an audible "aww" when a cute baby gets a close up. Babies have to be cute or parents would give up caring for them... so nearly all humans emotionally connect to babies (yes, we understand that there are many exceptions starting with teenage boys).
The same is true, though often of reduced degree, for commercials showing people enjoying themselves. Immersion's clients have shown that close-ups of happy faces generate an immersion spike. Good, especially if the spike occurs during a branding moment, but not so good if the close up, adult or baby, is gratuitous. The baby, person, or family needs to be part of the narrative arc if you want to sustain immersion for more than a few seconds. After having watched hundreds of commercials, I am still shocked by how many gratuitous babies are paraded onscreen for products that have nothing to do with children. A small blip in immersion is not what drives brand awareness and sales. What does is high and sustained immersion. For this, you need a story. Including a family who expresses emotions in a story is the way to generate an emotional "wanting" for the same experience.
5. Create a story around pets. (Again, avoid gratuitous babies.)
"Never work with children or animals," warned W.C. Fields. He was right, in a way. Domesticated pets have undergone "neoteny," which is the retention of traits by adults previously seen only in young animals. In dogs this is floppy ears, big eyes, small jaws, and curved tails. In cats, hmmm, well cats are only semi-domesticated so let’s just say fluffy tails, big eyes and that juvenile behavior known as "kneading."
In other words, pets look like babies. So, give Spot or Fluffy a close-up and spike Immersion. Build a story around a pet and you can sustain immersion. Just as with babies, a gratuitous closeup of a puppy will do little do improve your commercial or influence sales, though of course human survey takers will tell you they love puppies (who wouldn't?). The pet, product, and story need to be congruent so that the puppy or kitty or pony is tied to the product. This is how to turn "awws" into dollars.
6. Target familiarity. (aka. context matters.)
Here's a news flash from neuroscience: everyone is different. I know you knew that, but neurologically, people's brains respond differently to identical messages and experiences. The brain builds patterns by putting new information into context. When the context is familiar, immersion will be higher. In diverse countries like the US, many holiday ads are released in two or three different languages by changing the voice-over. Sorry team, bad idea.
Context is not just language. It includes cultural iconography, music, people's ethnicity and more. Putting an ethnically diverse group of actors in a commercial and releasing it with voiceover in English and Spanish nearly always dooms it to failure in at least one of these languages. If you want to appeal to Hispanic shoppers, then appeal to them with a commercial specifically built to immerse them. Build targeted commercials from the ground up using experts from that culture or region. Just like you would not release a commercial showing the US National Football League in Morocco, you should not think one commercial fits every ethnographic profile. Diversity is great, but context is king.
7. Pair your content right.
Of all the "hacks" here to improve your holiday advertising, this one might be the most sneaky. Immersion data shows there is a halo effect from immersive entertainment to a commercial that follows it. In other words, good content with good immersion has a carry-over effect for advertising, and it can extend to the first and even the second commercial shown. So, carefully pick the content around which your advertisement will be shown. Think of this as contextual advertising on steroids.
This can be challenging with programmatic and social advertising, but it can be improved with things like white listing. Online ads enable dynamic updating and improved targeting, but even linear TV programs need to be chosen smartly. Think about your target audience and ensure that the entertainment content they watch and your commercial are contextually relevant for them. Then you can ride the halo of immersive and targeted entertainment into a higher impact holiday ad.
8. Offer a feel good BOGO.
Buy one, give one. Especially during the holidays, this is a proven method to do good and do well. Build a holiday campaign around the season of care and giving. Immersion data shows that commercials with social purpose are more immersive than the same commercial without a social component. Ensure the charitable response is congruent with the product and/or brand so that the narrative you build is seamless. Make the request urgent by limiting when customers can take advantage of it and tapping into the charitable feelings of the holidays. Then, in January tell your crew how much good they did for others. Build brand awareness by asking customers to share the information on social media.
9. Take advantage of nostalgia.
Holiday commercials often use nostalgia to evoke memories of the happy times people have had around the this time of year. These hooks combine visuals with holiday music and can even induce the brain to simulate smells by showing close ups of Christmas trees or cookies coming out of the oven. (Yep. Our brains do that. Pretty cool, huh?)
Fond memories are an effective way to improve people's moods and happy people buy more. So far, so good.
But, you must always go back to rule #1, stories rule and unrelated quick cuts drool. Client data show that nostalgic holiday ads without a story do not sustain immersion and have little impact on sales.
Nostalgic stories, yes. Nostalgia because it you think it looks pretty, no.
10. Create a clear Call To Action
Make it explicit. Make it urgent. Make it easy. I have seen many online commercials that end with a URL that is not hyperlinked. Bad. I have seen so many TV commercials that don't have a URL or phone number to make a purchase. Also, bad.
You can think of immersion as tension in your brain. People release this tension by doing something, including buying, sharing, or searching for more information. But, the brain wants to save metabolic resources so if the effort required to release tension is too high, people will simply wait until it goes away. Create a smooth flow from your amazing holiday ad to action… to a purchase. Brand awareness is nice, but a purchase is better.
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