How to analyze your commercials for better results.
What do you require of your TV commercials? If all you want is “a little top-of-mind awareness,” click off this page right now. You aren’t the sort of Product Manager who needs to read this.
If, on the other hand, your answer is “Move some units,” “Build a brand,” “Get prospects into dealerships,” “Convince category users to switch to our brand,” or “Fight off a competitor,” then stick around; we have a simple and useful analytical technique that will help you make each of your commercials work harder.
We start with this principle: the better media buys you make, the better your commercials need to be. If you have weak, inane and ineffective commercials in great time slots at high frequency, you’ll deliver your insipid advertising to a huge audience with admirable efficiency — thus, blowing your chance to achieve some real career-enhancing business results.
We also start with the premise that the sole function of any of your commercials is to make the audience do something as a result of all the work and money you’ve put out. Nobody should get a free ride on your advertising; that is, no one should be able to consume your advertising without also trying the product. If all you want is a “little top of mind awareness,” buy some outdoor advertising: it’s probably cheaper.
Determining how much of your commercial is working is simple and easy — and requires nothing more than a stopwatch, recording device, and a reel of your latest brand commercials.
You simply time the “working” scenes, add ‘em up, and voila! You know how much of each :30 is actually working for your brand. How much is actually selling, as opposed to getting ready, preparing a mood, being charming, or otherwise wasting time on irrelevancies.
Be thorough in your analysis. Check both audio and visual. Then turn off the audio, and see how much visual selling your spot is doing. (You might be surprised.)
Here’s what to look for in your commercials:
- Scenes (short ones) at the opening of the commercial designed specifically to attract your desired target audience. Such scenes work to bring in the right prospects for your Brand. Keep those scenes in. They’re working.
- Opening scenes devoted to “creating a mood” are probably wasting time that could better be used on the product. It’s always a good idea to throw out all “mood setting” scenes (along with the creative group that so volubly defends them in presentation meetings).
- Product shots are fine. You should have at least two of them per commercial, and they should take up no less than 20% of the total air time. (God forbid you should have so little product identification that some potential buyer might think your terribly persuasive copy was plugging a different brand — and as a result, go out and buy that)
- Jokes, on the other hand, are usually not fine. They’re so rarely relevant to the product or commercial message they’re almost unexceptionably a waste of good commercial time. Chuck all jokes out; they usually ingratiate only the friends of the creative team.
- Scenes showing problems of not using the product are okay — if they’re short and segue immediately into scenes showing the advantages of using the product.
- Scenes showing the end-result benefit of solving problems by use of the product are always acceptable. They should make up the majority of the time spent in your commercial. This is where you pay the rent — with compelling scenes of your product’s benefits and advantages.
- Demonstrations of how your product is better, or produces a more desirable result are great. Use them lavishly. Remember that Bounty went from zero to a commanding share in the paper towel category by using :21 worth of demos per commercial — which left only :09 for other visuals (all told, probably not a bad thing).
- Immediately reject any shot with flying doves, swirling leaves, or running brooks — unless you’re actually selling those particular commodities.
Okay, you now have timed all scenes, and can arrive at some conclusions. If your commercial scores in the range of the following numbers of seconds, you can:
:0-:l0 — Clear a space on your desk for the Clio or Cannes Gold Lion your commercial will undoubtedly win. You’ll also need plenty of room on your desk for your resumes, which you will be sending out in quantity right after the next share numbers are in.
:10-:20 — Fair; but you’d better call your agency to set up an earnest discussion of strategy and business objectives.
:20-:30 — Good for you. You understand advertising, and are likely to be successful at it. Go to the head of the class.
MRA’s experts understand advertising, too. We work to improve the advertising and cost performance for national and global clients in all sorts of categories. Interested in learning more? Let’s schedule a time to chat.
“What in the world was that commercial all about?”
How to make sure that’s NOT the viewer reaction to your nice, new, expensive TV commercial.
Advertising is a-changin’. Radio is shaped to audiences like a glove, internet channels exist for left-handed stamp collectors, and, of course, Programmatic TV is growing like a weightlifter on steroids.
It’s sheer anomaly that, at a time when we can pinpoint the audience better than ever before, we can lose focus creatively. How many times have you sat through a commercial – maybe even enjoyed it – but been baffled at the end, not even able to discern what the advertiser was trying to communicate? (If you have trouble coming up with a specific recall right after the commercial, you can bet big money that your 24-hour recall will be a mess.)
So, how can you beat the rap of inadequate or absent communication?
Here’s how, in one easy, elementary, most reasonable exercise with your agency, you can be sure the right people will get the right message out of your commercials.
This little bit of magic is called a Communication Objective. A Communication Objective is a distillation – a tincture, if you will – of your advertising strategy or creative brief.
(If you can’t find, or have mislaid, your advertising strategy, skip right to the part where we tell you who to call to prepare your resume for moving on.)
Of course, you have an advertising strategy. It delineates, at its very minimum, who should be interested in your product and what benefit they’ll derive from using it, and why your product alone can offer that benefit. It may also include some other stuff such as mood or mandatories, but the first three factors are the guts of any advertising strategy.
That’s also the essence of the Communication Objective. When your agency presents a storyboard, ask “What do we want the viewer to remember from this commercial?” Generally, communication objectives should not describe the look of the commercial or the way the characters are to be depicted.
While executional factors are important (and you’ll spend a considerable amount of time profitably wrestling with them in your pre-production meeting), they are not the key elements of the commercial that you want remembered. If you have a Communication Objective that wants the viewer to remember how much fun it is to drink a particular beer, you decidedly don’t want people playing back, “It was a dreamy, fleeting moment, music probably by Vangelis.”
Communication Objectives should be few in number – fewer than five, even four pretty crowded. If you have more, consider: you’re trying to get a single, focused playback expressing a single cognitive bit from a single viewer. Chances of harvesting five cogent and memorable communications out of a :30 spot are very slim.
How Close Are Communication Objectives to Scene Objectives?
In that both are techniques for organizing your advertising objectives and clarifying communication, they are closely related. However, the Communication Objective is a simple, “whole cloth” sort of exercise, to be applied at your commercial’s earliest presentation stages. In fact, it is a really good idea to ask an agency’s creative group either before or after they show you the advertising, “What playback would you be happy to get from our target viewer of this commercial?”
If you’ve got an ad for a superior-performing cleaning product, for example, you’d be delighted if viewers played back that your product gets out the tough stains – and does it better than competition.
Scene objectives, on the other hand, come in handy when clarifying the net take-away of a specific scene in the commercial: here’s where we establish our mom in an upscale kitchen; here’s where we introduce our product; etc.
If you have multiple Communication Objectives, go through the storyboard and identify the particular parts of the commercial that are supporting each of the objectives. If you’re having trouble finding a match between storyboard and objectives – well, probably the viewer will, too.
Communication Objectives are useful at the production bidding stage, too. Smart agency producers will include them in the material given to prospective directors. This will help the directors to focus their energy in the right direction as they determine what their “treatment” or approach to the production will be, and to help insure that the bid allows for these objectives to be given sufficient emphasis.
Communication objectives should be reviewed again during the pre-production meeting to serve as a benchmark by which all decisions can be measured.
Casting On-Camera Principal roles can sometimes be a difficult part of the production process because so much is riding on a compelling, credible performance.
Want to keep your next casting selection running as smoothly as possible? Follow the guidelines below, and you’ll be well on your way!
#1 – Casting Specifications
Review and approve casting specifications complete with enough clear, useful detail to define the roles the casting director is being asked to fill.
- “35-45 male, good looking bot not too ‘Modelly’…” can be interpreted in may ways. Add relevant details.
- When pinning an age to a role, be clear this is a “looks like” age and not a chronological age. Many re-cast sessions have been called because the callbacks were “too young” or “too old.”
- Share a relevant and tangible key motivation to the role description as a starting point: “…he is a retail store manager who is authoritative and confident but not arrogant…”
- It can be easy to have too much style direction, so choose the clearest and most defining.
#2 – Timing
Allow sufficient time for specs alignment prior to casting and for review & approval of agency recommendations.
- Specs should be reviewed at the pre-bid meeting so there is time for corrections, if needed, prior to the award.
- The conversation, however, can start earlier as the script is evolving and approved: Consider having the creative team include a profile of who the character is in the original script and storyboard. Will this change over time? Perhaps, but it provides insight into what the copywriter is thinking. You may or may not be in agreement, but it’s a place to start the conversation with a “flesh and bones” development.
- Establish a regular approval process: Casting selects should be posted within a set number of days before your pre-production meeting, allowing enough time for review and alignment across all stakeholders.
#3 – Criteria for Evaluation
90% of the performance you will see on shoot day will be present in the casting select files. Establish criteria for what will show the range in delivery. Don’t expect the director to be able to “pull” a performance out of an actor who doesn’t demonstrate an ability to deliver the performance in audition.
- Reading the whole script vs. select lines: If the talent read the whole script, remember that unless this is is a one-take monologue / presenter role, the script will be read several times in different scenes with different emphasis.
- Choose one line and ask it to be read 3 times in a row – with different deliveries and intensities.
Remember, like everything else in commercial production — from creative development to editorial — casting is a process. If it feels rushed, too complex, or confusing — contact us…we may be able to help.
Selecting the “best” location for your production is an important decision that should be made with care. Several factors come in to play:
- LA and NY are relatively high-priced but have a high concentration of directors, photographers and talent available
- There are a multitude of cities around the world that can offer lower costs
- Many advertisers travel U.S. based directors and talent to lower cost locations
MRA has created a quick reference guide categorizing popular international locations into high, medium high, medium low and low-cost ranges — click here to download your copy.
While there can be significant cost savings with an off-shore shoot, here are 4 important pros and cons to consider:
- Lower production costs
- Broader selection of directors geographies, etc.
- Ability to tap non-union talent and negotiate talent buyouts
- Reduced overtime (film crews tend to work longer standard days before incurring overtime)
- Increased travel expenses
- Possibility of paying for travel time (directors, producers and agency supervision may charge for travel time outside the U.S.; in some instances these can be negotiated)
- Longer lead time to organize and plan the shoot
- Smaller foreign talent pool if an American “accent” is required
- If the product is not sold in the country of the shoot, customs could delay product delivery
- When shooting outdoors, be cognizant of the background (i.e., are cars driving on the correct side of the street? Are there signs close-by in a foreign language?)
- Many countries have very specific regulations specific to producing content – ask an expert to ensure you’re aware of all local laws that may impact your shoot
- Consideration should be given to safety and fluctuating currencies
MRA has more than 37 years of experience in consulting with clients on making the best decisions when it comes to production locations, and we’d be happy to help you as well. Contact us today to learn more.
Written in collaboration with Angela Saferite.
“Change before you have to.” — Jack Welch
Here are 4 key tips to consider as you implement change to bring about greater transparency with your agency partners:
Tip 1: Create Policies, Procedures, & Guidelines
Many people may believe that production policies are developed to simply prevent issues. However, they offer a true benefit by outlining transparent production practices, creating efficiencies in the production process, and including safeguards to mitigate financial risk. Remember, it’s best when your production policies and guidelines:
- Include the “do’s and don’ts” as well as clearly-defined business procedures
- Address approval processes, responsibilities, and limits
- Have training, training, training – BOTH internal advertiser employees and agency employees should be trained annually and/or during on-boarding
- Are proactively utilized to review/audit for compliance
- Are updated regularly to ensure the latest industry best practices (including the ANA Production Transparency findings) are addressed
Tip 2: Assign Responsibility
It might seem straightforward and intuitive, but many companies focus on tips 1, 3, and 4 but miss this critical element. Having production policies means nothing unless someone is responsible and actively assuring compliance. Also, it’s important to make sure the person(s) you designate has the right tools and resources to be successful; getting the right expertise or training is crucial and should be considered up-front.
Tip 3: Consider Up-Front Analysis
Analyzing costs and overages after-the-fact (or when the purchase order runs out of funds) is simply just the process of approving incremental spend. The most critical decisions which can have a significant impact on transparency (and costs) are made early-on. Having a seat at the table with standard processes, tools, and templates helps ensure transparent discussions between your brand teams and agencies — and can help you avoid any unnecessary spending. With a proactive approach to up-front analysis, you’ll also be better equipped to manage scope changes (while still staying on budget) — or, heck, you may end up with funds that you can reinvest back into your brand.
Tip 4: Review Invoices Prior to Payment
Prior is the key word here. After payment is made, issues are often discovered:
- During an audit
- When invoices come in and there are no more funds available on the purchase order
- When invoices come in and the project is closed
This wastes precious time and money to resolve — and may lead to issues with the agency. Moving this review and “audit” process up before payment is made is the key to success.
There’s never been a better time to take an active role in managing and governing production transparency in your organization. Check out additional articles on the topic:
- Production Transparency: A Good Idea or Baseline Requirement?
- How Production Transparency Can Impact Your Budget
- Production Transparency: 4 Steps to Getting Started
Need advice? Click here to submit questions directly to our team, and one of our experts will get back to you with an answer immediately.
Written in collaboration with Angela Saferite.
With the recent release of the ANA Production Transparency, now is the perfect time to review and refresh your practices.
Identify someone or a team who is responsible for managing production. This can be accomplished in three ways:
- Tap into in-house resources with deep production knowledge (these team members may reside in marketing operations, procurement or finance)
- Train and develop internal team members to manage the production process and expenses
- Hire production experts to supplement your internal team
Assigning this responsibility is a critical first step to success!
Implement solid policies, procedures and guidelines governing production spend. These usually start with your company policies and procedures that need to be adhered to. However, this alone is not enough; more specific production guidelines require clarification and communication. Production guidelines are best when in writing, updated often, and both employees and agency personnel receive training. (The training is best delivered by the individuals responsible for the management of production costs.)
Avoid surprises and issues with your agencies up front in the process by conducting a thorough pre-bid meeting, including leveraging an objective party to ensure 100% alignment among agency personnel and brand teams on all elements of the production, including (but not limited to):
- Recommended bidders
- Shoot location options
- Types and number of assets to be included in production
- Talent requirements, residuals, and buyout considerations
- State incentives
- Special effects
Input and clarity around these topics early in the process facilitates transparency, effective management of budgets, and — yes, even results in savings.
Have a smooth invoicing process which includes a detailed review of invoices before payment is made. This also is helpful in eliminating the painful process of recouping funds if there are discrepancies or disputes with the billing.
Experts that specialize in reviewing production invoices and back-up documentation, monitoring compliance, ensuring verification of all costs can provide a thorough analysis. (Up-to-date, best-practice guidelines are a key element to have in-place prior to implementing the invoice review process.)
Regardless if these 4 steps are supported by internal or external resources, there’s never been a better time to take a look in the mirror and identify areas for improvement. Find yourself wondering how you’re stacking up to other organizations, or need help identifying areas that you might be at risk? Call 513-354-3833 to schedule a free transparency assessment.
Join us next week as we provide tips and tricks for implementing change to production management practices in your operations.
Written in collaboration with Angela Saferite.
It’s MRA’s priority to ensure transparency and integrity in the production bidding process for our clients, and we wanted to share a quick post regarding the recent announcement of the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation.
Day-in and day-out, our Content Production Advisors advise our clients on best-practice processes and procedures to protect against fraudulent bidding practices like those mentioned in The Wall Street Journal article.
With that in mind, MRA has responded to this week’s announcement by developing additional resources to help you mitigate risk and safeguard your organization against unfair production and post-production bidding processes. We’d be happy to discuss them with you — please request additional information here or call Stacey St. John directly at 513-354-3833.
You can with MRA.
Check out a few examples of how we’ve helped others spend their production budgets more efficiently:
Recently, a client was presented with new creative work. The agency recommended producing three :30 spots behind the new creative; total bid for the production amounted to $1,600,000 — somewhat steep, but within the limits of what gets spent for commercials in that category.
On analysis of the boards, MRA’s consultant broke down the costs by commercial. She suspected that a disproportionate share of the expenditure lay in an unassuming-looking set called for by only one of the spots — not immediately apparent from the board, except to a trained eye.
On digging further, it turned out that this set alone cost $540,000, or 34% of the total production cost for the entire pool!
When the Product Manager was apprised of the facts, she decided (smart Product Manager!) to produce the other two :30s. Total production outlay, just over $894,000, instead of the originally-recommended $1,600,000.
It’s not easy to see production pitfalls and extravagances in a storyboard. That takes years of practice, and the experience of working with thousands of commercials. The average Product Manager, who may produce as many as three commercials a year, can’t be expected to act as his own production expert. Moreover, negotiating costs is not the optimum use of a Product Manager’s time.
It is, however, the optimum use of MRA’s time. That’s why we work for over more than 30 clients on retainer, and why we’ve done project work for all but a handful of the top 200 advertisers over the 35+ years of our existence.
Here are a few more examples of the kinds of savings MRA experts make — large and small.
A major client was facing production of a large pool of commercials, featuring multiple non-speaking actors in each commercial. The agency bid the job in Los Angeles — and also in South Africa and South America. Since the talent was non-speaking, dialogue wasn’t important: looks, acting, and location were.
MRA has had considerable experience with overseas production and was able to provide valuable information about the necessity of extended lead-times in scheduling and the placement of heavy emphasis on preproduction in order to assure a smooth job.
The commercials turned out just fine (thank you!). The client ultimately saved $500,000 in production costs over the Los Angeles-based bidder and, coincidentally, $458,000 in reuse fees. The agency feels good about the results and, when last seen, was sporting the commercials on its sample reel.
Another client had two :30s (each with a :15 cut-down). The shooting schedule called for four consecutive days in outdoor locations in California. Given the potential for rain in February on the west coast, MRA strongly recommended that weather day insurance be investigated; our people were able to recommend an insurance company which had previously provided good coverage at a very favorable price for our clients.
Weather-day contingency costs on this project were estimated at $80,000 per day for a total rain-out. On the other hand, the weather-day insurance premium came in at $28,000 for all four days, guaranteeing that nine hours of each 12-hour shoot day would be rain-free.
As it turned out, one shooting day was drowned out and a total loss. With proper documentation, the insurance company came through with $80,000 in coverage, the pool of commercials was produced as planned, and client and agency were pleased with the results.
Do you always accept the low bidder on production? We don’t; instead, we look for the “best value” bidder.
We had a recent case where the agency recommended — and the client concurred — with the middle bidder: $25,000 higher than the low bidder. MRA agreed that the middle-bidding director would do a better job and then set to work, negotiating a savings of $11,693 in production, casting, and agency travel. What that meant was, the commercial got the best director; agency and client were happy, and nearly half the premium cost was saved by judiciously pruning the production estimate.
In addition, the agency planned to hire nine on-camera principals as actors — four more than the five agreed to in the pre-bid conference. Notified of the additional actors by MRA’s consultant, the client was able to persuade the agency that six on-camera principals would be plenty — with an ultimate savings of $45,000 in reuse payments.
Net result: the commercial seemed sufficiently “populated” with actors; agency and client were happy with the results, and the client had a little extra cash to put into media or other areas.
And What Exactly IS “Production Trouble?”
Let’s face it — you may or may not know if you’re in “Production Trouble,” and that’s okay! Heck, you may or may not even know what “Production Trouble’ is. We’ll tackle that in a minute…
You know, when you I was a teenager, being “in trouble” meant I was either sent to my room, grounded from going out with friends, or…heaven forbid…had my car keys taken away. (We didn’t have cell phones back then. If we had, I’m sure that would’ve been first on my parents’ list.)
But what is “Production Trouble?” Well, it’s when you’re wasting precious time and/or money on production — and you may not even know it!
Things You May Be Experiencing When You’re In Production Trouble
- The production process feels too complex — and rushed
- You aren’t happy with the quality of your advertising
- You’re not sure if you’re getting the best value for your production spending
- You’re producing content for social media and want to ensure you’re getting the best ROI possible
- You don’t have a central repository for asset management
- You need to find creative ways to spend less on production so you can reinvest into other things
- You’re not sure if you’re following best practices when creative is being produced
- You’re not benchmarking production costs
- You don’t have clarity on how production partners are selected
- You work with multiple agencies, and they all seem to work in “silos”
- You don’t know what different types of deliverable should (or shouldn’t) cost
Did you know there’s an expert resource at your fingertips that can help you with each of these? (Yep, that’s us). We can help you anytime and anywhere — MRA works with clients all over the globe. We’re here anytime…
Tell-Tale Signs You Need Production Help. Right Here. Right Now.
In addition to the list above, you may be in serious trouble (without even knowing it). Check out 6 Things You Might Say When You Need MRA (and shouldn’t go another day without calling us):