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.
“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.
Building from last week’s “Cliffs Notes” on production transparency, this week we take a look at case studies and examples of how this very topic can directly impact your budget.
Whether it’s internal or external, having a resource for production expertise can lead to real savings for advertisers.
Below are a few real-world examples of how a lack of transparency can lead to increased costs:
Here in the United States, bids for TVC/video production shooting and post production are often on the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP) and Association of Independent Creative Editors (AICE) forms. However, the scope of work for digital, photography and experiential projects are often in different formats with varying levels of detail and specifications. This makes it extremely difficult to compare across bids submitted. A best practice is for the advertiser to utilize a standardized template with all the required specs and appropriate level of detail (similar to what is in practice for TV and video). This allows for a smooth pre-bid meeting and the ability to make smart business decisions regarding costs.
Related Party Transactions with Bidding:
The ANA Production Transparency Study noted cases where related party transactions were not disclosed leading to various competitive bidding issues. In a recent project, a freelance producer who also owned a production company wanted that company to submit a bid for the project. In this instance, since an external production consultant was involved, the relationship was disclosed and bids from all production companies were received and evaluated by a 3rd party resource. Can you imagine what would’ve happened if the production consultant hadn’t required proper disclosures before bidding began?
During a recent bid review, a line listed “equipment” with an associated dollar figure. When asked for clarification, the specific items (grip, lighting, back drop, gels, etc.) with prices were provided and the total “equipment” amount came down several thousand dollars.
A brand director on a commercial shoot was asked by the agency to approve an overage on set due to some overtime requirements. The brand director “signed off” not really paying attention to the amount, authorizing the over time required in the amount of $60,000. When the production consultant analyzed the charges the next day and looked at the detail requirements for the two hours, the overage amount should have been $16,000. Having someone with production knowledge understanding the details and digging in really paid off in this situation!
Why use your precious budget on things you shouldn’t be paying for? In today’s world of high turnover, short-staffed teams, and people who are stretched so thin, there’s a higher risk for error — which can impact your bottom line. Invoicing transparency issues aren’t necessarily intentional or malicious, but it’s critically important review all billing prior to payment to ensure you don’t fall victim to common issues, which include:
- Number of individuals above guideline limits traveling to the shoot
- Inappropriate class of airfare, upgrades, airline clubs, monthly fees, subscriptions, etc.
- Miscellaneous non-billable expenses (items you can’t imagine!)
- Non-transparent talent charges related to miscellaneous payments, member violations, fees, wardrobe, overtime, etc.
- Charges to incorrect brands or projects (and yes, even incorrect clients)
- Duplicate charges
- Past due balances on invoices
- Taxes charged on non-taxable items
NOTE: MRA has an entire team of people who review agency invoices and back-up documentation to ensure billing is 100% accurate. To learn more, click here to download an overview of our LineWatch® Invoice Monitoring process.
Purchase Order & Budget Management
When advertisers don’t have solid pre-bid and bid review processes in place, project estimates become inaccurate and one risk is having the purchase order open for a larger amount than needed. If the advertiser doesn’t have an individual or team closely managing open purchase orders and budgets (vs. actual expenses), significant amounts may be left on open purchase orders and when final billing is settled, there isn’t always enough time to utilize the available funds. Imagine if YOU were the client that found out too late an entire additional spot could have been produced for your campaign!
Join us next week as we provide steps for how to get started and make improvements to your production management practices.
Written in collaboration with Angela Saferite.