Brands can draw on multiple distinctive elements to try to stand out in a crowded ad landscape. From oft-used logos, colours, and slogans, to lesser used celebrities and brand characters. Ad recall research published by market research giant Ipsos suggests that ads featuring brand characters are 6x as likely to be higher performing. Consumers are more likely to remember the ad and to remember the brand.
This aligns with previous research by System1 which found that their use can significantly drive market share and profit without extra cost. They estimated the uplift from “emotional surplus” being equivalent to as much as 12 bonus points of share of voice.
Ipsos reviewed 2,015 video ads from the US across categories including healthcare; pet food; durables, such as consumer electronics; financial services; digital services; beauty; beverages and food.
These ads were then served to target consumers in a distracted environment amongst competing content with sound on to simulate real life conditions. These consumers were later asked if they recognise the ad, and if so, to name the brand. The recognition and brand attribution scores were then combined and reported as “branded attention”.
Finally, the researchers grouped the ads into a high-performing and low-performing group based on branded attention, and compared the presence of various brand elements within those ads.
What are brand characters
Brand elements are the unique signals that help consumers to recognise and identify a brand. Brand characters are non-celebrity human or non-human beings used to promote a product or service. They differ from celebrities in being brand-owned, whereas the latter are essentially ‘hired’ characters.
Ipsos’s research suggests that brand characters outperform celebrities. There are other downsides of using celebrities. Brands do not control celebrities, but are instead hoping to benefit by being associated positively with them. There is thus a risk that attention is being placed on the celebrity rather than the brand. The benefits of association can also be diluted if the celebrity appears for other brands too, and can also be transient. When Kate Moss was allegedly caught snorting cocaine in 2005, brands such as Chanel and Burberry dropped her to avoid the resulting negative association.
I’m not going to dive into the psychology of why brand characters work. Simply put, this has to do with making an ad more emotional, memorable, and recognisable. The human brain is wired for animated beings.
And this probably resonates with your own experience. I vividly remember Ronald McDonald from my childhood days. Likewise, millions of Britons would remember the aristocratic Russian meerkat from the Compare the Meerkat campaign for price comparison website comparethemarket.com. This highly successful campaign launched in 2009 and is still running today!
In fact, this prompted Go Compare to develop their own brand character, the moustached tenor Gio Compario. This was backed up by their created jingle, which was the most played ad “song” in 2012. Within two months of launch, brand awareness for Go Compare rose 50%!
Using brand characters
Brand characters are significantly underused despite being the highest performing brand element for ads. They feature in 14% of the ads in the Ipsos study, and just 7% of UK ads and 4% of US ads in the System1 research. (And the use of brand characters is declining!)
In fact I would argue that they are high performing because they are underused. Just as how the use of logos add very little to an ad’s effectiveness because they are slapped on almost every ad.
- Choose and develop a brand character. This is often more an art than a science, intuitive rather than strategic or logical.
- Characters should be as distinctive as possible and reflect the brand as much as possible.
- The character should be used consistently across ads and channels. Even brands with brand characters tend not to use them outside of TV – and this is a missed opportunity.
- Keep it fresh and updated. A stale character is bad for your brand.
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