09 Feb

An old story, but a good ‘un: what’s more important – frequency or content?

I recently chimed in on an online debate as to what’s more important for an advert/a campaign: the frequency with which it’s shown or the actual content?

For me, the answer was pretty simple: the actual content.

Why?  Well, poor content, aired repeatedly, has the potential to drive the consumer from apathy towards a brand, to antipathy.

For example (and not all will agree with me on this): the GoCompare (Gio Compario) ads grated on me from the moment they first ran;
a) because they seemed like a ‘me too’ follow-on from the character-based Compare The Market ads .
b) they were just irritating.
The more they showed Gio Compario, the more I actively tried to avoid Go Compare if using comparison sites online (childish, I know, but that’s how the ads made me feel).

By comparison (no pun intended), last year’s Marmite TV ad only had to be shown once to have an impact on me – I found it funny and it did remind me to have Marmite on toast for breakfast again – and many others: what a storm of controversy it created with the ASA and The Daily Mail!
The content was already strong. The frequency with which it was shown carried lesser importance in hammering the key message home: it didn’t rely on the blunt instrument that is repeat viewing.

Having said all of this – when I was a young buck, just learning about adland, I remember a great story balancing the importance of both frequency and content:

Back in 2005, in the UK, the Labour Party were in power in the run-up to the next general election.
Their immediate rivals – The Conservatives – had come up with a number of policy proposals relative to the economy.

Wanting to show that such policies simply weren’t workable, The Labour Party ran an outdoor poster (I believe it was just the one / a handful) depicting Conservative Party leader, Michael Howard, and Shadow Chancellor, Oliver Letwin, as ‘flying pigs’. The copy on the poster read ‘The Day The Tory Sums Add Up’.
Michael Howard and Oliver Letwin are both Jewish and the poster caused a storm of protest in showing them as pigs.

The agency that produced the posters, TBWA, and the Labour Party denied that any such interpretation was aimed for (and were apologetic in this respect): they were simply trying to show that ‘pigs might fly when Tory economic policies work’.

The poster went up on very few outdoor sites, but – due to the controversy surrounding it – ended up across all national media, free of charge.
This exposed the campaign to a huge audience for a fraction of the cost of buying the usual media space – particularly useful when political campaigns rely on donated funds.

So, the content – first and foremost – was absolutely key in this instance, but frequency (the vast number of national TV news bulletins and daily newspapers it appeared in) allowed the intended message to stick.

Controversial, but it worked.

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