Keep It Real -- Science's Lesson For Campaign Success

Keep it real might be the kind of advice you'd expect from Ali G, but apparently, it's exactly what marketers should be doing, according to the latest advances in ad tech. While commentators can wax lyrical about what makes a good Christmas ad, an Oxford University spinoff has put science to the test. While John Lewis' #ManOnTheMoon has already been beaten for social shares by Edeka's old man faking his death to get his family round the table, now the high street favourite is being pushed into 7th equal spot in the latest research study. Realeyes scans the facial expressions of people watching an advert and claims to be able to measure their reaction so well each advert can be given a score for emotion, retention, engagement and impact.

The winner this year -- and reclaiming its 2013 crown which it lost in 2014 to John Lewis and MontyThePenguin -- is Harvey Nichols. Its #AvoidGiftFace slot was the only ad in this year's crop to score 10 out of 10 in all bar one of the four metrics that Realeyes attributed to each festive campaign -- apparently it only got half a top score for impact. Nevertheless it was enough to take the ad of a poor woman having to put on a grateful face when receiving terrible Christmas presents -- which of course could have been avoided if the family had shopped at Harvey Nichols. Perhaps the bigger surprise was to see Kwik Fit in at number two with its very touching tv spot in which Father Christmas is having his sleigh fixed and just has time to give some surprised children waiting for their car to be fixed the gift they have always wanted.

The biggest surprise of all, however, has to be that John Lewis -- usually considered the top pick at Christmas -- is way back in seventh place behind the likes of Curry's, Mulberry and Vodafone. Perhaps the biggest irony is that Aldi's spoof of the John Lewis ad outranks the original, slotting in at sixth position, one higher than John Lewis.

The explanation from Realeyes is that the most successful ads -- in its way of measuring them at least -- grab the attention of the user early on, engender deep emotions, and crucially, place the characters in situations we have all been in. While last year John Lewis did well because everyone has been a child with a treasured cuddly toy, a man sitting on the moon seems quite literally to be a world away from our everyday Christmas experiences. However, pretending to like a disappointing present and getting a present from Father Christmas in the everyday setting of a garage are something people can relate to at a deeper level. 

So maybe that's the lesson from the research -- keep it real. OK -- that's a little bit strange when you're dealing with Father Christmas getting his sleigh checked out by mechanics a few sleeps before the big day. But the situations of feigning joy at an awful sweater and the joy of seeing Santa in a very mundane setting are real enough to provoke very genuine emotions from us -- creating an impact that encourages us to engage with a brand that something we have no experience of cannot.

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