When Advertisers Try To Associate With The News

Earlier this week I participated in a webinar organized by Eyesee Research, a behavioral research company using factors such as remote eye tracking, facial coding and virtual shopping to understand the impact of advertising, shopper marketing, ecommerce, ec.

It recently released a study investigating the impact for advertisers of including current news topics in advertising. 

You will no doubt remember the onslaught of COVID-19 ads when the lockdown happened. Nearly every ad on TV started with a sentence along the lines of “In these difficult times…”, followed by a message that basically stated “We got you.”

When the civil unrest occurred after the death of George Floyd, many advertisers included messages of inclusion, equality and support for Black Lives Matter. 

What Eyesee wanted to find out is if doing this was beneficial for advertisers.

It tested 36 Instagram ads (covering a range of content) on 1,800 consumers using facial coding, attention tracking and surveys. There were many interesting and relevant learnings, and if you want to get a full debrief you can find the webinar here. 



The most interesting conclusion was that consumers are not easily fooled — they know when your message is sincere and relevant to who you are as a brand. 

The research seems to indicate that those kinds of brands can generate improved brand perception, especially for industries where long-term loyalty is the key.

The survey also looked at the impact of tactical and seasonal offers, for which the benefits are far less clear. What often stands in the way of effectiveness for these types of offerings are a lack of a concrete offer for consumers — that is, it’s it is unclear what exactly it is you are offering. 

Secondly, the inclusion of a lot of text in the post (which is often mandated in promotional advertising) leads to waning consumer interest and attention. 

And finally, images that are not instantly associated with the idea that the brand wants to communicate also muddy the waters and lead to consumers swiping quickly.

What is ultimately clear is that regardless of your desire to include topical and perhaps somewhat controversial subjects in your messaging, it will not work if:

You have no history and no place in the context of that message. If it feels like you’re just “tagging along” with a hot topic, consumers will see through you, and the result could be the opposite of what you intended to accomplish. At minimum, you could become the ridicule moment of the day on social media. 

One step worse is that you become the topic of ridicule on the late-night shows (remember the Pepsi ad with Kendall Jenner and the police protests?). It’s likely such an association will do you more harm than good.

No matter what you choose as your storyline, the basics of advertising still apply. Be clear about your message, do not confuse your audience, be concise, and present yourself at the right place, the right time with the right message.

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