Why Purpose-Driven Ads Are Underperforming Mainstream Ones

Like most forms of marketing, the meaning of "performance" often is in the eye of the beholder. And increasingly, that's about what the beholder's eyes are actually doing. You know, paying attention. Or not.

Consumer attention has always been an attribute of the ad industry, even if other words -- remember "engagement" -- were used as proxies for defining it. But over the past few years, ad pros have become much more explicit about it, and not surprisingly, a gold rush of "attention metrics" suppliers have been racing to fulfill it.

In recent weeks I've written about some high-profile moves in the attention-measurement marketplace -- Havas striking a global deal for a "bespoke" version with Lumen Research, and "attention capital" guru Joe Marchese being named chairman of Adelaide -- and it feels to me like attention about attention is beginning to peak.



So when the folks at research giant Gfk shared some new research about the relative attention generated by different forms of "purpose-driven" ads, I figured it would be something that would pique your interest, too.

Overall, the study found that when it comes to captivating and holding consumer attention, purpose-driven advertising so far has been, well, kind of meh.

That's despite the fact that they often represent important purposes  -- everything from sustainability to social justice and other arguably vital issues.

"With millions of dollars being spent to define and promote the 'purposes' of brands, what are the real outcomes," asked the GfK study, conducted in association with the Goodvertising Agency. The answer: They generally underperform "mainstream ads" with it comes to grabbing and holding consumer attention.

Specifically, three-quarters of mainstream ads were able to capture attention, but the proportion dropped to two-thirds for purpose ads. And while more than half of mainstream ads kept viewers engaged, the figure was 11 points lower for purpose creatives. 

In other words, purpose-driven ads aren't exactly driving attention, and ostensibly, the performance related to people actually engaging with and being influenced by them. And isn't that the real purpose of any form of advertising?


4 comments about "Why Purpose-Driven Ads Are Underperforming Mainstream Ones".
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  1. T Bo from Wordpress, June 16, 2022 at 6:47 a.m.

    Maybe they lack any humor?

  2. Douglas Hayward from IDC replied, June 16, 2022 at 11:42 a.m.

    Yes, indeed. Check out the work of Orlando Wood, who is talkng at Cannes this week. A lot of "purpose" work looks very much like what Orando would call "left brain" (left hemisphere of the brain) communication, which tends to be less effective than the "right brain" communication style (I'm massively paraphrasing here). Orlando argues that things like humor, non-confrontational facial expressions ('knowing glances' as opposed to stares)  and melodic music  (as opposed to repetitve beats) are more effective and typical of left-hemisphere thinking. Basically, adopting a serious, morally superior tone and lecturing people is a big turn-off.      

  3. John Grono from GAP Research, June 16, 2022 at 9:15 p.m.

    I tend to agree Douglas.

    Many new products talk about themselves (e.g. a new miracle cleaning product with patented ingredients such as enzyme infused non-abrasive micro-sparkle cleaning microns), when they should be talking about the benefit to the consumer (e.g. how would you like a natural all-purpose cleaner that will halve your cleaning time at half the price).

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, June 17, 2022 at 8:59 a.m.

    It depends on what kinds of products or services use these approaches and how they execute their ad messages. For example, it's a well known fact that consumers are much more inclined to be attentive to ad messages for personally relevant and "fun" products/services---movies, fast food, fashion, etc.  and less attentive to those that have negative connotations---many OTC remedies, doing the laundry, etc. Each brand operates within the context established by its product category as to how ads are developed, what they can and can't say, etc. and for national TV, at least, most campaigns and many of the commercials are pre-tested to see if they communicate the message most effectively. So generalized  and non-brand or category-specific findings of this nature may be considered---but they will not necessarily dictate which appoach is best for each campaign.

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