Pray for Wear Out

We’ve been trained to fear wear out. The premise that at some point, consumers get tired of an ad so much so it becomes ineffective. Or even damaging to the brand.

We spend a lot of time talking about it. And money measuring it.

Wear out is not a bad thing.

We know marketers get sick of things long before consumers do. When we work on it every day, of course we do. But consumers don’t get that kind of exposure to your brand.

Research from Analytics Partners tested more than 51,000 ads and found only 14 of them showed signs of wear out. And most of those were announcement ads which naturally lose relevance.

Even if punters do supposedly get tired of ads, it doesn’t adversely affect buying behaviour. In a recent Reddit thread, Aussies were asked “Which advertisements do you hate so much that you wouldn’t buy their product?”. Popular answers include KFC, Crimsafe, Budget Direct and National Tiles – some of the most effective campaigns running at the moment. In fact, KFC was just crowned Australia’s most effective advertiser at this year’s Effies.

Don’t worry about wear out, worry about wear in.

As humans, we like things that are familiar to us.

It’s why bold work can tank so badly in pre-testing research. Unfamiliar = scary. Advertising is the same. Ads grow on us, and often so does attribution and message take out.

Building memory structures (muscle memory) takes time.

Many ads actually get more effective the longer they run, not less. Research from System1 found the worst-case scenario for long running campaigns is they maintain their effectiveness, but where they use characters or slogans, results actually improve over time.

It’s hard to imagine now, but Yellow Pages’ Not Happy Jan ran for four years in the early 2000s. And this was pre-fragmentation. Now with so many channels, and divided audiences, it takes even longer to culturally imprint something.

Do you think we’d still be quoting it today if it ran for 12 weeks?

Good ads age like wine, not milk.

Of course, time isn’t the only thing that matters. This isn’t an excuse to be terrible at your job. Bad ads that run for a long time are still bad ads. Disruptive work, which breaks conventions, works. A 2013 paper found “creative ads that are more liked, demonstrate wear in effects more quickly, and are less susceptible to wear out”.

In 2022, NAB relaunched their brand platform More Than Money – disrupting the category by acknowledging how wild the world was feeling. By giving new meaning to the line they’d been using since 2016, they delivered a 5.1x profit ROI, and the highest consideration for the brand ever.

So, what did NAB do in 2023? They kept running the same ads. Attribution and message take out improved over time, not declined. And because the campaign ran again, it allowed for optimisations to drive further effectiveness.

Or take a more extreme example – Irn Bru in Scotland have been running the same Christmas ad since 2006.

It was disruptive then – emotional storytelling for the holidays long before John Lewis made it a thing. And it’s still working now – between 2014 and 2023, ad testing metrics improved by 30%. In 2021 it was voted as Scotland’s most memorable Christmas ad.

It helps if your brand hasn’t changed in decades. And you’re not releasing a new car, a new phone, or a new burger. You probably won’t run the same ad for 18 years. But it might stretch further than you think.

So, we say pray for wear out. Because it means it worked. It means you had a disruptive piece of creative, and the media investment to achieve enough reach and frequency. And you stuck to your guns long enough that you didn’t leave anything on the table. It’s bloody hard to do.

If you achieve wear out, pat yourself on the back.

Zac Martin is a Planning Director at TBWA\Melbourne. This article was originally published on Mi3.

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