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The 4 Qualities That All Great Campaigns Share

Analysis of over 250 campaigns shows that the best are 'culturally disruptive' and share four qualities

Times Square New York, NY adverts advertisingMany B2C marketers feel they have reached breaking point in the past year or so. The economics of the traditional advertising model is profoundly broken and there doesn’t seem to be anything on the horizon that can replace it.

There was a time when a good product and a good ad campaign would see sales increase. Then all that was left for marketers to do was to pump as much money as they could into the campaign and get the ads in front of as many customers as possible.

But the internet has been noisily destroying that formula for a number of years now. The cost of buying media space to run an ad – known as “CPM” – has increased dramatically in the past four years (up 40% in the US), while attention paid to ads has decreased just as quickly. In fact it has fallen by 40% on TV, and just a fifth of ads get viewed fully today.

There’s Worse to Come

Marketers are paying a lot more to get a lot less, and this is a trend that will only worsen as new advertisers emerge and consumer distraction, savviness, and possibly cynicism increase. What’s more, many brands still haven’t felt the full effects of these new dynamics, as they have steadily shifted their budget to cheaper digital media. Many brands have now added as much digital media to their media mix as they are likely to want, whilst digital costs are soaring (Facebook CPM is up 981% since 2011). It’s only a matter of time before the pain hits.

Those famous corporate doom-mongers, CFOs, are already worried: CEB data show that just 8% of them have confidence in Marketing’s ability to spend its budget effectively – the lowest of any corporate function. In turn, Marketing has lost faith in its agencies – more agency spend is under review in 2015 than in the previous three years combined.

To breathe new life into marcomms, marketers have been experimenting wildly – with new media (e.g., Snapchat), new formats (e.g., native advertising), and all manner of stunts. But this experimentation is costly. Marketers say it takes more attempts to get it right than ever before and many admit they no longer know what makes a great campaign. Marketing urgently needs reliable ways to win back consumer attention and offset rocketing media costs with ways to encourage to share campaigns and ideas, and with earned media.

The Allure of Cultural Disruption

CEB ran a survey of more than 250 recent marcomm campaigns from 60+ brands in a wide range of industries and regions. We asked marketers to assess their own campaigns – both high-performing and average – on a comprehensive set of criteria in four areas: nature of the consumer insight, creative execution, media mix, and planning. We then looked for variables that distinguished the very best campaigns from the rest.

The single quality that distinguished todays’ winning campaigns more clearly than anything else was their ability to create “cultural disruption” or challenge cultural norms in a way that links back to the brand. This disruption can be traced to four components statistically derived from the data.

  1. “Challenged a cultural norm.”
  2. “Advanced a societal debate.”
  3. “Was surprising/provocative for influencers.”
  4. “Linked to a brand differentiator.”

Disruptive campaigns are 32% more likely to be high-performing than any other kind of campaign, and high-performing campaigns in the sample saw a median increase in sales of 20%.

Girl Power

A good example of cultural disruption is Always’ “Like a Girl” ad, which taps into the societal debates about equality and girls’ self-esteem and challenges norms relating to this – namely, the pejorative use of the phrase “like a girl,” which many people who believe in equality use without thinking. By providing a new angle on a topical issue, the campaign has received almost 60 million YouTube views, as well as positive brand associations for Always.

While this “disruptive” or though-provoking quality is shared by a sizeable minority of marcomm initiatives in CEB’s data set, it differs widely from the idea of “resonating with consumers” that many leading brands have been striving for with their marcomms.

Today, meaningful campaigns that tap into consumers’ core values are no longer enough to break through consumers’ apathy. To get attention and ongoing earned media, brands can’t just reflect consumer beliefs, they should challenge consumer assumptions and teach something surprising about issues that matter.

This cognitive dissonance – between what consumers thought they knew and what they know – makes them stop and think about the brands’ message, remember the message, and discuss the message with others – which proves more effective than resonance alone.


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