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The Creative Effectiveness Playbook

Characters

We’ve consolidated years of learnings from testing advertising from around the world into the Creative Effectiveness Playbook — a must-have guide for all marketers when going through the creative development process.

Instinct sees us gravitate toward the familiar. Whether through shared emotions, the reassurance of things we instantly recognize, or our collective understanding of humor — humans are drawn to the comfort of the relatable.

From an advertising perspective, it can be difficult to transfer these emotional instincts into inanimate propositions; nobody is instantly seduced by a car insurance company or seeks comfort in the warm bosom of a national grocery chain. However, in order to bridge these connections, advertising has at its disposal the ability to leverage personable representations of the brand’s most appealing qualities. Characters, or other similar branding devices, can be highly effective short-cuts for creating these associations.

By deploying a protagonist who instantly surprises and delights viewers, or even a prickly antagonist which metaphorically represents a problem only the brand can solve, the right character can provide the emotional reassurance needed to incite behavior — with the added potential of creating ownable branding properties for years to come. With that being said, this does also carry significant risks. What happens if the character isn’t welcomed with open arms? What if they dominate the conversation and subsequently overshadow the brand? Or, worse still, paint the brand in a negative light?

Bearing all that in mind, let’s explore some examples of brands which have elevated themselves to new heights through endearing characters (human or otherwise), and others which have missed the mark.

ALDI — Ebanana Scrooge 🇬🇧

ALDI UK has built a reputation for the unconventional — and their 2021 Christmas spot, Ebanana Scrooge, proved no exception. Playing on animated characters representing supermarket staples, the ad again featured the much-loved Kevin the Carrot, while also introducing grumpy Ebanana Scrooge for his screen debut. The story sees Ebanana’s Christmas skepticism eventually transform into heart-warming appreciation bringing viewers along for the ride and laddering up to affinity for the supermarket chain.

For ALDI, the focus on character growth generated emotional warmth; sharing in both the highs and lows of Ebanana’s journey absorbed viewers in the dramatic story right up until its eventual conclusion. While the use of a cranky antagonist can be a risky strategy, developing characters in this way creates an emotional investment in their plight — a powerful tool so long as the story ends on a positive, uplifting note. By resolving the narrative with Ebanana’s embrace of familiar hero, Kevin the Carrot, the brand played an integral role in the heart-warming conclusion — ensuring positivity was directed to the intended target.

Consistent use helps characters transcend the brand: While this particular installment focused on Ebanana’s journey, viewers couldn’t get past the highly anticipated return of their favorite anthropomorphic vegetable — Kevin the Carrot. Now a fixture of the UK Christmas calendar, ALDI has built a familiar and recognizable asset in the enchanting carrot. Not only did this allow for quick and easy identification, but Kevin’s loveable nature further bolstered positive emotions — amplifying excitement for the next installment.

Read more about ALDI’s Ebanana Scrooge here.

 

Warburtons — GoodBagels 🇬🇧

Having produced a long line of bakery inspired spoofs of iconic movies, Warburtons once again leveraged the power of celebrity to elevate brand perceptions. Following The Muppets and Pride and Prejudice, GoodBagels was Warburtons’ latest parody — featuring Robert De Niro reprising his role as mafia boss, Jimmy Conway, from the iconic 90’s film — Goodfellas. In what can only be described as fitting a square peg into a bagel shaped hole, the narrative featured an elaborate plot by De Niro to take over as top dog of the bagel kingdom — and being willing to go to any lengths necessary to get there.

Ensure the celebrity drives the story: While celebrities provide a sure-fire way of grabbing people’s attention, they’re most effective when the brand leverages the personality’s associations and values. Fortunately for Warburtons, De Niro was able to transfer his Oscar-winning credentials and A-grade celebrity status into endorsements of Warburton’s reputational size and quality — while simultaneously portraying the brand as fun and different.

Read more about Warburtons’ GoodBagels here.

 

Budget Direct — Insurance Solved 🇦🇺

In an advertisement more akin to a blockbuster movie premiere, Insurance Solved’s two-and-a-half-minute reveal of the suave and sleuth, Detective Sarge, represented a monumental shift from the fun and light-hearted approach of Budget Direct’s previous campaign platform (fronted by the clumsy yet adorable, Captain Risky). Instead, the dark, murder-mystery inspired narrative followed Detective Sarge as he attempted to solve the conundrum of why people were paying more than they needed to for insurance.

Characters take time to bed in: People take time to associate characters with brands — so, when Budget Direct suddenly departed from the established Captain Risky, people had a difficult time understanding the completely new and unrelated character’s connection to the brand.

While marketing teams can sometimes quickly tire of established characters and opt for a fresh direction (particularly when new senior personnel join the ranks) — during these transitions it’s even more imperative that other structural devices work as hard as possible to reinforce branded memories. Unfortunately, this was overlooked for Insurance Solved. Not only was the new lead unfamiliar, but so too was the creative style — with the production values a significant departure from the low-budget approach typically employed by the brand.

While Detective Sarge has now had more time to “bed in” (and subsequently become a more familiar branding property), it’s a reminder of the important role supporting contextual factors play in giving new and unfamiliar characters the best chance of succeeding.

Read more about Budget Direct’s Insurance Solved here.

Final word

Humans feel when they see other humans feeling, so one of the most efficient paths to advertising success is to develop stories which focus on a central protagonist people either love or love to hate. Make characters feel warm and relatable and/or ensure the story is resolved in a positive and uplifting way. The use of antagonists can also be a particularly effective way of bringing the audience onto the brand’s side.


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