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This is a case study in partnership with Snack Brands Australia using our ad testing solution.
“Cut through the clutter” — it’s a rallying cry that’s ingrained into every advertising creative’s psyche right from their very first day on the job. Consequently, advertising agencies will often relentlessly push to create new and fresh work in an effort to savor the pristine air at the peak of the mountain summit. But, in this perpetual game of one-upmanship, proven effective advertising copy is too often tossed aside in favor of the shiny and new.
Contributing to this “out with the old, in with the new” mentality is the misguided belief within the industry that creative wear-out is a thing. And not just that it’s a thing, but it’s a thing that happens quickly. Very quickly if you speak to some people… And while it’s certainly something marketers need to be cognizant of, it's much rarer than many in the industry would have you believe. Typically, there’s only three circumstances in which creative wear-out occurs:
This means that — for the vast majority of advertising — it doesn't happen anywhere near frequently enough to raise alarm bells or be a cause for concern. But the bigger danger with this thinking is that it ignores that the opposite is just as likely to occur. In other words, similarly to a fine wine, in certain circumstances advertising can actually ‘wear-in’ (i.e. become more effective as time goes on).
One of Australia’s leading potato chip/crisp brands, Kettle, came to us with this exact dilemma: “We know we have a strong piece of creative that tested well, but it’s five years old. Before we rush off and make a new ad, can you help us understand if the creative still has relevance or whether it has worn out?” A simple question, but one which many marketers often don’t start with the consumer to answer and instead let their gut instinct guide them — much to the brand’s ultimate detriment.
As Mark Ritson repeats ad-nauseum, market-orientation dictates that you are not your customer, meaning it’s incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to put yourself in their shoes and see things from their perspective. While living and breathing the brand may lead marketers to believe that a creative asset has reached the end of its useful shelf life, it ignores the fact that most consumers are largely indifferent to brands. This means they don’t think about them very much (if at all) and their experiences are often only very shallow and fleeting.
So, while marketers might get fed up with seeing the “same old, same old” day-in, day-out, the average consumer likely only catches a glimpse of your ad every so often and processes its content in a largely uninvolved and unconscious way. As such, their experience is often very different to that of the brand team.
The wider implications of getting this decision wrong don’t just relate to the sunk time and cost of developing a new campaign (which risks not working as hard as its predecessor), but more importantly the opportunity cost of not funneling these resources instead into something that’s proven to work.
When we first tested Kettle’s “Ode” in 2018 the ad was a 5-star performer, eliciting a deep emotional response and carving out a meaningful point of difference for the brand in a competitive category. Fast-forward 5 years and how did the ad perform when we re-tested it? Contrary to the popular belief that an ad’s effectiveness decays over time, “Ode“ proved just as attention-grabbing and enjoyable in 2023 as it was in 2018.
But not just that — while general appeal and sentiment toward the ad remained eerily similar between the two rounds of testing, on a number of other key dimensions its performance actually improved. A true story of wear-in rather than wear-out. By relentlessly reinforcing messaging around premium quality ingredients, craftsmanship, and expertise (through a myriad of touchpoints), the cumulative impact of wider campaign activity helped strengthen mental associations with Kettle over time. This didn’t just reinforce the brand’s unique positioning but also tapped into important consumer needs when shopping the category.
So beyond busting the myth of creative wear-out, what other learnings can marketers take from this case study? Well, down at Cubery HQ we live by the motto of ‘Guess Less. Grow More.’ That’s because (far) too many marketing decisions are made based on gut-instinct and intuition alone. Equally, many ‘old wives tales’ continue to persist in the wider marketing and communications industry, reinforcing why it’s so important to involve the consumer in every step of the decision-making journey.
When the cost of testing an ad is as little as $2k/£1.25k (with results generally available overnight), it not only empowers marketers to make better decisions, but — as this case study highlights — can sometimes also prove that the best course of action is no action at all.