Whether it’s a political ad or a brand ad, intensity of emotional response makes it shareable.
Devra Prywes is the US vice president for marketing and insight at Unruly, a video ad tech company which taps emotional metrics to create highly impactful, shareable ads. This fall, Unruly has been turning their eye toward political ads as the US presidential campaign heats up.
Although political ads and brand campaigns operate differently, both are affected by trends in advertising (like the rise of live-streaming video). And in today’s highly politicized climate, the line between brands and politics is becoming thinner than ever. What can today’s brands learn from political ads? Below, Devra shares her thoughts.
How has video changed things for brands over the last couple of years?
In 2015, over a million ads launched. This year, we’re ready to see far more than that launch online. When you look at the role of video, all these different video formats are having an impact, even live-streaming—Periscope, and Meerkat. Live-streaming really came into its own with Facebook Live, but it was the Chewbacca Mom phenomenon that put it on the map.
Those million ads that launched online last year, that’s in addition to personal videos and photos, pictures of people’s birthday parties. There’s just such a glut of content that people are drowning. So the savvy brands that are able to be successful here are making content that people want to watch. The power dynamic has shifted. And no longer is it forcing ads on people, creating this really interruptive experience.
The consumer has more choice than ever before. There’s so much content out there that if something is interrupting their experience, they’ll just bounce. They can find similar articles somewhere else, they can talk to different social networks. And all of this consumer choice is really putting them in the driver’s seat.
Let’s pivot to politics. Are you seeing stronger user response to video related to politics and political issues, compared to in the past?
It’s been really interesting. Even just looking at this campaign—it’s been going on for two years. Even if we just look at this campaign season, we see giant shifts where the old rules don’t apply. It used to be about fundraising to blast people on TV. There have been models—a certain number of TV views, TV exposure or media spend that can correlate to polls.
But even in the course of this campaign, that’s shifted. Hillary, at this point, has outspent Trump by a factor of 7 to 1. With the shock value of everything he was saying, he was getting so much free media airtime that he really didn’t have to invest in ads. In April it was estimated that he had gotten about 2 billion dollars in free airtime. In May, that number was up to 3 billion.
What’s also really interesting is the types of ads that we’re seeing. Usually, you would see ads of various candidates talking about their platforms and their various messages, their platforms that they want to get out there. The fact that Hillary is having such success by using Trump’s words against him, that’s been a big tactic. You can think of it as brand hijacking.
Do you see a lot of parallels between political campaigns and brand campaigns?
We track over 100 different social variables, but the number one thing that provides ad sharing—whether it’s a political ad, whether it’s a brand ad—is intensity of emotional response. So we always tell advertisers, pick the emotions that make sense for you. Take Coke—their platform is Happiness. Pick the emotions that make sense for you, and then hit them with intensity—like a 9 or 10 on the scale of intensity.
With political ads, we’re seeing a lot of different emotions rise to the top. We tested, just to get a flavor, one ad for the Trump campaign and one ad for the Hillary Clinton campaign. The Trump ad was a “Make America Great Again” ad, and Clinton’s “Fighting For You” ad. We saw a lot of fear, a lot of pride, some anger. These are not your typical brand emotions. When we test branded content, we would view contempt and disgust and anger as “watch out,” not as things that you would seek to elicit. So political ads are very different.
Especially with this campaign, we’ve seen Hillary turning a lot of Trump’s words against him. We will see ads that consist entirely of quotes, and they’re eliciting really intense responses of fear and anger and disgust, that you would almost never seek to elicit with a branded ad.
With politicians tapping into these issues that raise so much emotion, have you seen examples of brands being able to tap that political climate in an effective way?
We haven’t seen a ton of brands hopping in. The Bud Light Party, I think, is a really effective way of approaching it. They understand how polarizing this is, yet they’re taking a step back and saying “We’re just going to launch our own party, and who doesn’t love Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen?” So they’re taking a very safe route, but also acknowledging that this is polarizing, so let’s get united behind this Bud Light Party.
A good PSA is a good reason to share. So we’re seeing a lot of people, and some brands also, getting behind the “get out and vote” message. I think MTV is famous for their Rock the Vote campaign, trying to get young people engaged and advocating for themselves and joining the political process. This year Boost Mobile had a really great examples of that—their ads are showing the long lines and hours that people are waiting to vote, and different communities were really hard-hit during the election four years ago.
So they would love to turn all their stores—which are in all of the communities, embedded and easily accessible—into polling stations. It’s a nice way to tie in with this zeitgeist event. Fox News, CNN, anyone who’s airing anything related to the debates or coverage, they are just selling out of coverage. This is their Super Bowl.
It gives brands a safe and respectable way to tie in with this, especially because backing a specific candidate is so incredibly polarizing, especially in this election.
That word “polarizing” keep coming up. Recently in politics we’re seeing a more divided electorate, where the two different parties seem to be drifting even further apart ideologically. Have you seen that play out at all in marketing?
JetBlue has a great example addressing that—I think it was actually called “Crossing the Aisle.” They’re trying to get people to agree on issues, related to the election.
Especially this year, there’s just a lot of uncertainty out there in the world. Even bringing it into advertising, ad tech is getting so complex so quickly. I think it’s confusing for many advertisers to keep up.
I think the world is getting more complex. We’re seeing more nostalgia starting to peak. We’re seeing a desire for Mom’s home cooking, in a way. Because it is such a crazy, fast-moving, tumultuous moment. I think the political action is just further highlighting that division.
Can you talk a little more about how live video plays into all of this? That’s a hugely authentic source of media, but also promoted the idea that anyone can be a journalist, and anyone can be on video.
Video in this election is being used to hammer home important points. We talked about how Hillary engaged in turning Trump’s words against him, using it as a fact-checking medium. Things just seem more real when it’s documented in video. Which I think is why the Trump-Billy Bush thing was so hard-hitting. They released the audio, but having that audio as an overlay on video just made it so much harsher.
We also see this with the live stream, “man on the street” as a journalist footage, and especially fueling the Black Lives Matter movement and making all of these thing that people don’t usually see, bringing them to life and exposing it. What we’re seeing right now with the police and communities, video is making it very real.
Hillary is using this in her “Our Children Are Watching” campaign. She had a quotes campaign, where women were reading out these very demeaning things that Trump has said over the years. Making the most of a situation where the opponent is saying these things really publicly.
We’re seeing video as an agile medium. When you bring this over to the live-streaming space, it has been interesting to see how it’s being used. One way that it’s being used very effectively, it’s not even with that “man on the street,” regular person as a journalist, but the fact that networks are using it as a way to try to reach new audiences. They’re live-streaming the debate, or live-streaming things from the convention.
We’ve done some millennial studies earlier this year, and we found that millennials are the largest demographic of cord cutters. I think almost a quarter of them are cord cutters—they’ve never been connected since they moved out of the house. To reach this pivotal audience, and communicate with them, the live-streaming is a great way to do that.
But there are rules that apply. For example, the reasons that Chewbacca Mom was so successful, the reasons that all these videos of the police brutality are just going viral, partially it taps in with the emotions that we talked about earlier. Chewbacca Mom was just so incredibly happy. You jumped for joy, on the scale of happiness.
You see the other way, where these police videos are just shocking, and intensely informative to large groups of the population that’s never been exposed to that. The rules of emotional intelligence still apply here. But you also have to make sure it’s being used authentically.
Would you connect the resonance of video to the fact that many people today are much more savvy to what goes on behind the scenes? Many people distrust the media, as well as advertisers.
There’s a lot of data out there. Trust in advertising is at an all-time low. We are advertised to constantly, which is why authenticity and credibility are so important right now.
It’s important to make sure ads are credible, and relevant, and relatable and genuine. Especially because there is such a glut of content. A million ads launched online last year—that’s crazy! This is where that testing and targeting becomes so much more important. People turn to ad blockers when they’re feeling spammed. When online ads become the equivalent of spam, people just cry uncle. And they turn to tech to clear out their inbox.
But if you can target them, and provide messages that are useful and relevant, advertising still definitely serves a point. Advertising isn’t dead, it’s just getting the right message to the right person who finds it useful.