|Dialogue||Imagery, art and fantasy|
|Love and romance||Children|
|Animals||Characters and celebrities|
The category headings were Gunn’s innovations and most are pretty straightforward, with a few exceptions: the section called ‘Simply brilliant’ is meant to illustrate simple ideas executed on relatively low budgets. This category shows that ‘with a few simple things you can have as much impact as the blockbusters’ (Creativity, p 27).
This reel can be classified as historical as the commercials span four decades (1963--1994). It is considered significant because it was compiled by one of the world’s most respected advertising agencies and comprises the 100 commercials that Leo Burnett’s senior management considered to be most effective. Fifty-eight per cent of all the commercials were from outside the USA.
Given the historical and international significance of this reel, the authors agreed to investigate whether any particular message strategies were favoured by advertisers in their commercials, which were selected as the ‘The 100 best television commercials ever made from around the world.’
Considering that the American advertising industry spent in excess of $187 billion in 1997 on advertising, and current costs involved in television advertising, it comes as no surprise that numerous studies have been conducted over the years to study the effectiveness of television commercials. The impact of executional elements on the recognition and recall of advertising has been studied intensively over the years. Individual executional components such as type of appeal, colour, illustration, layout, copy treatment and production technology were the focus of studies ranging from those of Twedt (1952) and Diamond (1968) to more recent ones of the 1980s and 1990s. A brief discussion of some of the most notable studies follows.
Ernst (1980), analysing production techniques of the 1976 and 1977 Clio award-winning commercials, found:
- Film cuts were used more frequently in gross numbers by both national and international television commercial producers.
- American commercials used proportionately more special effects than international commercials.
- International commercials were faster paced than American commercials.
Stewart and Furse (1986), with a database of over 1 000 television commercials, examined the relationship between the effectiveness of television spots and 155 executional elements. They concluded that the influence of an executional element often differs, depending upon the measure of effectiveness examined. They found that certain executional elements may influence the intrusiveness of a commercial but not its persuasiveness, and vice versa. On the other hand, elements such as the use of a brand-differentiating message were found to impact both intrusiveness and persuasiveness.
Garnard and Morris (1988) studied 121 Clio award-winning commercials from 1975 to 1985 in terms of 151 executional variables to determine whether ‘Clio commercials had different characteristics than commercials proven to be effective in the marketplace’ (p 859). They found:
- More than 40% of the commercials contained a major message focus.
- Judged on commercial tone or atmosphere, 66% of the commercials were modern or contemporary and nearly 41% were humorous, while 33% were judged to be relaxed/comfortable. Less than 2% of the commercials used a hard-sell approach.
- Clio commercials were considerably more emotional compared to previous years.
- Significantly more product demonstrations were found in the 1980 commercials.
Stewart and Koslow (1989) replicated the 1986 Stewart and Furse study. ‘Using a new set of 1 017 commercials, coded for content, the replication finds the original results reported by Stewart and Furse are highly robust’ (p 21). Stewart and Koslow concluded that the original findings of Stewart and Furse held up well under replication and concurred that:
- There is no magic formula for the creation of effective advertising.
- No one executional factor accounts for much of the total variance of any one of the measures of advertising effectiveness as ‘it is likely that the most important factor in effective advertising is the creative combination of many elements into a persuasive art form’ (p 30).
Laskey et al (1994), when investigating the relationship between the impact of executional style, as defined by Shimp’s 1972 categories, and television commercial effectiveness, reported that:
- Executional style is related to the effectiveness of television commercials as measured by recall and key-message comprehension.
- Executional style does not appear to have a pronounced effect on the persuasiveness of a commercial.
- Individual strengths and weaknesses of the various executional styles appear to be specific to selected product categories but do suggest some broad generalisations.
- The frequency with which advertisers used the various styles differed by product category -- some styles being more popular in one product category than in another.
- They could not determine whether or not executional-style types wear out over time in the same fashion that commercials do and suggested replicating their study to investigate the wearout effect.
When conducting this literature review, the authors found only one study which was not concerned with the impact of executional elements, but concentrated on strategy. In this study Laskey, Fox and Crask (1995) set out to determine the following:
- The two general message types (informational and transformational) differed in effectiveness.
- Differences existed in the effectiveness of particular informational or transformational strategies.
- Particular effective, or ineffective, strategies for specific product categories could be identified.
Laskey et al (1995) measured a commercial’s effectiveness in terms of related recall (percentage of consumers who remember seeing the ad); key message comprehension (percentage of consumers who remember the key message points) and persuasion (based on the shift in brand preference attributable to exposure of a commercial). Using five product categories (Breakfast food and snacks, Entrées and side dishes, Over-the-counter products, Personal-care items and Household items) a total of 1 178 commercials were classified into 11 message strategy categories (see table 1) across the five product categories. They concluded that although message strategy and television commercial effectiveness are related, the relationships are far from simple. They cautioned advertisers not to adopt strategies simply because they have been effective for other product categories as the relative effectiveness/ineffectiveness of a message strategy appears to depend on both the product category and the specific effectiveness measure examined. Furthermore, they also suggest that adopting the same message strategies as those of the competitors may hurt the chances of creating an effective commercial.
For this study, the authors posed the following research questions:
- When coding the message strategies of the ‘100 best reel’ commercials for the main categories, that is, informational or transformational, will one of these main categories emerge as more popular?
- When coding the message strategies of the ‘100 best reel’ commercials for the subcategories, will some of these emerge as more popular?
Laskey, Day and Crask (1989) propose that the categories of an acceptable classification scheme, or typology, should be mutually exclusive and exhaustive as it should be possible to categorise creative strategies in one category only. ‘Furthermore, the typology should capture meaningful differences between creative executions while remaining parsimonious’ (p 36). They also required that such a typology should be operational according to which creative strategies should be able to be consistently categorised according to the rules of classification.
Laskey et al (1989) stated that typologies for creative strategies focus on the general nature of the message rather than on various executional options. In their attempt to find a suitable typology for the classification of message strategies, Laskey et al rejected several typologies (Simon 1971; Aaker & Norris 1982; Frazer 1983 and Vaughn 1983) as these did not meet their established criteria. Subsequently, they developed a typology (henceforth referred to as the Laskey model). The Laskey model involves a two-stage approach whereby commercials are first placed in one of two main categories (informational vs transformational based on the primary focus or overall thrust of the main message) and thereafter in one of eleven subcategories (see table 1). The Laskey model contains four specific informational, and three specific transformational message strategies, as well as ‘other’ and ‘generic’ categories for both message types.
The Laskey model was first tested by coding nearly 900 television commercials which were supplied by Research Systems Corporations (RSC) of Evansville, Indiana. Seven employees of RSC were trained to code the commercials according to the criteria of the Laskey model and each commercial was coded independently by one of the authors of the Laskey model and four of the seven employees. Using the criterion that four out of the five coders must agree on the main message strategy, 94 per cent of the commercials were consistently classified into one of the two main categories and, out of these, 90 per cent were consistently placed into one of the subcategories. ‘Recognizing that a simple percent-agreement is a weak indicator of the intercoder reliability ... we also employed the contingency coefficient method of calculating level of agreement ... the average contingency coefficient obtained was 0.897’ (p 40).
For this study, the authors decided to employ the typology proposed by Laskey et al (1989) for the following reasons:
- It focuses on commercial message strategies rather than executional elements.
- The two-stage approach facilitates reliable coding of commercials.
- High interrater reliability is attainable.
- It was specifically designed for television commercials.
Informational advertising ‘provides consumers with factual (that is, presumably verifiable) relevant brand data in a clear and logical manner such that they have greater confidence in their ability to assess the merits of buying the brand after having seen the advertisement’ (Laskey et al 1989:38). Within the informational category, a unique selling proposition strategy makes a claim of brand superiority which can be substantiated. Although the focus of a comparative strategy is identical to the USP, competitors are mentioned explicitly. A pre-emptive strategy makes a claim which can also be substantiated by competitors. The purpose of this strategy is to place competitors in the position of having to ignore the brand claim or to develop ‘me too’ advertising. The hyperbole strategy utilises obvious exaggerations or claims that do not require substantiation in the basic message, while the generic strategy does not focus on a particular brand but on the product class in general.
Southwest Airlines advertising is a typical example of advertising that will be classified as informational. A no-frill, informative strategy claims that Southwest Airlines offers the lowest fares at present.
Transformational advertising ‘associates the experience of using (consuming) the advertised brand with a unique set of psychological characteristics which could not typically be associated with the brand experience to the same degree without exposure to the (advertising)’ (Laskey et al, 1989: p 38). Thus, transformational advertising is not information based, rather it contains a dominant psychological element and the subcategories of the transformational message strategies correspond to a primary focus on people, places and things. With transformational advertising, specific strategies are classified into the subcategories according to whether the focus is on the brand user (user image), the development of a brand personality (brand image) or the situations in which usage of the brand is appropriate (use occasion). As in the informational category, the generic subcategory for transformational commercials focuses on the product class rather than a specific brand.
Hallmark advertising is a typical example of advertising that will be classified as transformational as the emphasis in a Hallmark commercial is on the emotional experiences associated with giving, or receiving, a Hallmark card.
Table 1 Typology of main message strategies
Coding of commercials
Although the reel compiled by Leo Burnett was dubbed ‘The 100 best television commercials ever made from around the world’, in fact it contains 102 commercials as two commercials (Nissin Noodle and Maxell Tapes) consist of two spots (refer to appendix A for a complete list of all the commercials). Of the 102 commercials, nine were excluded (see appendix A) due to the foreign language of these commercials which made it difficult to interpret the message strategy. Several other foreign language commercials were included as the use of English subtitles made it possible to classify their message strategies.
The remaining 93 commercials were coded independently by two of the authors who have extensive advertising experience in account management and creative. After the two coders studied the commercials, they conducted a pretest which involved the coding of seven commercials -- this can be compared to the training of coders as is required in a study of this nature.
Once the codings had been done, investigators subjected their category agreements to Holsti’s test for coder reliability. According to Holsti, coefficients of reliability higher than .90 would signify an acceptable degree of agreement between coders. Agreement was tested at both the main and subcategory levels. Furthermore, investigators utilised as w2 goodness-of-fit test on final category totals to determine whether any of the categories would be greater than what would occur by chance.
The coders agreed on the placement of 86 of the 93 commercials (see table 2). Using the Holsti (1969) formula, intercoder reliability was 92,5%, which is comparable to the Laskey et al study (1989) that reported agreement on 94% of the commercials coded for the same purposes. When the investigators tested whether the number of commercials placed into each of the main categories was significantly different from a chance occurrence, they found significance (w2=10.47, df=1, p5.05). Transformational commercials occured in a number that was significantly greater than chance, while the informational commercials occurred in a number which was significantly less than chance. These statistics suggest stronger evidence of the popularity of transformational commercials.
Table 2 Agreement on main categories between coders (n=93; ICR=0.925)
Of the 86 commercials, coders agreed on the placement of 77 into the informational or transformational subcategories (see table 3). Using the Holsti (1969) formula, intercoder reliability was 89,5%. This level of agreement is nearly identical to that reached in the Laskey et al (1989) study which reported coders reaching agreement on 90% of the commercials when coding them for subcategories.
In terms of subcategories, coders placed transformational commercials in five different subcategories and informational commercials in four different subcategories (see table 3). In order to determine if any trends might be evident in the subcategories, the authors again applied a Chi Square test to each set of the subcategories to determine if the number of commercials in each subcategory might differ significantly from a chance occurrence.
In the transformational subcategories, the choice of brand image contributed the most significance to the total Chi Square (w2=44.60, df=4, p5.001). More than half of the transformational commercials (56%) were classified as brand image, which is nearly three times greater than those in the next highest subcategory, user image. All other transformational commercials were equally distributed among the other subcategories.
The number of commercials placed in the informational subcategories was significantly different from chance (w2=9.91, df=3, p5.05), with pre-emptive 12 times more likely than comparative and more than twice likely than hyperbole (see table 3).
Table 3 Total ( main and subcategory) agreement (n=86; ICR=0.895)
When coding the informational commercials for subcategories, 44% were classified as pre-emptive and 33% as USP. Only one commercial in the USP subcategory was produced in the 1990s (British Airways -- the most passengers) suggesting that there is more product parity, and less brand uniqueness in today’s marketplace. Wendy’s famous Clara commercial, asking: ‘Where’s the beef?’, was the only informational commercial that was classified as comparative. This could be because the USA is the only country allowing comparative advertising, or advertisers not finding comparative commercials as effective.
The fact that twice as many of the commercials were coded as transformational compared to informational is representative of the trend which started in the 1970s when advertisers began using more of a soft sell or emotional approach to convey their advertising messages. Only five commercials prior to the 1970s were categorised as transformational, while the majority (40%) of the transformational commercials were produced in the 1980s.
David Ogilvy is often credited with being the creator of the brand image concept. But, by his own admission, this credit should go to Claude Hopkins, who described it in the 1930s, some 20 years before Ogilvy. Given that 56% of all transformational commercials were classified as brand image, advertisers apparently agree with these two advertising legends on the importance of creating a solid brand image for a product in order to establish it in the marketplace.
Of the nine commercials on which the coders could not agree, eight involved commercials which were coded as transformational. One of the coders classified all of his as brand image, while the second coder’s classification is as follows: user image (4); use occasion and generic (2 each). When the coders discussed their coding disagreements, it became apparent that these were due to different interpretations of the definitions, rather than faulting the typology.
It should be noted that although the coders adhered to the guidelines of the Laskey model, it was found that the majority of commercials which were coded contained elements of both the informational and transformational main message strategies. Consequently, it was not always that clear in which main category a commercial should be classified and it was decided to code a commercial on the grounds of whether its message strategy was mainly informational or transformational.
This led the authors to conclude that the Laskey model can be improved by replacing the dichotomous horizontal axis with a continuum. Although Laskey et al (1989) argued very strongly in favour of a dichotomy instead of a continuum, the authors have found that it is not possible to simply code a commercial as being solely informational or transformational. In the event of including this horizontal continuum, it will replace the dichotomous informational and transformational main categories and the main categories will then be categorised as:
- Mainly informational
- Mainly transformational
- Combinations of 1 and 2 (for those commercials that cannot be classified with ease in 1 or 2)
Another concern that the authors have regarding the Laskey model is that when Laskey et al introduced their typology, the ‘other’ subcategories were not included in either main category. However, when Laskey, Fox and Crask published their 1995 study investigating the relationship between message strategy and television commercial effectiveness, the ‘other’ subcategories appeared in both main categories. The inclusion of these two subcategories violates the criteria of the Laskey model inasmuch as categories and subcategories should be exhaustive and exclusive. Therefore, the authors recommend that the ‘other’ subcategory be removed from the two main categories. In the event of it becoming impossible to classify a commercial in one of the subcategories, it would be appropriate to include a duly named additional subcategory with its own classification rules.
Given the expense of television advertising today, the study of commercial effectiveness is of paramount importance. In 1997 advertisers spent over $44 billion in television advertising, or nearly 24% of the total annual media expenditures in the United States. Further, the average production cost for a 30-second commercial is approaching $200 000.
The literature review revealed that earlier studies (Ernst 1980; Stewart & Furse 1986; Gagnard & Morris 1988; Stewart & Koslow 1989) were largely preoccupied with the investigation of creative executional elements (for example colour, number of film cuts, pace, type of appeal, use of humour) on commercial recognition and recall. Only one study (Laskey, Fox & Crask, 1995) was found that concerned commercial message strategy rather than execution.
The authors found the Laskey et al typology model used to classify message strategies to be helpful in their strategic analysis of the commercial reel, ‘The 100 best commercials ever made from around the world’, compiled by the Leo Burnett advertising agency. Just as the model did for Laskey et al, it resulted in a high degree of intercoder reliability (92,5%) for the main message categories and for the submessage categories (89,5%). However, the authors of this study experienced some difficulty in coding certain commercials and, as a result, several improvements to the model are suggested in the ‘discussion’ section.
This study of ‘The 100 best commercials’ concurs with the Laskey study (1995) of 1 178 commercials in that there is little use of the unique selling proposition and comparative message strategies. Also, there is a significantly greater use of transformational message strategies over informational message strategies. The authors believe these findings are due to the increasing number of new products and available brands. As the number of brands in a product category increase, product differentiation and opportunities for unique selling propositions decline -- thus the trend from informational commercials of the 1960s and 1970s to today’s transformational message strategies that focus on psychological appeals and brand personality. Statistically significant differences were found for the frequency of transformational and brand image message strategies.
There are opportunities for future research utilising a modified typology of message strategies in order to further evaluate Burnett’s ‘100 best commercials’ and future award-winning commercial reels such as the annual Clios. Understanding and predicting commercial effectiveness is vitally important to academicians and practitioners alike.
Advertising Age’s Creativity December 1995. ‘The mother of all reels: Donald Gunn, Burnett’s global guru, picks the 100 best commercials ever made’.
Ernst, S B 1980. ‘A feature analysis of Clio winning ads.’ Journalism Quarterly, 57:321--324.
Gagnard A, Morris, J R 1980. Clio commercials from 1975--1985: analysis of 151 executional variables.’ Journalism Quarterly, 64(4):859--869.
Krippendorf, K 1980. Content analysis: an introduction to its methodology. Beverly Hills: Sage.
Laskey, H A, Day, E & Crask, M R 1989. ‘Typology of main message strategies for television commercials’, Journal of Advertising, 18(1):36--41.
Laskey, H A, Fox, R J & Crask, M R 1994. ‘Investigating the impact of executional style on television commercial effectiveness’. Journal of Advertising Research, Nov/Dec:9--16.
Laskey, H A, Fox, R J & Crask, M R 1995. ‘The relationship between advertising message strategy and television commercial effectiveness’. Journal of Advertising Research, March/April:31--39.
Ogilvy, D 1985. Ogilvy on advertising. NY:Vintage.
Puto, C P & Wells, W D 1984. ‘Informational and transformational advertising: the differential effects of time’. In Advances in consumer research, XI, Thomas C Kinnear, (ed), Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research: 638--643.
Secrist, M 1988. An instrument for the systematic study of advertising creative appeals. Paper Presented at the AEJMC Portland convention.
Severn, J 1988. Effective application of psychological motivators for social advertisers. Paper presented at the AEJMC Portland convention.
Stewart, D & Furse, D 1986. Effective television advertising: a study of 1 000 commercials. Mass: Lexington.
Stewart, D & Koslow, S 1989. ‘Executional factors and advertising effectiveness: a replication’. Journal of Advertising, 18(3):21--32.
Appendix A: List of Television Commercials
1 Volkswagen (Snowplough)
2 Timex (Acapulco Diver)
3 Union Carbide (Chick)
4 American Tourister (Gorilla)
5 Araldite (Hammer and Nail)
6 National Batteries (Little Fireman) Excluded
7 Pilkington Glass (Bulletproof)
8 Cheer (Live Demo)
9 Sony Hi-Fi (Cranebird)
10 Kellogg’s Rice Krispies (Vesti)
11 Coca Cola (Mountain Top)
12 Courage Best (Gercha)
13 Levi’s (Launderette)
14 Heineken (Blues Singer)
15 Solo Soft Drink (Singer)
16 Crest Toothpaste (Harold the Bad Tooth)
17 Parker Pens (Finishing School)
18 Federal Express (Fast Paced World)
19 MCI (Parents)
20 Heineken (Water in Majorca)
21 Mates Condoms (Chemist Shop)
Imagery, art & fantasy
22 Marlboro (Foggy Morning II)
23 Hovis Bread (Bike Ride)
24 Benson & Hedges (Swimming Pool)
25 Chanel No 5 (Pool) Excluded
26 National Light Bulbs (Menu of Lights) Excluded
27 Egoiste (Balconies) Excluded
28 Nissin Cup Noodle (Moa/Wintertelium)
29 Smirnoff Vodka (Message in a Bottle)
30 Dunlop Tires (Tested for the Unexpected)
31 Jeep Cherokee (Snow Covered)
32 British Airways (Manhattan)
33 Apple Computers (1984)
34 Citroen (Le Clemenceau)
35 British Airways (World Face)
36 Nike (The Wall)
37 Clarks Shoes (Blueprint)
38 Lego Briks (Kipper)
39 The Guardian (Points of View)
40 Audi (Procon 10) Excluded
41 Folha De Sao Paulo (Hitler)
42 Anti Drink Driving (Glasses)
Love & Romance
43 Camay (Small Store)
44 Coty L’Aimant (French Lesson)
45 BASF Tapes (Dear John)
46 Dunlopillo (Dormez Comme Vous Aimez) Excluded
47 Volkswagen (Changes)
48 Levi’s 501 Jeans (Pick UP)
49 Pentel (Love Letters)
50 Laura Scudder (Pledge)
51 Shisiedo Soap (Turkish March) Excluded
52 Barney’s (Men of Destiny)
53 Waterman Pen (Le Graduate)
54 Danone Yogurt (Learn from your Children) Excluded
55 Valisere (First Bra)
56 McDonald’s (Perfect Season)
57 Hallmark Cards (Dance Card)
58 PG Tips Tea (Mr Shifter)
59 John Smith’s Bitter (Dog Tricks)
60 Amipur Air Freshener (Cat & Fish)
61 Solid Fuel (Furry Friends)
62 TV Espana (Leaving Home)
Characters & Celebrities
63 Alka Seltzer (Prison)
64 Coca Cola (Mean Joe Greene)
65 Pliz Polish (Mme Chiffon)
66 Bartles & James (Yuppies)
67 Isuzu Cars (The Liar)
68 Nike (Bo Diddley)
69 Diet Pepsi (Ray Charles)
70 Southern Airlines (Orgy)
71 Norwegian Book Club (Train I)
72 Wendy’s (Fluffy Bun)
73 Alaska Airlines (Meals)
74 Pepsi Archaeology
75 Lee jeans (Rituals)
76 Maxell Tapes (Israelites/Into The Valley)
77 Noxzema Shaving Cream (Stripper)
78 Xerox Copiers (Monks)
79 Heineken (Windermere)
80 Carling Black Label (Dambusters)
81 Energizer Batteries (Bunny)
82 Televerket Minicall Pager (Noxin)
83 Benson & Hedges 100s (Oh the Disadvantages)
84 American Motors (Driving Instructor)
85 Volkswagen (Funeral)
86 Alka Seltzer (Spicy Meatball)
87 Vittel Mineral Water (Dame Pipi)
88 Hamlet Cigars (Photobooth)
89 Philips Light Bulbs (Soup Couple)
90 Centraal Beheer Insurance (Hedgehog)
91 New York Lotto (Board Room)
92 Pioneer Car CD Player (Bridge)
93 Braathens Safe Airline (Naked Lunch)
94 Campbells Soup (Flower Pot)
95 overseas Telephone (Greece)
96 Yellow Pages (J R Hartley)
97 Min. de Sanidad/Condoms (Gym) Excluded
98 Drug Free America (Long Way Home)
99 Mormon Church (Mud Fight)
100 Sony Tinitron TV (Lifespan)
Note: Several commercials were excluded due to the foreign language in which these were presented, which made it impossible to identify their message strategies.