The Lure of Free


Let’s say you had the option between a luxurious Lindt truffle and humble Hershey Kiss. We’ll go ahead and price the Lindt truffle at fifteen cents and the Hershey Kiss at one cent. Based on perceived value I imagine the majority of us would choose the more luxurious Lindt truffle priced at fifteen cents as opposed to the Hershey Kiss priced at one cent. Most would agree that the Lindt Truffle is a better deal. But what if each price was lowered by one cent? The relative price difference didn’t change so our choice of chocolate would also remain unchanged, right?

Dr. Dan Ariely, the best-selling author of “Predictably Irrational,” implemented this question in an experiment he ran on college students at MIT. As you may imagine, during the first test (fifteen cents, one cent) 73% of participants chose the Lindt truffle, which doesn’t come as much of a surprise since the expected pleasure is higher than that of a Hershey Kiss. Based on the concept of standard economics it would be appropriate to assume this result would remain unchanged as long as the relative price difference remained at fourteen cents. Contrary to what standard economic theory would suggest, when the prices were discounted by one cent, making them fourteen cents and free, the 27% that had originally gone with the Hershey Kiss grew to 63% percent.

The lure of free, Dr. Dan Ariely argues, causes us to forfeit the benefit of what we actually want. Our perception of utility for a product becomes skewed when “FREE” gets involved; our inherent ability to perform a cost benefit analysis goes out the window.

“FREE” can be an ace in a marketer’s hand, if played appropriately. “FREE” holds a great deal of power and triggers an emotional hotspot when consumers are confronted with it. Being able to keep the consumers best interest in mind while utilizing “FREE” can be a challenge but knowing when and how to implement this tool can provide positive benefits for both the marketer and the consumer. Beware, however, the use of ‘FREE” can also skew consumers perceived value of a product. Once an item is marketed as “FREE,” it is difficult to re-market that product at a cost higher than “FREE.” As stated by Byron Sharp, author of How Brands Grow, discounting a product can be satisfying in short term but it has negative impact on the long-term relationship between the product and the consumer. It is important that brands consider the long-term reputation of their product and keep customers perceived value of a product high.

~Ethan Melvin
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Who were the 2018 Super Bowl Winners and Losers?

So, the game is over, the ads are played, and the money is spent. How did the advertisers fare in this year’s big game?


Pepsi: Failed to Fulfill their Pre-Game Promise
One of the risks for the brand was playing it too safe with their game day ad. Not only did Pepsi play it too safe; the brand produced a classic example of a poorly executed montage spot.

The Pepsi spot, rather than capitalizing on the buzz they created with the Cindy Crawford teaser, presented a messy mix montage moments ranging from drive-in movies, to old ad clips, to a fake moonwalk, and celebrity snippets from Cindy Crawford and Jeff Gordon. With 12 different scenes, averaging 2.5 seconds each, there was little time for a viewer to engage with any of them, making it difficult to grab attention. While the product was a common theme throughout, it has a different from in nearly every setting, failing to act as an anchor for viewers, and in all likelihood, limiting the spot’s ability to tie to the brand. Finally, there is no progression from beginning to end – not temporal, emotional, or narrative. With neither a strong product focus, nor any kind of progression to engage emotionally, motivational power was held back as well.

Unfortunately, while Pepsi’s intended to activate nostalgic memories from viewers of all ages, the result left viewers with no branded memories at all.

Amazon and Tide: Did They Buy Success?
Two of the big adverting winners were Amazon’s Alexa Loses Her Voice, and the It’s a Tide Ad series. To be sure, both advertisers executed highly entertaining spots of great stories in which the products played a pivotal role. These are great ads. But both these advertisers ponied up well over the $5 million for 30 seconds to purchase 90 seconds of airtime each.

Up through 60-second spots, doubling the length of an ad increases the spot’s attention-getting power (based on time only) by about 10%. So, the Amazon and Tide spots got a certain amount of attention by being longer and/or repetitive. This creates an interesting conundrum for future Super Bowl advertisers. As longer ads become more ubiquitous in this event, it will be harder and harder for a mere 30-second spot to break through. Advertisers will need to consider if it’s worth the additional ad-length investment to level the playing field, or if they still see enough return on 30 seconds, given how far-reaching the platform is.

Budweiser: The right role for social responsibility
Budweiser’s Stand by You was a moving ad that highlights the company’s community service, without taking undeserved credit for the actions of others. The story creates a compelling narrative by hooking viewers with the opening mystery of why the worker is being called, building engagement with the reveal that the brand is canning water, and ultimately paying off with Budweiser’s role in disaster recovery efforts. This emotional journey shows how the brand did its small part to help, without in any way saying they completely solved a problem.

This spot was in stark contrast with Ram Truck’s Built to Serve that ostensibly paid tribute to great words spoken by Martin Luther King, Jr. 50 years ago. Regardless of how well the ad was executed, the spot begs the question, is it ever right to use an important historic moment to promote a brand? Especially if the brand has no prior connection to the movement it’s referencing?

(Click here for a more in-depth look at how brands can promote social responsibility.)

Some Well-Targeted Hidden Gems
There are two ads in particular that, while not getting the same after-game buzz, in all likelihood reached and resonated with their core target.

The first is E*Trade’s This is Getting Old: a hysterical, and yet poignant, spot highlighting the emerging plight of seniors needing to work well past the age of 65. The humor of elderly workers at jobs of increasing age-inappropriateness was likely to break through to an audience starting to consider retirement. While the startling final statistic and E*Trade’s practical solution give the brand a strong pivotal role in the spot.

Second is Telemundo’s Mic Drop. A midst a sea of Winter Olympic promotions, Andrés Cantor’s climatic scoring call gives soccer fans a reason to hang on until this summer’s 2018 FIFA World Cup.

But, seriously, the Eagles actually won…
The Philadelphia Eagles won a nail-biting upset in the fourth quarter. The game was well played and exciting from beginning to end. It was a nice reminder that the Super Bowl is actually a football game!

Eldaa Daily is a Research Director at Ameritest 

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Are Pepsi and Cindy Crawford Up for the 2018 Super Bowl Challenge?


Earlier this year Pepsi announced it would recreate Cindy Crawford’s iconic 1992 Super Bowl spot for this year’s game. Twenty-six years later and Cindy is facing a new generation, a shifting social environment, and a Super Bowl that has become nearly equal parts advertising spectacle and sporting event. Are Pepsi and Cindy up for the challenge?

The format of the original ad, a salacious search for thirst-quenching satisfaction ending in ostensibly sweet comic misdirection, leveraged the supermodel zeitgeist of the early 90’s, and combined it with the old advertising adage that sex sells. However, in the new millennium, this strategy has faltered.

In 2015, Ameritest tested Charlotte McKinney’s infamous Carl’s Jr. Super Bowl Spot (an ad that takes the sex sells adage to its most extreme) and found that while attention getting, the spot failed to motivate consumers to visit the restaurant. (Read more about the findings here.) In the months following, Carl’s Jr.’s buxom bombshell burger business continued to render diminishing returns until in May of 2017, the restaurant chain announced a shift in strategy in an ad that claimed the previous campaign was the work of Carl Hardee Sr.’s immature offspring.

The business cost of the sex sells strategy, combined with the potential social costs given the current #metoo and #timesup movements, make harkening back to the 1992 spot seem like a risky endeavor. However, Cindy’s trial run on James Corden’s Late Late show in 2016, with over 15K likes and fewer than 300 dislikes, was viewed with nostalgia and admiration for Cindy’s Dorian Gray-esque foray into middle age, indicating that the reboot will be a safe bet.

But will it be too safe?

To be sure, given the huge misstep of Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner spot, their failed attempt join in a key cultural moment, the brand has a right to be cautious as it prepares to take the largest advertising stage of the year. But being too cautious could the biggest risk of all when it comes to Super Bowl advertising.

Ameritest has found that Super Bowl ads are nearly twice as attention getting as the average TV spot. One of the biggest past Super Bowl ad winners was Volkswagen’s 2011 “Little Darth,” which followed a thwarted childhood quest for control surreptitiously fulfilled by a father’s cunning use of his Jetta’s keyless ignition, enveloped by a strong Star Wars cultural reference. The great story, cute kid, and recognizable hook of the Darth Vader theme drew so much attention, and connected in such a significant way, that even today if you mention the “Little Darth” ad, most adults will know what you’re talking about.

This year, Amazon, Jack in the Box, and even Pepsi’s own Mountain Dew brand are combining star power and stories to create pre-game buzz that will hopefully convert to post-game sales. A Crawford recreation without some creative reimagining may struggle to get noticed.

Where the Volkswagen ad, and most Super Bowl ads, fell short was on branding. Often the drive to get noticed can take creative executions away from a story that makes sense for the brand, as a result Super Bowl spots typically achieve less than half the Ameritest norm on Top-of-Mind Brand Linkage. The 1992 Pepsi spot, in contrast, is a great example of brand integration. In the ad, the Pepsi clearly quenches Cindy’s thirst, playing the role of hero and tying the brand to the story. The product appears on screen through much of the second half of the ad, and the final comments from the adolescent peanut gallery, “Is that a great new Pepsi can, or what?” put viewer focus squarely on the brand. If the updated spot falls short of the attention-getting power of its rivals, it may make up for it by being well branded.

The final component of a strong ad is its ability to motivate viewers. Ameritest has found that the average Super Bowl spot struggles to motivate, though not to the same extent as the struggle for Branding. That said, recreating the 1992 Pepsi spot has the potential to engage two key memory systems to drive motivation.

The first is the procedural memory system. This system stores memories of physical reactions. In the case of Pepsi, Cindy downing an entire can creates a virtual consumption experience that could leave consumers making a mouth-watering run to the store (or the fridge). Some could even find themselves experiencing the virtual belch that in all likelihood was suppressed or cut from the original spot.

The nostalgia generated by referencing an iconic 90’s cultural moment engages the episodic memory system, which stores autobiographical memories that create one’s sense of self. Particularly for Gen X’ers, Pepsi eliciting fond memories of youth could create a relatable experience that has the audience thinking, “Maybe this is a brand for me.”

So, game day is upon us. And it’s time for Pepsi and Cindy to suit up and take the field. Will their play be too timid and get sacked by the star power of the competition? Or will their nostalgia reverse around clutter and bring the brand into the end zone? Tune in Sunday to find out!

Eldaa Daily is a Research Director at Ameritest. 

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Seeing What Others Don’t in 2018

It’s usually about this time in January where I start feeling guilty, either for not having set any New Year’s Resolutions, out of belief they would not last or feeling guilty for not keeping the Resolution I so optimistically set just three weeks ago. Each year I vacillate between these two states depending on how I felt the previous year. It’s a cycle I’ve become comfortable with, even if it means being comfortable with wearing yoga pants to the office, a direct result of eating a breakfast not unlike that perfected by Buddy in Elf.

 This year, however, I’m feeling something different. Something far more exciting, actually: the feeling of focus and challenge. Last week we had our 2018 Kick-Off Meetings for Ameritest and while that may not sound exciting, getting the company together to reset and focus together on our mission and values was really quite invigorating.

Our challenge for 2018 is to focus and build ourselves around the mission to See What Others Don’t. We defined and embraced what that means for us and for our clients.

If we challenge ourselves to see what others don’t, we can see everything in a whole new way. For me, the most exciting part of this statement is the mission it defines for our technology and innovation. I’m specifically picking these words for their buzzworthiness, because it’s something people say without truly understanding the broader meaning of these words. Our CIO, Martin Rascon, shared with us the true definition of those words and gave me a new way of seeing things.

First, technology. The word comes from Greek root words Teknē and Logia. Taking these words, Teknē, meaning art or craft, and Logia, meaning study or interest, we see that when we talk about technology we are really talking about so much than devices, computers and programs. It’s about taking our art and our craft and applying the right systems and treatments to it. It challenges us to see beyond the technology buzz of today and look at all of our systems—yes, those that drive our business and our process, but also those drive our thinking. As a consultancy, the power that drives us forward can be aided by what we think of as the true technology; the art and craft of what we do is in our people.

Next, innovation. “A new idea, method or device.” Why does this matter? It matters because innovation isn’t just about that new phone you have in your pocket today. It’s about coming up with new ideas and methods too. It is also “the process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value.”

 This means innovation is really about challenging ourselves to harness our creativity and turn it into value for our clients. This creativity can come in many forms, but for me as I spend my time working with clients and building our Client Services team, it takes shape in pushing ourselves to see what others don’t, through studying what’s often dismissed. Looking at something more closely or at something we might have previously rejected, gives us the opportunity to innovate, to find something new and establish new value. These places, found often in the outliers, are where we find some of the most impactful insights and can help cultivate true creativity in collaboration with our clients.

Just writing this makes me excited for the coming year and I hope helped you see something others don’t. Because the idea of see what others don’t is much more than a mission, it’s a challenge and I hope you will accept it as we have.

Abigail Hollister, Vice President – Client Services



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Connecting The Dots: How Brands Can Play In The Political Arena



When a brand tries to play in the political space, it needs to follow the rules of the game. When done right, the messaging can be powerful and make consumers feel better about the brand. However, when done wrong, it can become controversial and devastating for the brand. What are some of these rules and how fine is the line between winning and losing?

1. Don’t be the hero

It’s not exactly news that Pepsi learned the hard way how difficult the political game is to play. Its ad, “Live for Now,” featuring Kendall Jenner, was pulled just one day after its release due to heavy backlash across social media. Although the messaging of coming together amongst our differences was seemingly a strong play to make, the execution of the ad was unrewarding.

Are we surprised it bombed? Not exactly. To start, Pepsi’s role in the ad was the solution: because of Pepsi, the two conflicting parties were able to come together. This leaves the takeaway message to be along the lines of “if you give out a can of Pepsi, then social injustice can end.” Naturally, within the context of Pepsi’s brand identity, this wasn’t a message viewers were willing to accept. Because of these factors, Pepsi reaped zero rewards and issued a public apology, which also received backlash. The damage was done.

2. But do help to find the solution

One brand’s failure, however, doesn’t mean that any brand seemingly disconnected from the space, such as beverages, can’t live there. It just needs to have a clear role and one that makes sense.

Heineken proved this point with the release of its ad, “Worlds Apart.” Here, the focus was on two people, with opposite social views, coming together to sit and discuss their views over a beer. In essence, the messaging seemed similar to that which Pepsi was trying to accomplish: unity. So what was the pivotal role the brand played that made this ad more successful than Pepsi’s?

First off, Heineken was not the solution, but rather it paved a way for people to find the solution on their own terms. Instead of being the end (solution) of the discussion, Heineken decided to be the start of the discussion. And in terms of discussion, such as personal or political views, the social setting of a bar is an easy connection for consumers to make. By understanding the context of its brand, and the message they wanted to convey, Heineken was able to leave the field of the political game as a winning team.

So when creating content, never lose sight of the context in which your brand and your message fit together in the space you are trying to play in. Viewers need to be able to easily connect the dots if you are going to be rewarded for taking the risk.

This article was first featured on MediaPost: Marketing CPG and written by Vicky Wilson, Ameritest Analyst based in Chicago

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Season’s Greetings from Ameritest

All data leads to one conclusion: The Holidays are here…and we couldn’t be happier to take this opportunity to pause and wish you the most important gifts of the season: the love of friendship, great health and abundance! We also hope you will join us in our excitement about the coming year!

After a short holiday break, we will be back: continuing to build our consulting team of trusted advisors, sharing-out our work on the role of Branded Memory, and designing research solutions customized to meet the evolving needs of our clients.

But, in the meantime, we’re eating. A lot. We’re dressing up our dogs as elves and completing our seasonal DIY remodel to spread Holiday cheer:

However, before the year draws to a close, I need to offer my thanks to the amazing people we get to work with every day. First, a thank you to the Ameritest team for the tireless contribution of their smarts, curiosity and creativity, as well as their never-failing humor. That fact that I love to come to work is your fault.

And second, an enormous thank-you to our clients. Every day of the year we are grateful for the invitation to partner with you; we are honored by your trust. Our ability to work with such intelligent, inspiring people fills us with gratitude and humility. Thank you.

So, here’s to 2018! Enjoy your time, however you choose to spend these special days. We will see you back at work in the New Year, at which time we will may stop eating candy for breakfast.

Happy Holidays!
Abby Hollister, Vice President

Season’s Greetings from your friends at Ameritest
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The Power of the Montage

Scott McCloud, author of “Making Comics” and “Understanding Comics” says, “When part of a sequence, even a sequence of only two, the art of the image is turned into something more.” In the world of advertising, this ‘something more’ is a story. In storytelling, the most successful sequencing fosters cognitive ease which increases the ad will be seen in a meaningful way.

One type of ad in which sequencing is vitally important is the montage ad. They typically feature a series of unrelated images, people, scenes, locations, etc., each on screen for less than 2-3 seconds. The individual images have likely been carefully selected by the creative team to communicate an intended message or feeling. However, as imperative as it is to select the right image, it’s equally important, if not more so, to craft the right sequencing of images. Why? As we saw with the recent Dove Digital Campaign, the wrong sequence can have massive and unintended consequences.

The individual images of the black and white women work equally well toward Dove’s “Real Beauty” strategy. However, the order in which the images appeared  – the black woman removing her shirt to reveal the white woman – caused viewers to take notice and start firing back. How different would this conversation have been if the order had been reversed? Would we even have it?


Whether you are working on a montage ad or a 30 second cohesive story, remember to take care to ensure you are not focusing too much on the individual images but thinking about the sequence as a whole in order to ‘foster cognitive ease” and ensure your ad is seen in the ‘meaningful way” you intended.

Sonya Duran is a Research Director at Ameritest. 

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