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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The Brief in a Creative Brief

A rich man creates an amusement park featuring dinosaurs his team has hatched, as visiting scientists deal with the deadly consequences of interfering with nature.

 Three scientists with an interest in the paranormal are fired and decide to start their own business to capture ghosts, unleashing havoc on New York City in the process.

 On an exploratory visit to earth, aliens leave behind one of their own, who is found and befriended by a young boy, who helps the alien return home.

 If you can name these films, you’re not guessing. You’re actually using these brief verbal story links to take you directly to your memories of “Jurassic Park, “Ghost Busters,” and “E.T.”

Done with visuals, it looks like this:
Screen Shot 2017-10-10 at 3.52.13 PM

The mechanism that unites both the verbal and the visual languages? The brief expression of a clear, easily-understood core idea—in film speak, the Controlling Idea.

This one-line approach is used every day to pitch films to studio executives. Because if you can distill it to one line, you understand it. And if others understand it, and are interested in it, you can sell it. And if you can sell it, people pay to see it, own it and turn it into a memory—well, that’s a film that becomes iconic.

Brands and agencies can follow these same principles with great success. With your core controlling idea at the heart of every creative brief—that brief within your brief—briefs become superb. They guide the best creative and the best research and the fairest evaluation. It is that deep understanding of the meaning of your brand that separates the great creative brief from the mediocre. Mediocre briefs focus solely on the execution, burdened with generic outcomes and no clues—verbal or visual—as to the true identity of the brand.

Of course, there’s a strategy to the great brief and tactics to make that happen. Want to know more? Join us at TMRE where we will co-present with the advertising agency, Luckie & Co. on the idea of “Unlocking the Power of the Brief.” And be sure stop by our booth (#613) to see some examples of “Brands in Five Seconds” and chat more about making memories!

By Abigail Hollister (VP of Client Services) and Amy Shea (Senior Research Consultant)

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In Making a Story


When I began my career in communications and brand research, I thought of my previous careers as trunks to be stored away in the mind’s attic—perhaps pulled out in a far-distant future when I had time for reflection, meandering beach walks and writing all those letters to all those editors out there.

Now, as a senior researcher, I realize there is no such thing as life-trunks, understanding today how often I’ve drawn upon my past as a teacher and editor of creative writing in the study of advertising. One of the best parts of my days—and, gratefully, it makes up a good chunk of my actual job—is to share how the writing and visual construction of the advertising we study is inextricably connected to the data. As understanding story is in the core skill set of everyone in our research consultancy, I have a lot of conversation partners.

This was brought home to me this week when I introduced, for the newer members of our team, our seminal work studying emotional response in advertising. Yes, it’s true. The idea that emotion was a vital measurement in ad effectiveness was once under debate. We were on that debate team—also known as the AAAA/ARF Emotional Response in Advertising Committee—and firmly on the side of emotional measurement, as we had been doing it since our inception, now 25 years ago.

I’m proud to say the eight-member co-committee worked hard and made progress, beginning as all good researchers do with base-lining the measurements themselves through studying the same set of beer advertising. Once that was done, we each got to select the next case study. The time between when I received the email and called the committee chair was roughly equivalent to the pause between late-stage delivery contractions. I already knew what I wanted. I wanted to study the BMW online film phenomenon, what was then labeled “branded entertainment.”

This was the case study I brought to our internal team this week, revisiting the success of the overall effort, and taking a close look at two of the films we studied, to understand why one was indeed branded entertainment and one was simply entertainment. In order to bring current this work, I demonstrated how the exact same principles applied to one of our recent tests of digital Facebook advertising.

What’s the unifying principle that worked then and works now, whether a 7-minute film or a film on your feed? A story construct called The Controlling Idea.

A phrase used by screenwriting guru Robert McKee, the controlling Idea is simple but not easy. It is the story’s ultimate meaning, as expressed through the story’s action and emotional climax. As a poet and essayist, my personal process has never included an outline or even something I could refer to as a direction—rather, it’s been more a directive…to simply write. That said, understanding the ultimate meaning of what I’d made on paper or on screen was a critical step in having it see the light of day, much less an audience. That bit just came later and was the compass which directed all revision.

In understanding my work, my former students’ work, and the examinations of advertising work we study, across all forms of media, we examine the effectiveness of the controlling idea by working backwards.

We do not begin by searching for the story’s ultimate meaning. We don’t start there, because we don’t know what it is—we can only examine the story that was shown and felt, and draw conclusions on meaning. Fortunately, we have data to support those conclusions. In fact, we have visual data using the story itself to calibrate action, feeling, and meaning. That helps. A lot.

Each time, we start with the “story’s action” as it is expressed in the advertising. In short, what happened? We humans do this all time, whenever we describe to someone else a movie we’ve seen or an experience we had. We tell that person what happened. That’s the action. Using our Attention graphs of the film as parsed by the audience’s collective mind, we can see what they saw.

Then, one can move on the the “emotional climax.” How did it end? When telling a story, everyone is moving to the “high” or “low” of the end. For our research, we can see that high or low by the graph of the film that charts accompanying levels of emotional response, moment by moment as the story ratchets forward.

Only then can one look at what happened and how it ended to discover what the ultimate meaning of any piece of creative, verbal or visual, truly is. And that’s where it gets tricky.

With my students, I would play back what I saw on the written page—the action of the story and its ending. I would ask questions. As beginning writers, there were often a lot of those. And in our meetings I would almost always get into a discussion with the writer that sounded something like “well, that’s not what I meant!”

They would go on to explain a back story to me, about who the character is, what her motives are, and so on. I would listen, waiting until they took a breath and ask them one last question: can you put that on the page?

And this remains true in advertising evaluation. The controlling idea is not what you meant to be the ultimate meaning of the ad. The controlling idea ends up being the ultimate meaning of the ad you actually made.

All the meetings on brand strategy, KPI’s, emotional levers, and whatever else, all of that and more are hidden behind the curtain. A very thick light-blocking curtain that the audience cannot see through. That’s why examining every story, after it is created and before it meets its public, needs to be examined with the discipline of looking only at the action and its ending. Then, using your most grown-up voice, ask what the story you just examined must then mean.

If that’s not what you wanted, revise and edit. And if it is exactly what you wanted, and it matters to your public, the data will support that. And, I hope you’ll trust me on this. We’ll be first to applaud.

Amy Shea is a Senior Research Consultant at Ameritest

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What’s The Reality Of Your Perception?

Years ago, Rolling Stone was struggling to make its numbers. Readership wasn’t the problem. The issue was media buyers’ perceptions of the magazine. And their perceptions were ruling their decision to not buy the Stone’s advertising space, which was critical to keeping the presses running.

At the time, Fallon McElligott was the publication’s agency of record. In response to the business issue, Fallon’s team created a campaign called “Perception. Reality.” It asked media buyers to rethink their beliefs in order to create a new possibility. It challenged them to stop believing that Rolling Stonehad flighty, vagabond readers with little economic power and to start seeing the reality – that the magazine’s followers were actually loyal, upwardly mobile people with big wallets.

Here is an example from the campaign (source: Fallon, Minneapolis):rollingstone-money (1).jpg

The campaign was a home run. It succeeded by asking the fundamental question, “What if you’re wrong? What if you don’t really know what you think you know?” The campaign helped turn Rolling Stone around. It made the sale before the sales team placed a call and award shows were swept. Everyone went home happy.

While the campaign ran, we didn’t have the full psychological understanding of the real power of the “Perception. Reality.” campaign. Fast-forward 30 years and we now know why this idea was so powerful. Because today, we have Daniel Kahneman’s work in behavioral economics available to us, and his work is shedding light on almost everything we’re doing in the field of marketing and advertising.

Kahneman is The Godfather of System 1 and System 2 thinking. If you’ve read Thinking Fast and Slow, you know him well. If you don’t know him, finish this article and then run out and get his book. It holds a very big idea for everyone reading this.

After reading Kahneman’s tome on behavioral economics, I think that marketers and advertisers need to start putting memory at the front and center of their thinking. Human memory is the most elusive and misunderstood creature on earth. It truly has a life of its own. And while neuroscience observes the physical reaction created by an experience, it is still psychology that explains what really happens inside the brain long after an experience has faded away.

To add more context, the recent TV series, The Brain with Dr. David Eagleman, delved into the way the brain toggles simultaneously between the present and the past. When the human eye takes in new information, there is a part of the brain (the thalamus) that broadcasts back six times the amount of its own information. Think about that. The incoming message is met by 600% pre-existing information. Very simply put, our memories are constantly managing our current experience by filtering any new information through what we have already stored. This gives new meaning to the idea that “perception is reality.” Because, in fact, it is.

By combining the understanding of our memory bank’s highly competitive “on ramp” with Kahneman’s work we can begin to understand why memory is not just A big idea, but rather, THE big idea for marketers and advertisers.

If we start to think of brands as not just experiences, but rather as futurememories, we start to bring a new subtext and vitality to our work. We begin to see the bigger picture of what we’re doing every day to contribute to a brand’s equity. And with that understanding, we start to get our brand’s activities in fighting shape for the real dance we are trying to lead – not in the media – but in memory.

In particular, marketers need to understand the rules to keeping the mind’s eye open to creating new memories. Because the more we learn, the more we realize that most of the brain’s time is spent protecting itself at every turn. It’s tired and it’s locking the doors before it even hears someone knock — especially when it’s a paying advertiser.

Today, this is where our field should focus — how to make critical deposits in the bank of human memory. If we open ourselves up to the idea that being in the business of marketing is about being in the business of memory, we can start to have a more meaningful conversation. And that conversation will generate more authentically engaging messages, making it easier for your brand to become an actual part of who your customer is.

As it turns out, the line between perception and reality doesn’t exist, one just begets the other.

Written by Becarren Schultz.
Featured on MediaPost

Ameritest also invites you to visit
Chuck Young, CEO, shares his thoughts on brands and advertising, most recently: “What advertising equities does the ad leverage.”



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“A Memorable Impression: How to create brand memories in advertising”

In the June 2017 article for Quirk’s Media, Ameritest CEO, Chuck Young, delves into how marketers can sell to the “three brains” of the consumer: Physical, Emotional and Conceptual.


You can read it here:

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