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)

Posted in Advertising Research, Brand Positioning, Emotion, Memory, Storytelling | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Advertising Research, Ameritest, Attention, Books, Brand Positioning, Emotion, Memory, Motivation, Storytelling | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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:

Posted in Advertising Research, Ameritest, Attention, Brand Awareness, Brand Positioning, Emotion, Memory, Methodology, Neuroscience | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Need a snapshot of your banner ad performance? Take a BannerSnap!

Ameritest is proud to introduce BannerSnap, a fully automated banner ad pre-test designed to meet the fast timelines and strict budgets of most digital campaigns.

BannerSnap measures ad performance in a controlled environment that mimics the actual consumer experience, while delivering richer and more actionable insights than monitoring online metrics can provide.

BannerSnap combines outcome-based metrics of ad breakthrough and impact with diagnostics including Ameritest’s patented Picture Sorts® to deliver insights that:

  • Predict how creative will perform in-market
  • Provide guidance for creative optimization

We are inviting digital advertisers to participate in our Spring Introduction and to try out BannerSnap for just $1,000 per ad, for up to 5 ads.

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BannerSnap Optimization Diagnostics.png

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Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 10.19.32 AM.pngTo learn more about BannerSnap, the Spring Introduction, or our other digital testing capabilities, please email Eldaa Daily at or call (505) 348-5736.

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What Advertisers Learned From A Little Monkey


Imagine, if you will, a thick hamburger patty being pulled off a sizzling grill and laid on a freshly toasted bun. Cheese slowly melts on the patty while it’s topped with lettuce, tomato and secret sauce drips as the top bun is perfectly placed. Now imagine two hands reaching to grab the delicious-looking burger. You see the person open their mouth, take a bite and close their eyes to enjoy each moment of the experience. Their eyes open and the only thing left to do is smile.

Which of these moments — the images of the burger or the person eating it — do you think communicates great taste at higher levels?

The answer is both. When properly executed, both can drive taste perceptions and drive consumers to purchase yourproduct. While painting the product in its very best light is important, do not underestimate the power of showing someone eating … and enjoying it as well.

The term “bite and smile” is sometimes seen as a bit archaic and based on the golden age of advertising. In addition, the role such images play in an ad is often overlooked in the perennial debate of rational versus emotional advertising. But, research provides a good reason to continue using this traditional approach.

In the 1990s, Italian researchers accidentally discovered “mirror neurons” while conducting a research study with a Macaque monkey. In the study, the researchers placed a helmet covered with electrodes on the monkey. The intent of the research was to simply understand what neurons fired when certain actions were done. As luck would have it, the weather in Italy was quite warm and while conducting the experiment, the researcher was eating an ice cream cone in front of the little monkey. Anytime the researcher licked his delicious-looking cone, the monkey’s neurons started firing — the same neurons that were firing in the researcher each time he took a bite. While the discovery of “mirror neurons” was important in many different ways, for many different fields, those of us in advertising can benefit from the insights.

When you play a video game or watch sports, your imagination and the mental maps of your physical self interact in a virtual reality that may become indistinguishable from a real-world experience. As researchers noted with the monkey experiment, mental simulations of physical activity fire many of the same neurons in the brain as would actual movement. Imagining doing something is almost the same as actually doing it.

We can apply the same concept of the brain’s “mirror systems” to help us understand how advertising works. Mirror neurons allow us to adopt another person’s point of view when we watch them perform an action. It is also a key learning system. We learn by watching others because parallel neural activity in our brains fire the same neurons involved in performing the same action ourselves.

When we watch someone in a commercial enjoy a delicious burger, wash their hair, drive a car, or swipe their smartphone, our mirror system engages and we mentally rehearse doing the same things — we call this “virtual consumption.” When we watch someone else being touched, we can feel the touch ourselves. These mental rehearsals become “false memories” and increase the total number of memories we have stored about the experience.

So, back to our delicious hamburger example … when a consumer was provided an opportunity to “rehearse” consumption, their perception of it tasting good was enhanced and their likelihood of purchasing the burger increased. And, when the day came that the consumer purchased their very own burger hot off the grill, their feelings that the burger actually did taste good were also enhanced.

Even though the experience created through an ad may be virtual for the consumer, it still creates more memories of brand satisfaction, which is one reason why brands that advertise have an advantage over brands that do not.

Posted in Advertising Research, Ameritest, Memory, Motivation, Neuroscience, Packaged Goods, QSR Advertising, Storytelling, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy Father’s Day

In anticipation of Father’s Day, we recently found ourselves discussing our dads. Naturally, as a group of brand enthusiasts, we started reminiscing on our favorite dad ads.

A spot created by Whirlpool resonated with us and connected with some of our favorite dad moments. The spot titled, “Dad and Andy” highlights how being a father doesn’t mean you have to be perfect, but that trying your best is usually more than enough.

In this ad, the story focuses on the relationship between the dad and his son as the father handles the daily activities, with care and a bit of stumbling, of raising a child.

Often we see the brand play the role of the “main character” in a spot. But in this case, the brand plays a supporting role, serving as a reliable helping hand to the father.

Marketers may wonder if the ad could be as effective with the brand in a background role. Our data shows that it was. But, how? This ad is a great example of what can happen when the right emotional structure combines with the right brand placement.

“Dad & Andy” has an “emotional build” – it creates an increasing flow of positive feeling as viewers emotionally follow the father’s quest to be a good parent. This busy father encourages his son by leaving notes for him on the bathroom mirror, in his lunchbox, and in his book. The positive emotion peaks on the payoff moment when the father discovers that “Andy” has returned the encouragement and left him a note – in the freezer. The brand is revealed immediately following this moment, and the Whirlpool brand is given emotional credit for supporting the father. We feel good; Whirlpool is the cause.

A well crafted, well executed, well branded ad doesn’t have to overwhelm the audience with the brand, but the ad needs to combine the right elements in the right order.

As we push into Father’s Day weekend, take some time to celebrate dad and all he does! Happy Father’s Day to all of the dads out there from everyone at Ameritest!

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