Are advertising campaigns burning brighter but dying younger? Jeremy Edwards and Dan Southern ask if it's a theory worth investigating

Perceived wisdom has it that that product lifecycles are turning ever faster. It's a trend that's spearheaded by the IT, telecoms and consumer electronics sectors, but actually affects most industries. New products seem to appear and disappear with increasing rapidity.

In a world where products wear-out faster and faster, it's worth asking whether advertising too has now has a shorter shelf life.

Certainly changes in the way that brands communicate combined with technology could lead to a world where all but the very best campaigns are with us only briefly.

Today campaigns can be brought to life almost immediately through social media, events and any number of other communication channels.

The sheer pace at which information travels also allows marketers to communicate broad and mature campaigns almost from launch, allowing consumers to have an immediate deep-seated engagement. Marketers don't have to gradually build up their messages any more. (See below for discussion on campaign effects on ROI).

At the same time, the use of topical ads around events and real-time activity is shortening both build-up periods and response times. The rise of consumer participation brings campaigns to fruition faster and the growth of consumer control means that targets fully explore and then tire of campaigns more quickly.

There's little empirical evidence to back up this theory but there are plenty of people who think marketers may have to re-assess their strategic planning and speed up campaign cycles.

"Traditional campaigns that do not have a built-in participatory and/or social media element will be shorter," says David Galsworthy, chief executive of internet marketing consultancy Seen. "If [marketing directors] plan on continuing the roll out of traditional campaigns, then yes, they do need to factor this into their strategic planning."

Changing campaign structure

Peta Morton, a planner at Banjo - the new agency set up by Australian ad guru John Singleton - agrees. "Campaigns as we have known them are likely to become shorter. In a more dynamic environment, where the consumer has far more control and input into what media they consume it is inevitable that in order to remain interesting we must have new things to say," she argues.

Faris Jakob, chief innovation officer at MDC Partners, believes that this trend is seeping across our culture. He cites last year's death of Michael Jackson as an example - a flash mob to celebrate the singer's life came to fruition in London on the same day as his death, whilst one in New York failed to materialise. The idea had already been lived out by Twitter feeds and YouTube videos from the UK: there was no need for a New York event.

"A few years ago a number one film or record would stay at the top of charts for weeks as the information rippled through culture, now these charts are driven mostly by recency - the number one selling DVD is almost always one that came out that week. With advertising, the same increased cultural decay rate holds. Something is cool for a week [or an hour on Twitter] and then fades. This puts this onus on communicators to have and distribute more ideas more rapidly, or build ideas over time in installments," argues Jakob.

Bored with meerkats?

Certainly consumers have the means to communicate their boredom pretty rapidly. Not long ago, both the marketing community and consumers were blogging positively about the award-winning Compare The Market campaign in the UK.

Already, however, chatroom posts suggest consumers are begin to question whether the brand's meerkat character has become old hat. From YouTube to Facebook, negative comments are beginning to appear. Even the Exotic Pet Refuge in Deeping St James has seen an increase in the number of dumped meerkats as people abandon pet purchases inspired by the campaign.

Not everyone agrees that the meerkat's time is over, however, but these comments reflect a sense that, at the very least, marketers need to structure their messages differently.

"What we should be working towards is a long-term meaningful conversation with our consumers; a conversation that is made up of different relevant and engaging 'topics of conversation' rather than 'campaigns'." says Banjo's Morton. "A brand needs a long-term strategy and a core brand story, which they remain true to. Different topics of communication should build on this story and add relevance to the brand over time."

Morton cites the current campaign for Samsung as an example of a brand doing this well. The consumer electronics company has backed up its big above the line campaign with messages targeted at different segments to make the conversation more relevant.

Main campaign:

Projection mapping:

Art in 3D:

Another factor that may be driving early wearout is the fact that brands are consciously attempting to tap in to the ever-changing "zeitgeist" more frequently in order to stay relevant in a real-time world.

They do this by referencing events as they happen, a trend increasingly seen during sports events and even elections.

"Despite the onslaught of technology and the proliferation of media channels, one universal truth still underpins the ad business: the brands with the best stories always win," says Paul Kemp-Robertson, editorial director at trend-watching magazine Contagious. "Creative ideas that are fresh, dynamic and sharable are more likely to feed into the pop culture and take on a life on their own. Compare the Meerkat is a classic example. Here you have an idea that was initially rooted in traditional media but spread like wildfire as soon as it was let loose on the social networking stage. Aleksandr the Meerkat has become a celebrity in his own right."

So will there be fewer and fewer long-running campaigns that we all become familiar with?

The Guinness Book Of World Records credits India's iconic Amul Girl campaign - launched 44 years ago by the ASP agency with the tagline "Utterly butterly delicious Amul" - as the world's longest running campaign in the world but DeBeers' "Diamond's are forever" campaign, which began back in 1914, also remains largely unchanged today.

Should these campaigns ever get refreshed, it's extremely unlikely that their successors will be able to boast the same longevity.

Assessing the effect on ROI…

From an econometric perspective, marketing campaigns are characterised by two key components:

Firstly, the uplift on an outcome variable, which could be sales, awareness or applications, for example;

Secondly, the decay rate, which captures the longevity or memory effect of the campaign upon the outcome variable. The slower the decay rate, the more persistent the campaign.

If campaign life spans are shortening then it will certainly impact media planning and campaign ROI. If the theory is true then we would expect a faster decay rate and possibly improved uplift.

It may be the case that the additional ratings generated cheaply online - for example via YouTube, social networking or viral activity - may allow advertisers to achieve better results for the same budget (or the same results on a lower budget); both of which would ultimately enhance campaign ROI.

More investigation is certainly required.

Zeman Bhunnoo, Business Director, Billetts

About the Authors

dan_southern.jpg Dan Southern: Dan is a Senior Analyst and clients include telecoms brands like Orange and European telco/TV/broadband giant UPC and previously worked at Ogilvy Action Sport and Entertainment. He holds a first class BSc in Economics.

jeremy_edwards.jpg Jeremy Edwards: Jeremy is the Director of Insight and focuses on strategic development, brand building, as well as editing, writing and speaking. Before joining Insight, Jeremy worked at media consultancy Human Capital and previously he was a financial, legal and political journalist. He holds Masters Degrees in Journalism (from Northwestern University) and in Philosophy (from Emmanuel College, Cambridge).

Jeremy Edwards and Dan Southern work in the Insight division at Xtreme Information