2020's IPA Effectiveness winners show how to make distinctive assets work harder, write Peilin Phua and Nicole Hartnett from The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute.

It is wonderful to see many of the 2020 IPA Effectiveness Awards winners championing their distinctive assets. These are elements that uniquely evoke the brand, such as logos, taglines, shapes and characters. They are more than just creative devices, although they can be used creatively. They are branding without the brand name, giving audiences more signals to recognise who is advertising.

Only a handful of powerful distinctive assets are capable of replacing the brand name in advertising; for the majority of brands, there is room for improvement. We do not know the precise strength of distinctive assets presented in the following cases (because no such data was provided), but nonetheless, these campaigns are good examples of effectively applying principles for building distinctive assets: reach, co-presentation, and commitment.

Lloyds’ black horse reaches the masses

The strongest distinctive assets are famous among customers and non-customers alike. To achieve such fame, a brand must reach out to all potential buyers, teaching them the connection between brand and asset. Lloyds Bank breathed new life into a centuries-old icon that had been relegated to the background. Over several years, Lloyds prioritised reach, buying mass advertising that starred the black horse. Lloyds’ campaigns achieved greater brand linkage than rivals, helping to drive brand awareness and new business.

Co-presentation anchors Gordon’s new assets

We (humans) learn connections between related information when they are presented together. Facing an onslaught of 700 new competitors, Gordon’s decided to refresh and redesign its brand identity with distinctiveness in mind. Campaigns featured a new bottle, tagline and style of advertising. Looking across executions, Gordon’s clearly grasps the concept of co-presentation. Whenever the newly minted distinctive assets are presented, the brand name is also there. We (authors) suspect that Gordon’s quickly taught people its new look and feel.

Audi’s tagline commitment sends a message

Longevity is key for building strong distinctive assets. Teaching consumers takes time and repetition. Audi has committed to its tagline ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ for almost 40 years. Few taglines survive that long! Audi’s German identity, typified by its German tagline, stood out in non-German-speaking markets and has underpinned (but not hamstrung) the brand’s creative strategy over time.

Looking ahead

These awards celebrate all-things advertising, particularly big fame-building campaigns. The challenges and unpredictability of 2020 will likely continue into 2021. Looking ahead, many advertising budgets are at risk. Companies experiencing financial strain may reduce or even cease advertising altogether.

What can dark brands expect? Sales declines are unlikely to occur within a few weeks or months without advertising, as the carryover effects of previous campaigns linger, and consumer habits are relatively slow to change. But for longer cessations, research conducted by the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute observed that after a 12-month period without advertising, half of the unadvertised brands had slipped into decline. Advertising is clearly important for nudging brand loyalties, by refreshing and sometimes building consumers’ mental structures for the brand. Stopping mass-reach advertising removes a brand’s main device to reach the millions of light, infrequent buyers.

When advertising stops, the benefits of past investment in building strong distinctive assets will become restricted to points of sale. Distinctive assets make brands easy to see and find not only in advertising, but also in retail environments. They make a brand prominent sitting on a shelf, or presented on a comparison website, or on the side of the road. Brands should look to be creative (but consistent) with their assets in these spaces too.

However, if distinctive assets are only present in retail environments, they will only reach people who are in the market to buy (and many of these people will not notice many brands’ distinctive assets in these environments). Importantly, we know that for most brand buyers, long periods of time pass between purchases and memories decay without reinforcement. The power of mass-reach advertising, when executed well, is to remind people what brands look and feel like, so they are easy to find at the next purchase occasion.

Distinctive assets remain important

One of the core reasons for building distinctive assets, rather than only relying on a brand’s name, is to give the brand the best chance to get noticed wherever it is. By building a distinctive asset palette, which includes different types of assets (e.g., images, words and sounds), marketers can choose the best asset for the particular environment.

If marketers find themselves with small/er budgets in 2021 and beyond, lower-cost media options will be sought. Distinctive assets can help here too. For example, for online display banners, a familiar image-based asset (e.g., Gordon’s bottle) can help draw attention in visually cluttered screens. A tagline (e.g., Audi’s ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’) provides another branding tool for radio and streaming services. Alternatively, if opting for shorter, more efficient video ads, a brand character (e.g., Lloyds’ black horse) can be introduced immediately, quickly anchoring the message to the brand.

Perhaps most importantly, at a time when it is tempting to reassure consumers (e.g., ‘we’re good value’, ‘our brand cares about its customers’), distinctive assets enable brand-led creativity that maintains a unique look and feel even when messaging converges across brands.

An abridged version of this article appears in WARC’s Insights from the 2020 IPA Effectiveness Awards.