Editor’s note: Margaret H. Blair is president of rsc The Quality Measurement Company, an Evansville, Ind., research firm. Hans-Willi Schroiff is vice president market research/business intelligence at Henkel KgaA, Dusseldorf, Germany.

This article will review the empirical evidence which demonstrates that there is no such thing as brand building for tomorrow, without brand building and sales today.

Definitions/givens/points of agreement

1. Brand-building: advertising that results in a brand’s market performance (that is, sales) at some point in time.

2. Today: business results or sales occurring some time between seven days and six months after exposure to the advertising stimulus.

3. Tomorrow: market outcomes occurring at some time after that, from six months to five or more years after exposure to the advertising.

4. Awareness and recall: poor predictors of advertising’s impact on market performance.

In numerous industry studies, recall has repeatedly failed to show a strong causal relationship to sales or share. In his 1982 Journal of Advertising Research article, Harold Ross concluded that “recall is a very poor measure of a commercial’s effect on consumer purchase.” A year later, Larry Gibson (1983) found that “the evidence for the validity of recall is - to be charitable - ‘checkered.’” In 1989, one of the top five global advertisers concluded from its studies that “related recall has no proven relationship to business measures.”

In his review of the “How Advertising Works” study, Josh McQueen (1991) stated: “Did the recall wins match the in-market results? No. In 10 of the 16 results the answer was no. Less than flipping a coin.” Finally, in a 1994 JAR article, The ARS Group stated: “Recall’s track record is not much better than the 50/50 toss of a coin at identifying sales-effective advertising” (Blair et al., 1994).

Exhibit 1

Henkel has also observed the poor predictability of awareness measures. Exhibit 1 (which comes from IDIS - Henkel’s transnational and integrated data warehouse) clearly demonstrates that while awareness generally increases and decreases with media spending, there is virtually no relationship between awareness and market share.

5. ARS Persuasion metric: a predictor of advertising’s impact on market performance “today.”

The ARS Group has conducted and published numerous studies (including about 2,000 individual cases) supporting the validity of the metric, with measurement periods ranging from four weeks to six months or so (Blair, 1999).

These validation exercises have supplied consistent evidence over a 40-year period. They have been independently replicated by at least five of the top-50 global advertisers and independently verified by David Stewart and John Philip Jones, both well-respected academicians. In science, “a theory that, over a long period of time, has yielded true predictions with unvarying uniformity, and is thus almost universally accepted, is referred to as a scientific principle or law” (Villee et al., 1985).

Having established the “givens,” our article will cover these points:

  • Does advertising build brands today?

  • Is there such a thing as brand building or sales for tomorrow without brand building and sales today (perhaps our most controversial and important topic)?

  • How are brands built both today and tomorrow?

  • The ARS Group’s Branding Model.

  • Two case studies that illustrate the findings and support the Branding Model.

Does advertising build brands today?

The empirical evidence from a number of studies led the ARS Group to conclude: “Effective delivery of advertising occurs much faster (with diminishing returns), or with fewer GRPs, than has been indicated through traditional tracking measurements” (Blair, 1987). About three years later, IRI’s Abraham and Lodish (1990) reported in the Harvard Business Review that: “When a particular advertising weight or copy is effective, it works relatively rapidly. Incremental sales begin to occur within six months.” Then, five years after that, John Philip Jones’ STAS (“Short-Term Advertising Strength”) research led him to state: “STAS measurements establish reliably that advertising can have an immediate and short-term (seven-day) influence on sales” (Jones, 1995a). Of course, the size of this influence depends on the ad’s persuasiveness or elasticity.

Exhibit 2

Most recently, the ARS Group documented the short-term effects of advertising on scanner sales, also demonstrating the wearout, or diminishing returns, phenomenon. (See Exhibit 2.) The largest effect is seen in the first four-week period after airing. In period two the effects immediately begin to decline, and in periods four and five the ads are not even maintaining the levels achieved when they first went to air. Henkel has verified this wearout and diminishing returns principle or law and is using it for ongoing advertising investment decisions. As shown in Exhibit 3, the advertising starts, and the largest bump is in the next four weeks. As you can see, the effects begin to diminish in weeks 11 and 12 as the ad is wearing out.

Exhibit 3

Exhibit 4

The bottom line? The empirical evidence supports the conclusion that effective advertising builds brands (produces sales effects) today.

Is there a tomorrow without today?

The most important point in this debate is to demonstrate that these short-term effects are necessary to achieve the longer-term effects. That is, there is no such thing as tomorrow without today.

Abraham and Lodish’s “How Advertising Works” study (1990) led IRI to conclude that “if advertising changes do not show an effect in six months, then they will not have any impact, even if continued for a year.” Further IRI analyses (1990) found that “if an advertising test was not successful in year one . . . it would not become successful over time” (that is, years two and three).

Jones’ work (1995b) also “rejects the possibility of a ‘sleeper’ effect - the supposed build-up of a campaign which does not work immediately and only causes sales to rise after a prolonged period of media exposure.”

More recently, the ARS Group found that successful long-term brands continuously produce and air ads that build brand preference, sales, and share over time (Blair and Rabuck, 1998). In the study, 37 brands (with a total of 1,148 commercials) were sorted based on their sales performance over time. The brands that declined had an average ARS Persuasion level of just above three. Brands that maintained sales - or kept up with inflation - achieved an average score of +4.5 over the five-year period. The highest average ARS Persuasion levels were associated with the highest increases; the brands that grew (over inflation) did so with ads that scored an average of +5.7.

The bottom line? Short-term sales effects are necessary for long-term effects. That is, there is no such thing as advertising that builds brands (produces sales effects) tomorrow, without building the brand (producing sales effects) today!

How do brands do it today and tomorrow?

Now that it has been demonstrated that tomorrow’s success is the result of successes today and the next and the next, how do brands do it today and tomorrow?

1. Strong selling proposition: They first start with a strong selling proposition on which to base advertising executions, because the strength of a brand’s selling proposition is the most powerful factor determining advertising effectiveness. ARS Group studies indicate that if you begin with a strong selling proposition, 70 percent of the resulting advertising executions will be strong. When beginning with an average proposition, only 10 percent of the ads will be strong. Finally, if you start with a weak selling proposition, the odds of attaining strong, sales-effective advertising are virtually non-existent (Shirley, 1999).

As Miner Raymond (1990) said, “Your commercial and your advertising can be no better than the copy strategy on which they are built. . . . It takes an awesomely poor execution to bury a shining strategy. But no amount of executional brilliance can create a marketing strategy that isn’t there.”

2. Drivers of strong selling propositions: How do we develop a strong selling proposition or advertising idea? Uniqueness, or brand differentiation, is key here. Referring to the ARS Group’s continuing study of factors related to sales-effective advertising, Allan Kuse (1991) stated: “Brand differentiation is the one element most strongly associated with superior ARS Persuasion results.”

3. Execution: Once you have identified a strong selling proposition, there are some executional considerations that can be used to help ensure strong advertising. In Dartnell’s Advertising Manager’s Handbook, Tony Adams (1997) wrote: “ARS Validated Drivers indicate that when executing an ad, it is best to focus on the product, at the same time avoiding ‘superfluous’ executional details that will serve to detract from the message.”

4. Air, refresh, air, refresh: The next way that brands advertise effectively today and tomorrow is by accounting for the wearout factor, or following a systematic “air, refresh, air, refresh” process.

As was shown in Exhibit 2, an ARS Group study of wearout in scanner sales demonstrated that an execution’s selling power works quickly with diminishing returns. These diminishing returns seen in market performance have also been observed in the wearout of ARS Persuasion scores as the executions are aired. (See Exhibit 4.) Due to this predictable decline in sales-effectiveness, it is essential and practical to refresh the executions on a systematic basis.

Exhibit 5

The first example of a practitioner using this approach is the classic Campbell’s study published in the March/April 1992 issue of the Journal of Advertising Research . In this study you see effective advertising bringing about an immediate bump in share, then declining market share as the ad wears out. When the execution is refreshed with another persuasive ad, the cycle starts again, then again. Note that at the end of each period of airing, share remains at a higher level than before. (See Exhibit 5.) The more recent published Os-Cal case study provides another clear example . . . air, refresh, air, refresh. . . continuing to build brand preference, sales, and market share over time. (See Exhibit 6.)

Exhibit 6

5. Stay true to a consistent persuasive brand-differentiating strategy over time: In a 1994 study, the ARS Group found that nearly three-fourths (71 percent) of the superior persuaders produced by the long-term winners were based upon a brand-differentiating message, while only 25 percent relied upon “new news.” Although the testing history for many of these brands displayed periods of strategic experimentation, the ARS Persuasion results often steered the brands back to their basic bread-and-butter strategies. In a few moments you will see this principle in action when we look at our case studies.

Bottom line? In short, we have found that brands that consistently achieved success over the long haul tended to achieve that success by remaining true to the same persuasive brand-differentiating strategy over time.

Branding Model

I. The first component of the ARS Group’s Branding Model is the development of a unique product that meets the needs/desires of (many) consumers.

II. Then define the unique (differentiated) place the brand will own, over time, in the minds of consumers (that is, its features/benefits and personality).

III. Next, continuously advertise the brand (with its unique features/benefits and personality) in a consistent manner that builds brand preference, sales, share, and profits, both today and tomorrow.

IV. And when the brand’s uniqueness/differentiation diminishes and is no longer generating the desired advertising and market performance, it is time to improve the product relative to its unique features (benefits) and/or revitalize the brand relative to its unique personality.

And, back to Stage III, continuously advertise the brand relative to these product improvements and/or revitalized personality.

Case studies

We’ll examine the published Prego spaghetti-sauce study, in which the Branding Model and improved advertising process were followed over the first five years, then abandoned during the latter period. Then we will look at an 11-year Duracell case study in which the Branding Model and improved advertising process were followed over the entire 11-year period.

1. Prego spaghetti sauce (nine-year case study): In the beginning of the Prego case study, during Years 1 through 5, the average ARS Persuasion level for Prego’s advertising was +8, and the brand’s market share moved upward a whole 5-6 share points. This increase is only part of the story, since the market was growing at double-digit rates each year as well.

The researchers working on this Prego success said:

What underlies this five-year-long success story? A fundamental change in the advertising strategy and research process. Prego is the only Campbell’s brand in the last five years to:

  • consistently stay with the same (productive) selling proposition;

  • (ARS) Persuasion test every poolout prior to airing;

  • establish (ARS) Persuasion hurdles and stick to them;

  • utilize outlook® to create an awareness of when to refresh (Adams, 1997).

Over the next four years, the Prego brand group drifted away from its successful selling proposition and advertising process. Prego’s average ARS Persuasion level dropped to +4, only half of what it had been achieving during the successful five-year period. Share also declined, nearly reaching a nine-year low. (See Exhibit 7.)

Exhibit 7

Several selling-proposition tests were conducted for Prego in Year 5 because the brand group was bored with the current campaign. The results of Firstep testing suggested that, even after five years of use, the “thicker than Ragu” selling proposition that had been used for the first five years still had superior selling power. In Year 9, another test of the original selling proposition indicated that after nine years it still retained its effectiveness. Not knowing this, the brand group and agency walked away from their successful “thicker/tastes better” strategy and started on a decline.

This case study offers a valuable lesson for achieving consistent advertising success and long-term brand health: once found, a persuasive brand-differentiating strategy needs to become the consistent part of a brand’s ongoing advertising program, until it is no longer successful.

2. Duracell batteries: During the 11-year study, both Duracell and Eveready grew, but Duracell managed to take over and fortify the number-one spot, fueled by more persuasive advertising (an average ARS Persuasion level of +5.1, versus Eveready’s lower persuasiveness of +3.9). (See Exhibit 8.)

Exhibit 8

Duracell consistently followed the Branding Model. It stuck with the same brand-differentiating benefit (lasts longer) and brand personality (high quality/trustworthy) over the entire 11-year period. It has leveraged this consistent strategy and equity across time and the world, producing phenomenal marketing and business results. Our most recent Proprietary Brand Drivers reading indicates that Duracell’s “long-lasting” benefit is currently played back at two and one-half times the average ad. Its brand personality, “high quality/trustworthy,” is played back at five times the average ad, and its overall “equity” score is over three times the average. Note that these results are from a global ARS Group test, including feedback from North America, Latin America, and Europe!

Duracell’s brand building and equity can also be seen in financial terms. Duracell is the No. 1 player in the category with a market share of 44 percent versus Energizer’s 32 percent. Duracell has a higher price than Energizer, and - at $609 million - its profits are over double that of Energizer. Translation: The market value of Duracell as a company was over $8 billion, nearly triple that of Energizer.


A healthy brand today is advertised in a manner that builds brand preference, sales, share, and profits today. A healthy brand tomorrow is a healthy brand today, and the next, and the next. A healthy brand today and tomorrow continuously executes and advertises its unique (brand-differentiating) features/benefits and personality over time.

Let’s not oppress the industry with what Collins and Porras (1994) call the “Tyranny of the OR,” which “pushes people to believe that things must be either A or B, but not both. . . . A visionary company doesn’t seek balance between short-term and long-term, for example. It seeks to do very well in the short-term and very well in the long term.”

And to quote Disney’s Michael Eisner (Wetlaufer, 1999):

“A brand takes a long time to build, and a long time to destroy, and both happen as a result of lots and lots of small actions. If you want to be strong, each point along the way has to be as close to perfect as possible.”

In other words, brand-building is for today AND for tomorrow!


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