Wells Fargo cracked empowerment formula as advertising heated up in Q3, analysis finds

Dive Brief:

  • Wells Fargo commanded the top three spots for ads that were empowering to viewers in a new Ace Metrix analysis of the most effective video ads from the third quarter. PetSmart charted the most breakthrough ad, while a Snickers “First Visitors” spot was deemed the funniest.
  • Ace Metrix noted that seven of the 10 highest-scoring ads on its Breakthrough index featured a dog in their storyline or used one as part of the creative’s narrative. The report generally found a steady uptick in funny ads after the messaging approach hit a low point during the grim early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Ace Metrix analyzed more than 2,200 ads in Q3, the highest volume tested for the period since 2013. While brands waded into cultural conversations around racism as a protest movement picked up during the spring, many of the ads were seen as polarizing, not empowering, per Ace Metrix.

Dive Insight:

Ace Metrix noted that it tested more ads in Q3 2020 than any year since 2013, a trend it attributed to a swell of creativity that was spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic. Usually, Q3 is a more staid period as the summer months slow business down and marketers prep for the busier end-of-year rush. But after some advertisers went dark in Q2 at the outset of the health crisis, Q3 proved to be heavier on ads as marketers adjusted to a new normal and attempted to recapture consumer attention. 

“Third quarter advertising fit right into a year full of anomalies. What’s generally a quiet quarter before the onslaught of holiday ads turned into a game of catch-up for the industry which slowed down at the start of the pandemic,” Peter Daboll, Ace Metrix CEO, said in a statement. “In addition to traditional brands coming back on air, there were many new brands advertising in the third quarter including Landing, Whoop, and Incogmeato.”

The firm predicts fourth-quarter ad spending will increase for the holidays, but it remains to be seen whether brands will continue their messaging around subjects like voting, combating racism or fighting the coronavirus. Ace Metrix indicated that, while companies felt public pressure to make statements around movements like Black Lives Matter, these messages didn’t always resonate.  

Wells Fargo scored high marks on the empowerment scale by talking about the impact the company made, rather than lecturing consumers about their behavior or appearing to cash-in on sensitive topics. Being empowering while not being seen as exploitative continues to be a fine line for brands to walk, as Ace Metrix previous analysis of Q2 ads revealed.

Ace Metrix mentioned that brands were more willing to weigh in on racism, which was a significant part of the cultural discourse in the third quarter. However, the company inferred that those ads failed to take the top spots on its empowering list because they were too polarizing.

Though racism is a complicated issue to tackle, brands like Nike, Procter & Gamble and Ben & Jerry’s rose to the occasion through their own content or initiatives. However, some brands failed to resonate with consumers as they posted black squares on social media to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Even if ads addressing racism are uncomfortable to many U.S. consumers, research from Edelman suggests that others want brands to speak out about racial injustice.

Meanwhile, humor continues to receive a larger share of the spotlight, suggesting that more consumers are looking for a break from a chaotic year — and that brands can provide a reprieve.   

Snickers’ “First Visitors,” which topped the Funniest Ads chart, acknowledges pandemic realities without using a dour tone. In the spot, a man walks out to a hangout with friends without putting pants on, forgetting that it’s an in-person gathering rather than the Zoom meetings that have become ubiquitous as people look to stay connected online. Hotels.com, whose ad placed fifth in the humor rankings, is centered around the era of “2019 BC,” with BC standing for “before coronavirus” — a reference to how significantly life has changed in less than a year’s time. 

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