Expert's Opinion

Confessions of An Ex-Ad Killer

July 8, 2013

Elissa Moses explains her motives.

By Elissa Moses
Ipsos Center for Neuroscience and Emotion

It’s true. I’ve killed ads.  Mostly they were incomprehensible ads and irrelevant ads—boring ads, “way off brand character” ads and “no way on strategy” ads.  For the most part I am guilt free.  But every once in a while there is that ad your root for - - the one you can’t stop thinking about, the one that tickles your fancy and makes you smile.  But in my case, it never aired. And I was partly responsible.
Over the course of my extensive marketing and insights career, the ad haunts me to this day.  I was the advertising researcher at Gillette, evaluating ads for personal care products.  It was the late 1970s, (practically Mad Men days) and blow drying was the big innovation.  So naturally, we invented “Ultra Max,” the shampoo that helps you “Blow it up bigger.”  Think back to Farah Fawcett from Charlie’s Angels with that great big shiny blond “doo” and Donna Summer singing “Last Dance” at the disco, as you strutted your stuff in platform shoes. That was the vibe of the times. Big hair and disco were red hot and Ultra Max was going to explode shampoo sales by tapping into it.
The agency was “Advertising to Women” a Madison Avenue boutique that did edgy gutsy work—especially for their time.  Lois Ernst was the founder and grand creative poo-bah who used to breeze into conservative Gillette with her short skirts and high heeled ankle boots and have us hanging on every word.
So here was the concept: “Don’t just blow it up, blow it up bigger!” The idea was to show beautiful big haired people dancing at a disco while the strobe light effectively revealed them as wild animals for a split second or two, suggesting that primal nature is unleashed when you use Ultra Max.  (And who doesn’t want that?)
So the beautiful foxy red haired lady (I can still see her face) was transformed by strobe light into a fox. The gorgeous blonde with the big mane became a lioness and the really hot guy with full rich, black hair was revealed as a wolf! Ultra Max!
Then we went to focus groups in Charlotte, North Carolina where the politeness of the day led to “group think.” The young women built on each other’s discomfort despite being most likely aroused by the “raw, yet fun loving, sexuality” of the ad.
Being a good research soldier, I had to tell the truth about what I heard and saw.  “The women were uncomfortable.  They said they didn’t like it.” The rest is history.  The disco ad bit the dust but not before we all passed it around Gillette 1,000 times and got every last ounce of pleasure from watching it.
So what went wrong? Perhaps it was what should be an adage: The ad you can’t stop watching is not the ad you kill!
In the 1970s, and every era since, up until Neuroscience changed the market research industry forever about 5 years ago, there were no adequate tools to objectively evaluate the unconscious power of emotionally driven advertising.  Ad researchers had to rely upon conscious surveys and focus groups with danger of regressing to the mean of “group think” and “tell the interviewer what she wants to hear” syndrome. In such cases, the ad that is emotionally unnerving, wickedly funny or just super engaging but not rationally compelling is likely to be one that is left on the cutting room floor.
Fast forward to now when Neuroscience has advanced our understanding of engagement and unconscious emotion. With the power of Neuro research applications, including Biometrics, EEG, Implicit, Eye Tracking, etc., honest, involuntary unconscious emotional response to ads can be measured reliably.  Now the type of “can’t stop watching it” engagement that we experienced with Ultra Max can be quantified.
As never before, advertisers can access with quantitative certainty how ads engage and resonate emotionally, in addition to the important questions they answer about it. Moreover, with the most up-to-date tools like those used at Ipsos ASI, combining neurometrics with sound survey and qualitative tools, we can understand the power and potential of an ad thoroughly and reliably. We can prove what we feel in our gut when an ad is having a “WOW” brand impact.
So if truth be told, we don’t need to kill instinctively good ads anymore.  Thanks to neuroscience, it’s a far safer world for great advertising.

About the Author
Elissa Mosesis, executive vice president at Ipsos, head of the Ipsos Neuroscience and Emotion Centre of Excellence and an ASI Board member.  Expert in Neuromarketing and having developed and evaluated 1,000’s of ads, she is confident that unconscious measures provide critical value. Prior to Ipsos, she was Chief Strategy & Analytics Officer for the neuro research company EmSense.  Elissa has also held senior agency roles at BBDO, DMB&B & Grey, was Founder/Managing Director, of The BrainWaves Group and held corporate insight leadership positions at Philips, Gillette and Seagram.  She is author of the book The $100 Billion Allowance: Accessing the Global Teen Market, a frequent international speaker, North American Chair for the Neuromarketing for Science and Business Association (NMSBA) and a review editor for the Journal of Advertising Research. 

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