What the industry can learn from the top TV ads of 2016

The best-performing TV ads share four crucial characteristics that help them stand out from the crowd. Nielsen's Sam Davis and Chris Fagan explain what makes these spots so effective.

Gaviscon: legacy campaign that uses a familiar brand icon
Gaviscon: legacy campaign that uses a familiar brand icon

In today’s ever-connected society, advertising is everywhere. It is delivered to all devices, through all media, and yet TV still outperforms all other platforms when it comes to reaching a wide audience. 

It comes as no surprise, given the volume of advertising out there, that only a fraction of ads are able to cut through the clutter. 

To understand which ads are effective and why, Nielsen’s TV Brand Effect measures two key metrics: do viewers remember the narrative of the spot (ad memorability), and can they correctly identify the brand (brand linkage) based on their natural, in-home viewing experience, 24  hours after exposure.

The top ads of 2016 are a combination of familiar brands and new faces. Gaviscon holds the top spot for the second year in a row while Walkers makes the top five again, showing that consistent themes, effective use of brand icons and familiar creative styles are key drivers of performance. 

But Haribo, Tesco and M&M’s have all moved up the rankings significantly by using best practices.  

So what makes an ad stand out from the crowd? We have identified four key characteristics that combine to make ads successful. 

1. Upbeat, simple storylines

Keeping the attention of viewers is becoming increasingly difficult, considering 64% of consumers use  another device while watching TV, according to market research  company eMarketer. 

This means ads need to be clear, upbeat and simple to engage viewers from start to finish. All the top ads for 2016 avoid quick cuts or montage-style creative, opting instead for a small number of characters that integrate the brand with the storyline.

In the case of Gaviscon, this is reinforced further with a clear voiceover, preventing the need for the audience to decipher the emotions being felt by Tim/Tom. Tesco, on the other hand, uses a familiar, easily recognisable situation that minimises the processing required by the viewer.

2. Brand icons

Brand icons help link a brand to the content of the creative and can be anything from characters to distinct colours to familiar audio cues (think  of Asda’s "pocket tap", the "Intel inside" tune or, taking one of the current examples, the Haribo jingle). 

One of the elements that each of the top-performing ads for 2016 have in common (with the exception of Tesco) is that they are all legacy campaigns that revolve around familiar, recognisable brand icons. 

Gaviscon’s fireman, Haribo’s adults who speak like children, the talking M&M’s and Walkers’ use of Gary Lineker are all hallmarks of each individual brand and, in some cases, have been for more than a decade. The Tesco spot was the first in its campaign using Ruth Jones and Ben Miller, who have since become associated with the Tesco brand through several more executions.


3. Early branding

Nielsen’s neuroscience arm has identified that viewers are typically most engaged with an ad in its first ten seconds. The top-performing ads of 2016 pay tribute to this by displaying clearly visible branding early on. The ads for Walkers, Haribo and Gaviscon, for example, have simultaneous audio mentions of the brand name alongside the brand logo within the first third of the film. 

All of the top-performing ads also show their respective characters using the products themselves; placing the product at the focal point of the narrative and making the brand the hero. For Tesco, the in-store setting with on-brand colours, uniforms and signage is a prominent brand reminder to help drive the link back to Tesco.


4. Building the emotional connection

Emotionally evocative ads have a powerful effect on us, whether we are consciously aware of it or not – the aim being to associate the feelings we are experiencing with the brand or product being advertised. 

With the exception of Gaviscon, each of the top-performing ads uses humour. Humour is an effective way to drive memorability, engaging the viewer by building a strong emotional link with the brand and helping the brain to remember the experience.

Empathy is another strong driver of memorability, especially in instances where humour may not be appropriate. Gaviscon takes a more functional approach typical of the healthcare category, using a relatable context and familiar imagery to build empathy with the lead characters.

Sam Davis is research analyst and Chris Fagan is research manager of the TV Brand Effect at Nielsen