Gratitude Reach Units (GRUs)

“Quality Of Life (QOL) advertising/promotion… advertising/promotion designed to trigger a feeling of appreciation or gratitude as the audience realizes that the advertiser has made a positive contribution to the quality of life, either in the advertisement/promotion itself, or in a separate event that the advertising/promotion recounts.” —Media Science Newsletter, June, 1979

Since 1979, there has been an upsurge in the use of Cause Marketing to the point of overload, as pointed out in the June 1, 2010 AdAge blog by Mike Swenson, CEO of Barkley, whose Cause agency clients include H&R Block, Lee Jeans, and the March of Dimes. Mike comments that when Cause is done right, the emotional partnership with the audience is achieved, but this emotional connection is missed when Cause is just another incentive to buy a product right away. He more broadly observes that Cause is in danger of being moved into the promotions department where its practitioners will have no in-depth appreciation for how it works or what it is meant to be, hence they will eliminate its effectiveness both for social good and for profits.

The only way for gratitude marketing to work is for it to be motivated by social good as much as by company good. The reason is that the public is so cynical and suspicious, they will root out insincerity even if it is artfully concealed. As if a great law of karma were at work: gratitude can only be an effective strategy if it is done with real intent for social benefit. Therefore the selling must be side-stepped, if not left out entirely.

Have these ideas ever been empirically tested, that a gratitude strategy can work if the  advertising does not try to sell, and merely provides a gift of some kind to its audience? There are 28 cases summarized in an ARF paper I co-authored in 2006, reporting that Internet sponsorships can generate extremely high persuasion scores and ROIs when there is no selling at all, and when the content is something that the audience can reasonably be expected to perceive as an unexpected gift.

Such as what? What kinds of communication content have been proven to generate these high metrics? Objective product information that is not entirely positive (gift of honesty), yet is utilitarian and not-overworn; information of interest to specific target audiences (e.g. Volvo sponsors Yahoo coverage of The NY Auto Show — Volvo paid so buyers could see Volvo competitors too — again gift of honesty, this time also showing confidence in one’s product); and educational content (e.g. how to be a great digital photographer). These are the dominant three content types across those studies.

Not included in that ARF paper but learned elsewhere we also know now that gratitude strategy can work with true sponsorship (“true”=no selling) of:

  • content that is hard to come by (e.g. jazz),
  • a report of some act of good corporate citizenship (Cause),
  • content that is inspiring and/or educational, and so on — the possibilities are endless, depending on the interests and lifestyles of the people in the target audience.

The idea of Gratitude Reach Units (GRUs) — which I had referred to as “QOL spots” in the 70s — resurfaced in my work for Internet publishers using the gratitude strategy. These publishers were achieving high CPMs and renewal rates with their advertiser clients, because marketing mix modeling and persuasion scores were so high. However, their Internet work for these advertisers remained a very small part of the total marketing pie for these same advertisers, because a gratitude-producing site on the Internet has very low reach. Yet the right sorts of people come to the site, the very ones that the brand is most interested in reaching, and they leave with an increased trust and liking for the sponsoring brand — because the brand did not ruin the moment by selling.

The Internet publishers were happy with Next Century Media's work in gratitude effect. But they wanted to find a way to become more important to their advertiser clients, and to somehow release their powerful gratitude method on a larger audience.

Hence the idea of Gratitude Reach Units — use some of a brand’s 30-second TV spots as GRUs, miniprograms with zero brand-sell, just with well-produced useful and/or inspiring content. Reports of humanitarian work in some cases; 9-year-old girls who sing opera as if trained for decades; true stories of everyday unsung heroes who go on every day nonetheless — whatever it might be. Again, the content is endless.

Not in a low-reach (“pull”) Internet site, but a 30- second (“push”) TV spot where high reach can be achieved.

For most brands’ targets, the content will mirror the kinds of content that ANA’s Family Friendly advertiser effort — led by folks like Barbara Bacce-Mirque — has been seeking and putting on the air for many years. In GRU form it will only be 30- (actually anywhere in the range of 20-120) second form rather than 60 minutes.

For a smaller number of brands aimed at younger people, GRUs may need to be edgier.

This is a testable concept. A brand can take a small percentage of the inventory it has already been allocated in an upfront buy — say 3% of the brand’s inventory — and use it for GRUs. Marketing mix and singlesource (and holdout geo areas) can be used to accurately measure the ROI impact of GRUs. If it lifts ROI, further testing can then optimize the percentage that should be GRU. It will undoubtedly differ by brands — more GRUs being desirable where the brand itself is perceived by most buyers to be at parity without significant advantages, fewer GRUs where the brand has a compelling and evident competitive edge.

Affinity/liking for the brand, respect, trust, appreciation, gratitude, “the brand is my friend”, experiential connections with the brand, inspiration — these will be the main diagnostic metrics to be used in creating and pre-testing program content for GRU sponsored miniprograms to run in commercial inventory. Neuromarketing measures should go beyond arousal and approach/avoidance, attempting to find a detectable signature for the gratitude effect. Frontal lobes, and smile/frown muscle electromyography, are two of my hunches, in the search for gratitude detection. Obviously the better we can pre-test and improve GRUs the more effective they will be in terms of financial ROI.

Who knows how great the ROI might turn out to be in terms of social good?

Best to all,

Bill

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