July 2nd, 2020

Q2’s Top Performing Ads: Purpose vs. Product


Ace Metrix

Last quarter, in response to the cultural climate, the duality of product and purpose played out among ads. Brands rose to the challenge of advertising during particularly sensitive times. Many stepped up to the purpose plate in response to COVID-19 with ads promoting charitable efforts, CSR action and/or words of encouragement (eg. “we’re in this together”). At the end of May, as the national conversation shifted from the pandemic to racism, a handful of brands stepped up to take a stand with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Among regular (non-purpose) ads, a safe (and popular) bet was producing product-centric creative. As lockdowns halted campaign production and limited filming capabilities for new ads, brands and agencies got creative with what resources were available. That meant sometimes products had to step in as the spokesperson when characters were not an option.

Because of this duality between product and purpose, we’re recognizing Q2’s most Empowering and most “Prodtastic” ads. These two metrics originate from Ace EMO, which measures the strength of emotional and cultural connection using Natural Language Processing and machine learning analysis of voluntary verbatim comments. Scores are determined relative to every ad in the Ace Metrix database and are passively derived so responses aren’t susceptible to forced exposure bias (eg. survey questions like “how heartfelt was this ad?”).

Q2’s Most Empowering

We recorded an unprecedented spike in ads registering signal on our Empower metric — 37% of all those in Q2 to be exact. Historically, only 12.5% of all ads scored on it. This uptick was the direct result of the pandemic as 63% of Q2’s Empowering ads were COVID-19 themed (as were all but one of the top eleven ads below).

2020 Empower Ads Chart_Ace Metrix

The Empower score measures positive Cultural Perception, indicating when an ad’s purpose-driven message inspires, encourages or motivates viewers. Purpose during the pandemic came naturally to brands and the universal impact of COVID-19 meant most, if not all, of the viewers could connect with brands’ efforts.

Brand Ad Title Length Empower Band
Frito-Lay It’s About People 1:00 Extreme
Mercedes-Benz Be The Best 1:00 Extreme
Brawny Giants Initiative 0:30 Rare
Sports United Real Heroes 1:55 Rare
Angel Soft Give Together Now 0:15 Rare
Subaru Never Been More True 0:30 Rare
Frito-Lay #Joygivers 0:30 Rare
Lowe’s Giving Thanks 0:30 Rare
Facebook Cheers 1:00 Rare
Michigan State Beat the Odds 0:30 Rare
Lyft Rallying Our Community 0:25 Rare

Frito-Lay’s “It’s About People” exemplifies the best of COVID-19 advertising. The Extreme level of Empowerment contributed to its sky high Ace Score of 763, which remained the strongest this quarter. In a similar fashion to Frito-Lay, Mercedes-Benz’s “Be The Best” broadcasted the brands philanthropic COVID-19 initiatives, providing concrete examples of what the brand was doing to help. A whopping 77% of viewers reported a positive change in brand perception. The COVID-19 ad norm is 60%.

Ads from Sports United, Lowe’s and Facebook were the only three of the top ten that featured “Thank you” messaging — a common trend among COVID-19 ads. Each of these three brands put their own unique spin on the concept in a way that captured strong levels of Attention and Likeability:

Attention & Likeability gap-to-norm Scores Chart: "Thank You" Empower Ads Q2

The only ad among the most empowering that is not COVID-19 related is Michigan State’s “Beat the Odds.” In the ad, Piotr Pasik shares how he defies his limits living with cerebral palsy and how he is able to help others at Michigan State. Aside from empowering, his inspiring narrative drove strong Breakthrough (13% above norm). Michigan State’s message of inclusion drove consideration that was comparable to other recent University ads.

In terms of negative Cultural Perception, the number of COVID-19 ads with Exploit signal in Q2 started out comparable to normal ads and close to historic norms (12%). However, there was an inflection point in May. This change was the result of more brands entering the COVID-19 field and diluting the messaging and also more ads branching out from the typical heartfelt and inspiring themes. Michigan State’s “Beat the Odds” and Sports United’s “Real Heroes” were the only two ads among Q2’s most empowering to register Exploit signal but it paled in comparison to their Rare Empower scores.

2020 Exploit Ads Chart_Ace Metrix

Q2’s Most Prodtastic

Prod (short for product) + tastic (forming adjectives denoting someone or something regarded as an extremely good example of their particular type) measures when the product advertised generates an emotional response from viewers and is the primary driver of the ad (as opposed to storytelling). Oftentimes it is expressed as a general fondness for the product and/or its attributes. Last quarter, 20% of all ads scored on this measure (vs. 12% historic norm). Non-COVID ads were the main contributors to this increase as only 17% of Q2’s Prodtastic spots were COVID-19 themed.

2020 Prodtastic Ads Chart_Ace Metrix

Brand affinity sometimes contributes to Prodtastic signal, but ultimately the creative drives this response with an enticing product display. All of these brands are well established, like Cheerios and Tide. However, a number of the products advertised were relatively new.

Brand Ad Title Length Prodtastic Score
Tide Get It Clean 0:15 10
Tropicana Very Refreshing 0:15 9.4
Campbell’s Delicious Flavor 0:15 9.4
Dove Soap The Best Brand 0:15 9.2
Ocean Spray X Nature 0:15 9.1
Cheerios Taste the Crunch 0:15 9.1
Hellman’s Big Appetite 0:15 9.0
Bounce Simple Use 0:30 8.9
Lysol Super Clean 0:30 8.4
Kraft Savor the Sizzle 0:15 8.3

Early on, our Prodtastic metric was making a name for itself among the highest scoring non-COVID-19 ads. All but one of Q2’s most Prodtastic ads followed suite in achieving Ace Scores significantly above the recent all-industry norm. The highest scoring was Hellmann’s, followed by Lysol and Ocean Spray.

“With “Get it Clean,” Tide earned the highest Prodtastic score possible and an Ace Score 18% above norm. Positive purchase intent was also strong, as 66% of viewers reported they were much more/more likely to buy the new product type from the established brand. Affinity for the brand helped drive this interest. Almost 1-in-4 viewer verbatim comments referenced their perception of the Tide brand:

“didn’t know tide made a spray like that…have to look for it” Female 50+

“I love this brand and the ad and the quality of its products” Female 36-49

“It’s a great way to introduce a new line from Tide.” Female 21-35

“A very useful product by a trusted brand” Male 36-49

In addition to Tide, the top ads from Cheerios, Hellmann’s and Bounce promoted new products. Hellmann’s introduced its drizzle sauces so viewers could “make home the best restaurant around.” With an Ace Score of 716 it ranks fourth among all of Q2’s ads on this metric.

The relevant reasoning, which tied-in to current circumstances (more cooking at home), and food close-ups made Hellmann’s new product line stand out as the Single Best Thing about the ad to 39% of viewers. This positive response towards the product drove the strongest top-2 box purchase intent with 74% of viewers reporting they were much more/more likely to buy:

The only COVID-19 themed ad among the most Prodtastic was Lysol’s “Super Clean,” which covered proper product usage and effectiveness (“kills 99.9% of viruses & bacteria”). It significantly beat norms across all component measures, but Desire and Relevance were the main creative drivers behind its success. Aside from Prodtastic, viewers found this ad conveyed important information in a Clear & Concise manner:

Lysol "Super Clean" Emotional Profile from Ace Metrix

“the ad focused on the product in a clear, concise way and the music was right for what was going on in the product.” Male 50+

“Simple and easy to understand ad. Great job advertising.” Male 21-35

“it was to the point, moved just right and provided the info it should have, was kind of cute.” Male 50+

Prodtastic AND Purpose

Products and purpose are not completely void of one another in advertising. In fact 5% of breaking ads in Q2 scored on both Prodtastic and Empower. It was more common among the COVID-19 ads (7%) as opposed to regular, non-COVID-19 ones (3%). However, brands often chose to emphasize one over the other as strength of signal for Prodtastic and Empower had an inverse relationship in Q2. The highest scoring Prodtastic ads had weaker Empower signal on average than the lower scoring Prodtastic spots.

Among Q2’s top ads, Ocean Spray’s “X Nature” and Frito-Lay’s “#Joygivers” earned scores on both, but for Ocean Spray Prodtastic signal was much more dominant and the opposite was true for #Jorgivers. In “X Nature,” Ocean Spray explained how sustainability shapes each and every one of its juices which gave viewers an Authentic, Empowering impression of its products:

Emotional Profile and Empower Score for Ocean Spray "X Nature" from Ace Metrix

The uplifting message in “#JoyGivers” is what drove its Empower score. However, Prodtastic signal came from viewers gushing over Frito-Lay’s products despite the subtle branding (compared to other Chip/Snack ads) and lack of actual products in the ad:

“I already love and buy lay’s products, but the fact that they are donating to feeding america makes me happy to continue supporting the brand.” Female 21-35

“It was simple, not annoying, and made me happy for humanity. I saw a product I enjoy being used to benefit people.” Male 21-35

“really good ad!!! lay’s joygiver and what gives more joy then lay’s low salted potato chips. Yum!!!” Female 50+

Goodbye Q2

Describing this year as tumultuous feels like an understatement, but advertisers are managing the current climate by balancing product and purpose. The ads recognized above stood out in those two categories among the nearly 1,900 others we tested from Q2. Congratulations!


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