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Amitava Chattopadhyay


Amitava Chattopadhyay
Emerging Market Multinationals - Amitava Chattopadhyay


Suzuki

When Advertising is Just a Waste of Money

Watching the recent cricket test match between India and England on TV in India, I was staggered at the level of advertising repetition I experienced. During one hour, I decided to keep track of the commercials aired. The brands and the number of times they advertised during the hour period are below.

As one can see, 17 different brands advertised during the hour. These brands covered a broad range of categories across products (e.g., Blenders Pride, CEAT and Panasonic) and services (e.g., Amazon and McDonald’s), as well as domestic (e.g., Idea, Fogg and Kent) and global (Axe, Google and Suzuki) brands. Of the 17 brands that advertised, 11, or a whopping 65 percent, aired their ads three times or more, with Gionee, the Chinese mobile phone maker showing the exact same “creative” a mind-numbing seven times during the hour!

Advertising Repetition Levels in India are Off the Charts! How Much Money is Being Wasted?

Watching the test match between India and England on TV in India I was staggered at the level of advertising repetition that I experienced. During one hour, I decided to keep track of the commercials aired. The brands and the number of times they advertised during the hour period are below. As one can see, 17 different brands advertised during the hour. These brands covered a broad range of categories across products (e.g., Blenders Pride, Ceat, and Panasonic) and services (e.g., Amazon and McDonald’s), as well as domestic (e.g., Idea, Fogg, and Kent) and global (Axe, Google, and Suzuki) brands. Of the 17 brands that advertised, 11, or a whopping 65%, aired their ads three times or more, with Gionee, the Chinese mobile phone maker showing the exact same creative a mind numbing 7 times during the hour!

repetition

This brings me to the main point of this blog.  Why so much repetition?  Theory has it that consumer response to repetition follows an inverted-U shape.  That is, initially, consumer response increases with repetition, as consumers learn about the brand, but then declines, as repeatedly watching a brand’s advertising becomes boring and irritating.  The point at which additional exposures has a negative impact depends on the complexity of the advertising, the amount of attention consumers pay to advertising, and the like.  Most lab studies, which show participants ads embedded in a TV program during a viewing episode of less than one hour find that optimal impact is reached with three exposures, declining thereafter. According to Siddarth and Chattopadhyay (1998)[1], field studies find that incremental repetitions starts to have a negative impact on consumer responses somewhere between 12 to 15 exposures over a two-month period.  Indeed, Siddarth and Chattopadhyay (1998), show that, across product categories, consumers are likely to channel switch while watching TV, if they see a given commercial more than 14.5 times, and also show that channel switching negatively impacts purchase behavior. Importantly, these results were obtained using a dataset spanning two years!

To those of you who don’t know about cricket, a day of test cricket spans three, two-hour sessions.  The ads above were repeated throughout the day. Thus, 65% of the brands above would have been seen 18 times or more while viewing a single day’s play; for Gionee, the most advertised brand, there would have been 42 exposures. Across the five days of a cricket test match, and ardent follower of the game would have seen 65% of the ads a nauseating 90 times or more and even the lightly advertised brands, well above the 15 exposure threshold. Gionee’s advertisement would have been seen 210 times!  However, one slices the data, there is cause for concern.  Are these brands overexposing themselves to their detriment?

The research data on repetition effects I refer to above are from American consumers.  So one question to ask is, are Indian consumers different?  My intuition suggests that they cannot be that different.  Seeing an Amazon ad 90 times, an Axe ad 120 times, a Raymond ad 150 times, and a Gionee ad 210 times cannot reasonably be expected to not turn off a consumer through over exposure. Repetition beyond a reasonable level is annoying and turns consumers off a brand, be they American or Indian. Thus, I would submit that there is a significant degree of over-advertising in the Indian marketplace, which is not doing the sponsoring brands any good, and most likely hurting them. I’d like readers to weigh in with data from Indian consumers in support or otherwise.

[1] Siddarth, S. and Amitava Chattopadhyay (1998), “To Zap or Not to Zap: A Study of the Determinants of Channel Switching During Commercials,” Marketing Science, 17 (2), 124-138.

What makes companies continue to use Salman Khan as a spokesperson/brand ambassador???

For the last twelve years the case against Bollywood actor Salman Khan, for driving his SUV while drunk and ploughing into five homeless people who were sleeping on the street, killing one and seriously injuring the other four, has been winding through the Indian courts. Importantly, following the event the actor did not turn himself over to the police for eight hours, and is on record saying he was not the driver when the incident occurred, although recently in the Mumbai court proceedings two witnesses have come forward to say that he was in fact the driver of the car and not his bodyguard who claimed to have been the driver, originally.

Salman Khan

Why am I talking about this incident? The reason is that Salman Khan continues to act in numerous movies, continues to be a box office draw, and continues to be the spokesperson (or brand ambassador if you prefer) for numerous domestic and international brands. The last one in particular is striking as large corporates from around the world including Pepsico’s Mountain Dew; Coca Cola’s, Thums Up; Suzuki of Japan; Splash, the Middle East’s largest fashion retailer, as well as India’s Hero Honda, Sangini Jewelry, Yatra.com, and many other brands have contracts with Salman Khan!

To me, this is quite surprising because the brand owners are exposing the brands to risk. Indeed, in most markets around the world, even the hint of impropriety leads companies to drop the spokesperson. For example, following Tiger Woods’ car accident in late 2009 and his acknowledgement of marital infidelity, he was rapidly dropped as the spokesperson for AT&T, Accenture, Gatorade (a Pepsico brand), and Gillette (a P&G brand). Why did these brands drop Tiger Woods? According to one report, shareholders of the sponsoring companies lost between US$5 and 12 billion as a result of the scandal with “Investors in the three sports-related companies – video game maker Electronic Arts, Gatorade and Nike – fared the worst, experiencing a 4.3% drop in stock value.”

Most of us I think would agree that negligent homicide is a more heinous crime to be accused of than marital infidelity. If that is so, why is it that after 12 years, leading companies from India and around the world continue to sponsor Salman Khan? Is it that the local subsidiaries of global companies and Indian corporates are less knowledgeable about the potential consequences of using a scandal tainted spokesperson? Or is it that Indian consumers are so star struck with Bollywood actors that notwithstanding the accusations which look more and more true, they continue to adore the stars? Either way, it raises questions about Indian companies and consumers. I’d like to hear from you as to what you think!


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