What Makes an Ad Memorable? [New Data]

Think about the last commercial you remembered.

What made it memorable about it? That’s the answer every advertiser wants to know. I tend to remember ads that are funny and / or relatable, but is that how it is with most consumers?

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Let’s see what recent data suggests about memorable ads and discuss some tips for your next campaign.

Why Consumers Remember Ads

We surveyed 281 U.S. consumers and asked them to remember a recent ad they saw and what made it memorable. Respondents could only choose one answer.

Here are the results.

Hubspot's 2021 Memorable Ads Survey

Our research found that funny commercials were the main reason respondents remembered ads.

The second highest answer was the value respondents attributed to the information presented in the commercial.

The remaining options each made up less than 8% of the responses. Some remembered the ad because the product featured seemed valuable (7%), the ad told an interesting story (4%), or a catchy element like a jingle or slogan (4%).

Other reasons were:

  • It showed interesting characters (3%)
  • It was high action (3%)
  • It made them sad (2%)
  • It relates to a topic that interests me (2%)
  • it featured a celebrity or expert they knew (2%)

This survey also found that ad quality was the least popular reason for ad recall, whether it was high budget (1%) or low budget (1%).

Insurance company The General is a great example of how low-budget ads can negatively impact brand awareness.

CEO Tiku Raval recently announced to AdWeek that the nature of the ads made consumers believe they were not a legitimate and credible company. Because of this, the brand recently revamped its ad strategy with a fresh, new look.

The brand didn’t do this in silence, they attacked the elephant in the room and addressed this misunderstanding in their latest ads.

Now back to the research.

Eight percent of respondents said they remembered the ad for other reasons. One could be that the ad uses fear as this is a common tactic used in commercials. In particular, those that aim to change user habits or encourage them to act, such as voting or smoking.

Now that we’ve looked at the results of the survey, let’s look at two of the most popular (and effective) advertising media and how they appeal to consumers.

The use of humor in advertising

In my recap of the top YouTube ads for the past two years, five out of nine ads that ranked were funny.

Our research found that ads with humor were the strongest in ad recall. This supports research from a 2018 Clutch advertising survey that showed consumers prefer (and remember) ads that make them laugh.

Likewise, six out of nine ads that received an “A” rating in Kellogg’s 2021 School Super Bowl Advertising Review were humorous.

So the question is why? Well, humor – when done right – brings people together through shared experiences. This is exactly what meme marketing is based on.

It enables people to forget their stress.

The thing about humor is that you have to get it right. Otherwise you risk a PR crisis.

Thinking back to 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 crisis, many brands have stopped advertising and avoided humorous advertising altogether as many consumers found it inappropriate.

While the pandemic was extremely difficult to control, there were some moments of ease that could work well for publicity.

Executive Creative Director Dave Hannenken of the Hoffman York advertising agency wrote an article highlighting some of the shared experiences we had during the pandemic. Work from home, bake banana bread, spend more time with children and pets.

Getting humor right is about finding common ground and expanding it. Once you start focusing on something too unique and personal, you can land in the hot seat.

The use of education in advertising

At the beginning of the buyer’s journey, consumers are unaware of the solutions to their problems. They may be aware of the challenges they are facing, but that may also be further down the journey.

What we do know is that education can be a powerful tool to build trust with your target audience and help them move the funnel down.

Data from a 2018 Clutch advertising survey showed that consumers want ads to teach them something. Fifty-one percent of respondents said they wouldn’t like an ad because it wasn’t informative.

Viewers want to leave an ad that knows about the product, brand, and even the industry.

Educational advertising can work especially well for sustainability-conscious brands that share facts about the environment in their ads and explain what their company is doing to counteract it.

They address consumers who value social responsibility and who make purchasing decisions based on this – according to a report from 2019 that is around 46% of consumers.

Education can also be effective in advertisements aimed at promoting an action or changing behavior.

While humor is a great way to get their attention, it’s not the only way to grab an audience. To create compelling and memorable ads, you need to know your audience, understand their challenges, and find common ground that resonates with them.

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