Adwatch: The Economist's TV spot could be for a search engine

While laudable, this ad from Proximity could also be for higher education.

For the first time in a decade, The Economist launched a TV brand ad, "Never stop questioning". It’s a thoughtful spot about a woman’s curiosity maintained through the years, revealing at the end that she’s now a teacher, proud of her students’ shared inquisitiveness.

In Adwatch’s latest rankings, it only scores 36% on likeability and doesn’t at all rank on recall. In fairness, the low recall result could be due to a comparatively lower media spend than other tested spots. But it’s also likely that, while it tells a sweet story, it’s just not that memorable. Particularly in a UK advertising environment that's full of ads sharing a similar setting, tone and cadence (take the latest Department for Education work, for example).

Nor is it clearly linked to the brand. While "questioning" is indeed an interesting strategic space for The Economist, this execution doesn’t clarify the role for the brand within that territory. Does it inspire her questioning? Has it given her the answers? Or is it suggesting its journalists are more questioning? Maybe it’s intended to communicate all those things, because sometimes a brand’s role can be oblique. But in today’s economic environment, magazines are a discretionary luxury. So there’s greater pressure to deliver a very clear and motivating benefit, while cutting through in a memorable way. And, as the Adwatch rankings indicate, this ad hasn’t quite achieved this.

It’s important to applaud The Economist’s investment in emotional, long-term brand-building to complement its direct response efforts. There’s now more than enough marketing literature to support taking this approach. But the work doesn’t fully leverage its enviable distinctive assets, or establish product benefit or brand role, in a clear and memorable way. So, unfortunately, viewers could be forgiven for mistaking this for an ad for higher education or even a search engine.

TV ads 17 December 2018-17 January 2019. Adwatch research is conducted via an internet omnibus survey among 1,000 adults in Great Britain, aged 16-64, through Research Express, part of Kantar TNS, one of the world’s leading data, insight and consulting agencies. Data supplied by Ebiquity.  

Milla McPhee is head of planning at Adam & Eve/DDB

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