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Feeling More in Financial Services: How a Metlife Meta-Analysis Cracked the Emotional Code

A spectre is haunting Europe: the spectre of short-termism. It was a major theme of the IPA’s Effectiveness Week event in London in October, and has been a preoccupation of analysts like Les Binet and Peter Field for years. In a nutshell, the charge is that short-term thinking and planning is having measurable negative impacts on ad effectiveness – campaigns, whatever media they use, are simply generating fewer large business effects for brands.

At TMRE, though, the topic hardly registered. It’s a debate that’s consuming marketers over the pond and doesn’t make a ripple in the US. If anything, short-term thinking has won the battle. “Business plans three years out are a waste of time”, announced Beth Comstock in her inspiring keynote.

But while you may or may not be planning for the long-term, the decisions you take as a marketer affect your brand for years to come – whether or not you intend them to. One of the few presentations which spoke to long-term thinking came from Metlife’s Nisha Yadav and System1s Brent Snider. Metlife understand the importance of the short term – sales activations, offers and direct marketing. But as a brand which has lit up the New York skyline above Grand Central Station for 75 years, they’re also acutely aware of the need to balance that with longer-term brand-building.

The lever they identified was emotion – from the work of Binet and Field we know that over the long term, ad campaigns which adopt an emotional approach are more than twice as likely to generate profitable growth than campaigns which go in a purely rational direction, or even mix the two. In the long run, generating strong positive emotion is what lodges a brand in people’s memories and leads to new customers and higher growth.

MetLife believed strongly in the principle. What they needed to know was how the emotional codes worked in the Insurance category.

There’s no universal formula for emotion. What drives it in one category may come over as tone-deaf in another. There’s a reason why life insurance tends not to lean too heavily on wacky cartoon characters or sexy models, however well they work elsewhere.

So Metlife and System1 worked to conduct a detailed category audit – how emotionally effective are insurance ads, and what makes people feel more in this sector?

The audit was powered in part by System1’s new Ad Ratings subscription service, which rates every TV ad that airs in the UK and the US across key sectors, including Financial Service. Ad Ratings, said Snider, proves that half of advertising really IS wasted – as much as £300bn of media spend put into mediocre, 1-Star Marketing that has almost no chance of driving growth.

Or to look at it more optimistically, for brands that can push the quality of their marketing above that average, there’s one hell of a lot of white space.

Metlife selected 130 ads from themselves and their competitors, from markets around the world and across multiple platforms, and ran emotional tests and diagnostics to come up with a meta-analysis of what exactly moved the needle. This competitive set of ads aligned with the general Ad Ratings financial services sector results at the top end, where 3-, 4- and 5-Star ads live. But at the lower end the competitive set produced more 1-Star marketing than the sector as a whole: there was real opportunity to work on eliminating that waste.

As well as looking at System1’s emotional metrics, the meta-analysis also looked at more traditional ad testing measures. What factors in insurance advertising drove purchase intent, for instance? The brand found four interlocking ones – but the most important of these was, yet again, emotional impact. The more people feel, the more people buy.

Finally, Metlife revealed a couple of the wider learnings – practical tips on what works and what doesn’t. Strong, clear storytelling works in all markets to drive emotion: if you bring to life the circumstances of a decision, the audience feel it better. Humor works only in some markets – in South Korea, a jokey ad with parents and children was a hit, but elsewhere insurance was seen as a more serious issue. And metaphors – the dramatic imagery of bullets, waves, rocks that brands use to seem more exciting – are a no-no: “People don’t have the time to puzzle it out.”

The session was a positive look at how a long-running brand can take a step back to deepen their understanding of their category and its codes. Getting a handle on emotion is a crucial first step in restoring long-term planning to its proper place.

(Disclaimer: Tom Ewing works for System1, though has not ever been involved in the Metlife account.)

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