Les Binet wrote a Twitter thread on why to split “brand” and “activation” advertising.

« Peter Field & I recommend that marketers use a mix of “brand building” & “activation” communications. Our research suggests the optimum split is usually ~60% brand, ~40% activation, but varies by context. But why split brand & activation at all? Why not do both at once? »

« Definitions first:

  • By “brand building” we mean building & maintaining memory structures that have a lasting influence on consumer behaviour…  For example, a travel insurance firm selling to young people might sponsor a festival. If they do it well & get good exposure, they slightly increase the chance that youngsters think of them (& think well of them) when they need travel insurance. That’s brand building.
  • By “activation” we mean activating existing memory structures to elicit immediate behavioural responses…  The same firm might send email reminders to existing customers when it’s time to renew their policy. The aim here is not to change their perceptions of the brand, but to simply get them to click the “renew” button. That’s activation. »

« But can you do brand building & activation at the same time? Yes! In fact, all marketing activities tend to do a bit of both. That festival sponsorship may prompt a few immediate sales. That renewal reminder may improve brand image a bit if it’s well crafted. »

« But some activities are better for brand building, others are better for activation. That reminder email may trigger lots of renewals, but the effect on brand memories will be small. That sponsorship may improve brand image, but won’t stimulate many immediate sales. »

« Why are some activities good for brand building, while others are good for activation? Because these two jobs require different targeting, different content, and different responses. »

« Start with targeting. If you want an immediate response (activation) focus on people who are likely to respond right now. But if you’re creating lasting memories (brand building) then the audience can be anyone who might buy in the next year or so.  Targeting affects attention. People who are shopping right now want info about products, prices and how to buy. The broader pool of potential customers aren’t interested in those details yet. So you need to be more creative to get their attention. »

« Brand & activation need different content. Activation should be interesting, informative & useful for shoppers. Keep it directly relevant to their shopping mission. Brand should be more generally interesting. Connect the product to broader human concerns. »

« Brand & activation use different targeting & content in order to evoke different responses. Brand building creates lasting memories (that influence subsequent behaviour). Activation provokes immediate action (without the need for long term memories). »

« Brand building needs to interesting, relevant & memorable for anyone who might buy the category one day. Activation needs to be interesting, persuasive, useful & actionable for the few who are shopping right now. »

« Brand should be creative, entertaining, enjoyable. It works at the System 1 level, using emotions & feelings to create associations. Activation works at the System 2 level, delivering relevant & useful info to help the shopper. Entertainment may not be welcome. »

« Activation is often weak at brand building, & vice versa. The two activities require different targeting & content, & are processed in different ways. It’s not impossible to do both at once, but evidence from the IPA Databank suggests that it is inefficient. »

« But you do need to do both activation & brand building, because each makes the other work harder. So do them separately, making sure that people can connect them quickly & easily. Consistency, strong branding & clear relevance to the category help a lot. »

« And make sure you have a good balance between brand & activation comms. “The 60:40 rule” is just a rough guide. Some firms need more activation, others need more brand. »


Bruce Clark commented: « This is also a nice summary of the targeting choice. Brand broadly, activate narrowly. »


Les Binet coauthored several books with Peter Field including Effectiveness in Context. He also coauthored How Not to Plan with Sarah Carter.


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