Good listening is key to advertising success

Kantar's Creative Effectiveness Award-winners demonstrate that effective communications require understanding people... which requires listening to them.
16 June 2020
Two people talking on windowsill
daren poole

Senior Director, Creative Domain

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Great advertising deeply resonates with its audience. When a favourite — or not-yet-favourite — brand talks to us a way where we feel heard, then we are more inclined to favour that brand. It might seem odd or counterintuitive to talk about ‘feeling heard’ when discussing billboards the size of boats and campaigns created by committee, but that is the magic of great advertising.

Behind ‘feeling heard’ is a team of effective listeners. In You’re not Listening, author Kate Murphy, writes “Hearing is passive. Listening is active… Understanding is the goal of listening and that requires effort.” Great advertising starts with great listening, because without knowing how your audience feels, what they are thinking and what they want and why, then advertising will miss the mark.

But good listening is just the start, as anyone who has ever called a customer service line and grown frustrated with the interaction knows. Today, customer service best practice recommends hiring for good listening skills and allowing customer service people to interact and respond intuitively and naturally with callers, while supported by background informational guidelines, supplied by computer algorithms. This results in a very different experience for the customer, even when the outcome is the same. Great advertising embodies the same principles, more than listening it requires demonstrating through your actions that you have heard.

The musical call-and-response of advertising

Highlighting the concept of great listening and response are winners of Kantar’s inaugural Creative Effectiveness Awards, celebrating the world’s best performing ads, as assessed by consumers.

Take the animated piece by Dutch meat brand Unox, showcasing its vegetarian smoked sausage offering. The storyline follows a nature-loving little girl whose father is a butcher. She switches the family’s dinner meat sausage for the Unox vegetarian option. The ad is successful because Unox listened and understood its audience. They recognised that not everyone may initially appreciate vegetarian ‘meats’, so they gently address that. In a sense, good listening means carefully responding with relevance and emotional attunement.

Sometimes good listening means hearing those who have never been heard. Managers of successful brands know that a brand can’t be everything to everyone, so they must choose who to listen to and how to respond with their offer and communications. The Kantar Creative Effectiveness Print and OOH #1 winner is a campaign by HSBC UK, which showcases the bank’s work to bring financial empowerment to some of the least empowered people in society — the homeless. The campaign highlights the fact that 1 in 45 people living in Birmingham have no address, which makes it difficult to get a bank account. HSBC works with local charities to help bring financial independence to the itinerant.

Sometimes good listening means hearing the sound of silence. While not exactly the sound of ‘one hand clapping in the woods’ – existentially not far off either. A heart-warming 60-second spot from chocolatier Milka that aired in Germany, which tops our our digital ranking at #1, takes the notion of not listening almost literally. It features a school-age choir girl and an older deaf custodian, who while working on the school’s Christmas scenery, unintentionally makes a bit too much noise, momentarily disrupting choir practice. In a charming twist, the ad finishes with the little girl performing her vocal solo, while signing in sign language, so he can understand. The multi-layered message of giving gratitude to unsung heroes at holiday time is gently conveyed; delivering on Milka’s brand purpose ‘to restore our faith in humanity by inspiring more acts of tenderness.'

Keeping an ear to the ground today

The importance of good listening can also be seen in current circumstances. Smart advertisers are responding to the pandemic with an understanding of where audience sentiment lays. Kantar's COVID-19 Barometer analysis shows that when lockdown began people were looking for practical support in their everyday and reassurance from advertisers. Attitudes have now shifted to a desire for demonstrations of leadership and strength from businesses. Smart advertisers will have responded to this shift in consumer sentiment to progress their message from one of comfort to one of authority.

While needs don’t fundamentally change, the lens through which audiences see them can. Right now, people are feeling a strong need for safety and security. Brands must be intentional in how they meet needs with current relevance, while doing so in a way that reinforces the brand and maintains long-term brand building.

Kantar's COVID-19 Barometer and Google can provide context on current tensions, but one of the best ways to actively listen is to ask questions. Audience listening in the form of advertising research to uncover human truths to power communications is essential to success. Kantar’s Life Streaming approach, which leverages ethnography and social media listening, delivers unique insight platforms for creative development, when combined with brand differentiators. When advertisers listen and respond appropriately the chances of creating world class advertising improve dramatically.

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kantar creative effectiveness awards winners
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