Does your brand have character?

Lloyd Thomason, Communication and Brand Strategist at TRA, explains why brand characters are dominating New Zealand’s Favourite Ads list.

TRA, in partnership with ThinkTV, regularly surveys New Zealanders to find out which ads are resonating, and which creative is going the distance. 

The survey asks a nationally representative sample of over 1,000 people the unprompted question; “What is your favourite ad on TV at the moment?”

The most frequently mentioned favourites make up the top 10 list. In the July 2022 survey, over half of New Zealand’s Favourite Ads featured brand characters. These campaigns have proven to be both popular and effective. And global research from System*  backs this up. 

Their analysis of all long-term campaigns in the IPA database since 1998 found that those featuring “character fluent devices” generate larger, longer, and broader effects. This includes customer gain, profit gain, market share gain, and reduction in price sensitivity. 

Despite this, System noted “a sharp decline” in use of characters globally. This seems to have less to do with marketing effectiveness and more do with recurring characters being out of fashion. But that’s no longer the case in New Zealand. 

ASB, Westpac and ANZ all have their own ongoing characters. So does Genesis, Meridian, Powershop and Mercury.

Lloyd Thomason.

There’s Tina from Turners, the Swim Reaper for Water Safety New Zealand – the list goes on.

Perhaps the evidence-based marketing of Byron Sharp, Peter Field and Les Binet, and Mark Ritson has played a role in this resurgence. Long-term brand building, emotional storytelling, and distinctive assets are increasingly part of the vernacular in marketing circles. 

Characters are an excellent way to achieve all three.

With more brands turning to the power of character-driven campaigns, we used our analysis of New Zealand’s Favourite Ads to unpack the reasons for considering one.

Reason #1 Characters are the Kings and Queens of salience

As Ritson says: “The first rule of brand should be, first they must know it’s me.” This is what distinctiveness is all about: a brand shows up looking like itself and gets the credit for the entertaining work it creates. 

Characters can be powerfully distinctive. For example, Stickman, his yellow world, and Paul Ego’s voice have become instantly recognisable for PAK’nSAVE. The salience achieved through this campaign has helped the brand fend off fierce competition for over a decade.

Reason #2 Characters reinforce brand positioning 

This is not a requirement for every character. The Geico Gecko and the Dulux Dog are examples of how meaningless distinctiveness can be effective.

But it is worth considering how the character might differentiate the brand.

Meridian’s new Nature superhero character does this well – signifying the brand’s sustainable energy credentials and commitments.

Reason #3 Characters unify campaign messaging

Creative commitment to a character across messaging layers can make the whole of the campaign greater than the sum of the parts. 

ASB use Ben and Amy to link executions. The characters work as a powerful visual shortcut to all the positive emotions and associations Kiwis have with their story.

Reason #4 Character-led campaigns are built to last

ASB’s Goldstein ran for 10 years. Stickman is over 14 years old. Done right, brand character campaigns wear in, not out. 

Building an enduring platform was the goal for Genesis, who recently introduced Kiwis to George and her family. Kiwis will learn more about the family with future executions that talk to a range of proof points. 

Reason #5 Characters can become loved cultural icons

Many of us remember the characters we grew up with fondly. With so many making the Favourite Ads list, it’s clear that the new generation of characters are a hit with Kiwis too.

Aim to make characters that are remarkable, rewarding, and resonate at a cultural level.

Get this right and Kiwis will become invested in their story and look forward to seeing more of them. 

It’s clear character-led campaigns are back in fashion, but there’s a lot to consider before developing one. 

From creating and launching the character, to keeping their world fresh and interesting, it requires long-term thinking and exploration. 

Get it right and the results will be well worth it. 

* System, Fluent Devices Case Study, Published 2019

Kiwi’s top 10 favourite ads

  1. Westpac – Together Greater

2. Genesis – Introducing George and her family

3. ASB – Ben and Amy

4. Trustpower – Meant to be Together

5. McDonalds – Then. Now. Always

6. Cadbury – Mum’s Birthday

7. ANZ – We do How

8. PAK’nSAVE – Stickman

9. KFC – General promotions

10. Meridian Energy – Be good to nature

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