A-GRPs: Affinity Gross Rating Points

What if we found out that affinity was the most powerful communications effect translating into incremental sales dollars, even more powerful than reason-why or viewer-reward?

Let me back up a second and define what I’m talking about.

Affinity” is liking the brand. An ad that creates affinity — the feeling that “the brand is my friend” — is one type of communication. It works particularly well with true sponsorship (no hard sell ads), when the brand brings content that the viewer loves and is grateful to the brand for bringing. This can also be done in 30” and 60” form as in the great work of copywriter Nick Pisacane and Art Director Al Amato.

Reason-why” is when an ad appeals to reason and perhaps using demonstration, proves that the brand is superior to its competitors. Grey used to be noted for its work in this area. Bill Bernbach nailed this approach in the original breakaway Volkswagen ads.

Viewer-reward” (so named by great copywriter John Bergin) is when a commercial is fun to watch and produces liking for the commercial (maybe not so much for the brand). Phil Dusenberry was also famous for funny commercials that you could enjoy over and over. Pepsi was one brand that became identified with this style of commercial because of Phil and then Ted Sann, so that crossover to Affinity (true liking for the brand) was also occurring some of the time with these Pepsi ads.

These are three of the ways (creative strategies) — maybe not all the ways — that an ad can affect persuasion and sales.

Now that I’ve defined these terms, back to the point. What if Affinity — an ad’s creation of liking for the brand, the brand is my friend — turned out to be the most powerful driver of sales made by advertising today?

What evidence do we have for that hypothesis?

  • My work on True Sponsorship, which was published in the ARF Journal (see recent postings which also quote that 2006 paper).
  • The steady growth in Cause marketing. Brand Affinity is the cognitive/emotive channel through which Cause works. It is already over a billion dollars a year in the U.S. and very few papers have revealed how big an impact Cause has on sales. Cone Agency (won Strategic Agency of Year award in 2008) is exemplary in the work they do in Cause marketing and in building brand trust.
  • Brand distrust is the main factor working against all advertising, regardless of the creative strategy employed. I have been writing about the constant rise in brand distrust for, well, decades. This distrust is part of a greater distrust for government, everything and everybody, which has been growing for over 50 years — the era of conspiracy theory — and shows no signs of ending but rather keeps becoming more prevalent in our lives.  Since Brand Affinity is the opposite of Brand Distrust, this is one strong reason to form the hypothesis I am proposing.
  • Jim Spaeth, when running ARF not so long ago, pulled the industry together in a massive validation of all copy testing. The results surprised everyone including Jim and me, in finding that liking is right up there with persuasion as a factor in the success of commercials. In that case liking the commercial was the main point but was probably confabulated with some brand liking as well. (Note that the famous Piel’s ads which were widely liked had zero effect on sales; this was part of what led the industry to discount “liking” as having any importance in commercial testing — until Jim’s massive study just a few years ago.)
  • Joel Tucciarone reports the results of a study that found involvement to be more powerful than satisfaction in predicting brand loyalty. One of the key metrics within the Involvement score was high numbers on the semantic differential scale called “The Brand Is My Friend”.
  • Herb Krugman found that people made connections to brands, sometimes based on what they were experiencing during the time they took up with the brand; the number of such brand connections was found to be predictive of brand loyalty.
  • At ESOMAR a few years ago, then-P&G (today Medialinkllc) thought-leader and innovator Bernhard Glock said that P&G is interested not just in reaching consumers, but in touching their hearts.

Some people who like the commercial will also like the brand for having done it. More and more we have to learn how to increase this crossover. We also have to do studies to learn more about it.

On the Internet now, Facebook and many others are asking users to click on items they like, and are reporting how many people have already clicked that they liked it. This is a pool of information that can provide insights into Affinity and what makes it tick — and how and when it effects sales increases. Colligent  is doing the leading work in this area, measuring what 145,000,000 people say publicly they like in terms of over 37,000 brands, TV programs, etc. Colligent’s Chairman John Bess came out of P&G where he was a leader in the automation of a key research area; Sree Nagarajan is the computer genius who invented the cutting edge technique.

I for one see biometrics as a very promising area in general, and one which can shed important light into Affinity. Those insights will help enable us all to create ads and media vehicles for those ads (or true sponsorships without ads) and even branded entertainment apps which better create Brand Affinity.

Today, out of 100 people, about 4 are persuaded by the average ad, according to published ARS norms on persuasion. Of these 4 persuasion occasions, perhaps Brand Affinity caused 1 (or fewer), Reason-why perhaps caused 1, Commercial liking (viewer reward) caused 1, and maybe the 4th one was caused by sheer low-involvement reminder effect, priming the viewer to respond when cued by the package on the shelf.

The hypothesis espoused herein suggests that if we make commercials/environments creating more Brand Affinity, we can raise the average from 4 to 6, with half coming from the Brand Affinity strategy. This would not raise cost but would increase advertising effectiveness +50%.

Instead of promulgating empty impressions, the impressions would be payloaded with packets of Brand Affinity Persuasion — if we found that this moves the needle upward on sales.

We could add a Liking button on TV — something the ITV leaders such as Canoe and Brightline could implement.

We could even begin to count impressions this way. If we find that a commercial creates Brand Affinity in say 10% of those who see it, we can express that as A-GRPS or A-TRPs (Target Rating Points) by reducing the GRP or TRP by a factor of 10%. This would only make sense if we found that Brand Affinity translates almost directly into incremental sales creation — which hasn’t been established yet.

It looks like a promising direction for research to go in.

Best to all,



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  1. Pingback: Where Will Neuroscience Make Its Greatest Contribution to Advertising? | Bill Harvey Blog

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