What stars in Bible stories and peacocks tell us about 21st century media planning

What stars in Bible stories and peacocks tell us about 21st century media planning
The Media Leader Podcast

What do stars in Bible stories and peacocks tell us about 21st century media choices and planning?

They both emphasise the need to not just think about the efficiency of your message, but the connotations of your media choices to your brand, otherwise known as “the signal strength”, according to Richard Kirk, joint chief strategy officer at EssenceMediacom.

He sat down with Ella Sagar to discuss more about what this means for planning and in particular what certain media channels like social and search say about your brand.

Listen to an excerpt of the episode or read a transcript of the conversation below:

The Media Leader: Rich, you say God knew something media planners do not think about enough of. What do you mean by that? Let’s explore that a bit more?

Richard Kirk: The idea that is being referred to obviously is putting a giant, brand new celestial body right above your chosen location, which probably wasn’t the first answer that you would think of if you were approaching that as a pure media planner. But if you want to get some thought leaders to track miles and miles and miles on camels to visit your hotel, then you have got to do something pretty special.

And I think that’s because we’re releasing this around Epiphany, which is obviously the time when lots of people think about that particular part of the Bible story. So it’s a great example of not thinking in terms of efficiency about the message, but in terms of thinking about stature and what the actual chosen media for communication actually says about what it is that you’re trying to advertise.

For a long time now, the trend has been to grow spend in environments like the social feed and search results, both of which are excellent channels for various reasons. But if you think about it, from a point of view of “What is the decision to appear in this place saying about my brand?”, it becomes a little harder to explain.

There’s a lot of very rational reasons why you would appear there. But in terms of “What does that choice actually communicate to everyone?” and “Does that choice even matter?”… these are the kind of things that we were thinking about — myself, Ian Murray and Andrew Tenzer from Burst Your Bubble, who I did the research with.

Thinkbox and everyone says the media is the message. It’s a well-known phrase, but not a lot of people are trying to quantify if that’s true and, if so, to what degree. And that Bible story — I quite like it because when you think about the ad format that’s chosen, this giant star, it’s not even just a star.

There’s no creative, there’s not a message attached to it. It doesn’t have writing in neon lights on it or anything like that. It’s literally just by doing something so spectacular, people instantly attach a level of importance to what it is that you’re trying to communicate.

How to map media quality for physical and mental measures

The Media Leader: I think that medium is the message does sound great as a phrase, but try to delve into what does that actually mean in the day-to-day? And how do consumers see different media channels is a really interesting thing that I think media planners might need to look at in a slightly different way than maybe they have been doing previously. So you talk in the research about signal strength. We’ve touched on this a bit, but can you explain a bit more: what makes good signal strength?

Kirk: The reason why we use signal strength is because all of this research that we’ve done is born out of the theory of costly signalling. The most famous example of costly signalling that you might have heard of is that peacock and its tail feathers.

So Charles Darwin hated peacocks because if you think about the world, in Darwinian terms, the peacock shouldn’t exist — having a really heavy, cumbersome set of tail feathers should have disadvantaged the peacock to the point where it would become extinct or, over time, it evolved into something less likely to get eaten, basically. But the peacock survives. And there’s the exception to that sort of Darwinist way of thinking about nature.

Because the very fact that it can survive with such an incredible set of tail feathers is this amazing signal to potential mates that it is just basically an incredible specimen. So it’s a costly signal in that it’s got cumbersome, heavy tail feathers every single day, but when it comes to what matters, that signal stands that peacock in good stead.

What we set out to do is try and show in a real-world environment, or as close to a real-world environment as we could simulate, the same thing happens in advertising through the media that you choose.

Now, there was a lot of sort of dusty, college-based, lab-based research about this behavioural science from way back in the day. But Ian and Andrew worked with Thinkbox in 2020 to actually bring this into the real world and prove that it exists in their original paper, Signalling Success, where they showed that different channels were able to exert a different level of power on consumer perception.

So if you stripped away everything about a brand and just controlled for everything, apart from the media choice the brand made, knowing the choice that the brand had made in terms of what media was going to buy led consumers to have very different levels of brand perception.

And that is what we call signal strength: the ability to which the media channel is able to change people’s perception about the brand, when you control for every other characteristic such as brand size, the creative message, the amount of money being spent overall.

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