Whassup? Happiness is a Cigar called Hamlet. Got Milk? Like A Good Neighbour, State Farm Is There. The Gold Blend Couple. If you’re reading this in the US or UK, at least one of those phrases is likely to have immediately set off memories and images from famous advertising of the past.
What they have in common isn’t just that they were memorable slogans and ideas, and played a part in creating some of the great emotional advertising of their day. They were repeated over the course of a campaign, meaning the positive emotion and associations they generated could be carried over from advert to advert, helping long-term brand-building. They established situations and characters which could be recognised immediately by the viewer, making recognition faster and delivering positive emotion more quickly.
At System1 we call these repeated ideas Fluent Devices, because the biggest thing they can do for advertising and brand-building is harness and build Fluency for a brand. Fluency is all about speed of processing – along with Fame and Feeling it’s one of the three main heuristics that drives System 1 decision-making. The rule of thumb of Fluency is – if you can recognise something quickly, it must be a good choice. Or to put it another way, familiarity breeds contentment.
By being quick to recognise, Fluent Devices in advertising might just be the best way to create Fluency for a brand. They can also become new distinctive assets for a brand, which can be used across other touchpoints. One of the best examples from the last ten years is Compare The Market’s Alexandr Orlov, the meerkat, who has graduated from being a Fluent Device to a fully-fledged brand mascot and has helped Compare The Market grow its share in a very competitive UK price comparison field.
But be careful! Mere repetition isn’t enough to make a great Fluent Device. If you introduce a recurring character your audience doesn't enjoy, or quickly finds boring, then it may still build brand Fluency but at the expense of Feeling. The normal rules of effective advertising – the more people feel, the more people buy – aren’t suspended just because you’re using Fluent Devices. In fact, Fluent Devices help solve one of the great problems of emotional advertising – how do you build on the success of a blockbuster 5-Star ad and make sure your next commercials are just as strong?
Fluent Devices at their best are creative and emotional. They work a bit like great sketch comedy shows – think Saturday Night Live, or The Fast Show in the UK, which thrived on creating a series of memorable characters who could keep turning up and pleasing the audience every time. A great Fluent Device can make the viewer happy quickly by showing them characters they already know and like, or can deliver a payoff which is all the more satisfying for being a running joke.
While the modern era of advertising has seen a few great uses of Fluent Devices – like the Old Spice Man, who brilliantly leveraged digital platforms to build Fluency – there’s also a feeling that recurring characters, situations, and jingles are rather out of fashion. We believe this is a mistake – a well-done Fluent Device can be an entertaining, emotional asset to your marketing which can also deliver serious brand-building impact in the long run. As recent work from the IPA shows, long-term brand-building strategies continue to deliver better business returns, even as investment skews towards short-term goals. Fluent Devices can be a terrific way of giving your brand some long-term presence.