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Do fluent devices make long term campaigns more effective?

In this video, Orlando Wood of System1 Group presents his research using the IPA Databank. He looks at particular types of long-term campaigns through the lens of behavioural science, testing a hypothesis about ‘fluent devices’. His research presents interesting implications for the advertising and marketing communities.

Watch an update of this research
Creativity for the long term

Watch the video below to see the 30-minute presentation Orlando made at EffWeek 2017. If you are short on time or prefer the written word, scroll down to read key learnings from the presentation and links to related resources.

Apologies for the occasional problems with sound in this video. 

Key learnings

Find out:
What is a fluent device?
Why do fluent devices work? A view through the lens of behavioural science
Are campaigns with fluent devices more effective?
Are fluent devices being used to their potential in campaigns today?
What is the effect of the demise of the fluent device?


What is a fluent device?

Look at these images of characters used in advertising. If you are familiar with english language advertising over the last forty years then you will probably be able to identify all the brands.

A collage of ads featuring a chacter based fluent device

If you were able to recognise these brands easily, you were responding to the first kind of fluent device we are going to look at:

  • A fictitious character or characters created by the brand and used as the primary vehicle for the drama in more than one execution across a campaign (time code 10:40)

Now look at these slogans used by brands. Do you know which brand they represent?

Famous advertising slogans that are fluent devices

If you were also able to recognise these brands then you were responding to another type of fluent device:

  • A creative conceit expressed as a slogan, used more than once in a campaign as the primary vehicle of the drama without which the ad would make little sense  (time code 10:50)

Watch a playlist of ads with character-driven fluent devices

Why do fluent devices work?

One of the key things we have learned from behavioural science over the last few years, is that we are far less rational creatures than we think we are. On a day-to-day basis we make many choices quickly and instinctively, and guided by previous experience. It’s what we call ‘System 1 thinking’. (timecode 3:51)

Based behavioural science, there are three things that advertisers need to know (timecode 4:28):

  • We learn gradually over time to make quick decisions in the moment. Advertisers need to create ‘Fame’ to ensure that their brand comes quickly to mind at the moment of purchase.
  • Emotions help us to encode whether an experience is good, bad or indifferent, which guides and simplifies our choices in the future. Brands that generate ‘Feeling‘ amongst an audience leverage this characteristic of our System 1 thinking
  • We are pattern recognition machines, we scan the environment all the time for things we have seen before. A brand which capitalises on this is creating ‘Fluency

‘Fluent devices’ are powerful because often-repeated, familiar characters or scenarios both generate Feeling and take advantage of our pattern recognition abilities – they create processing Fluency.

Are campaigns with fluent devices more effective?

Orlando used the IPA database and reviewed all long term campaigns, identifying those which feature fluent devices. He worked with Peter Field to test his hypothesis that those featuring a ‘fluent device’ would be more effective and more likely to generate profit gain. The results are:

  • Of the long-term campaigns between 1992 and the present day 25% had fluent devices (timecode 12:32)
  • Long-term campaigns with fluent devices are 23% more likely to achieve market share gain and 22% more likely to achieve profit gain (timecode 13:19)
  • The results were filtered by Extra Share of Voice (ESOV) to make sure this was not just a result of greater spend. The results were the same and in fact even better with profit gain indicating that they have strong efficiency effects as well (timecode 13:50)
  • If you compare character-based fluent devices with slogan based ones, the character-based devices tend to do better on on most things including price sensitivity (timecode 14:50)
  • Slogans do better on shorter term measures, they have an activation effect
  • Substituting a pure character device for a hired device such as a celebrity does significantly less well in the long-term, but can have good short term effects (timecode 17:50)


Are fluent devices being used to their potential in campaigns today?

  • Since 1992 the prevalence of campaigns with fluent devices entered into the IPA EffAwards has gone down from 41% to 12% (timecode 20:37)
  • If you overlay this result with data showing the number of people who say that they ‘enjoy TV advertising as much as the programmes’, there is a concurrent reduction in this measure (timecode 22:53)

“The fluent device is an endangered species.”
Orlando Wood System1 Research timecode 20:40

  • The reasons that the number of campaigns with fluent devices is falling could be:  (timecode 24:00+):
    • Two thirds of the campaigns with fluent devices were FMCG brands. FMCG brands are spending less on advertising
    • Short-term and activation thinking is creeping in to long term campaigns
    • In our multi channel world marketers are focussing more on the medium than the message
    • Creative fashion – are creatives simply not making as many ads that are populist, because it is no longer fashionable to do so?


What are the potential effects of the demise of the fluent device?

  • The fact that people are enjoying ads less, could also be feeding into the lack of trust that the modern consumer places in the advertising industry. It is possible that the demise of the fluent device has contributed to that loss of enjoyment
  • It is a disaster for the industry if the reason that these types of executions are falling is because in a multi-channel world marketers are focussing on channels and medium more than message. Because of their ability to provoke strong recall and an emotional response with a very efficient use of the viewers time, fluent devices are the perfect vehicle for multi-channel campaigns. The few seconds that you get to engage someone on social media, for example, would be ample time for them to work.

Read a blog on System1 Research’s site about their study of ‘Fluent Devices’

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