James Swift

18 July 2022

Strategist’s Digest: Should brands keep their ads consistent? 

Contagious digests the most interesting and relevant research from the world of advertising and beyond, because there’s just too much to read and too little time

Consistency and commonality in advertising content: Helping or Hurting? 

By Maren Becker, Maarten J Gijsenberg. First published in the International Journal of Research in Marketing.

Give it to me in one sentence.

When it comes to advertising, small brands should be consistent copycats, but large brands benefit from being erratic nonconformists. 

Give me a little more detail.

The researchers were interested in how consistency and commonality in advertising affect a brand’s sales.

Consistency in this context refers to a brand making successive ads that are similar in content and tone, while commonality means brands producing ads similar to those of their competitors.

The researchers analysed 247 TV commercials from 33 CPG brands that advertised regularly in Germany between March 2010 and December 2013.

Independent experts evaluated the consistency and commonality of the ads according to four dimensions: informativeness, low and high arousal emotionality, and creativity (and these dimensions were evaluated against 16 sub-dimensions).

The researchers then measured how advertising consistency and commonality affected large and small brands’ long-term and short-term sales. Brand size was defined by splitting the sample in two according to market share, and short-term sales were defined as those that occurred in the first week.

The results showed that small brands benefited in the long term when their advertising was consistent, and they benefited in both the short and long term when it was similar to what other brands in the category were doing. Emotional consistency was the most potent variable. When small brands kept the emotional themes of their ads consistent, their sales improved significantly. A 1% increase in consistency in low-arousal emotions (eg, warmth, nostalgia, love) boosted small brands’ average cumulative sales by 3.82%, while a 1% increase in the consistency of high-arousal emotions (eg, eroticism, action, humor) increased them by 2.26%.

Large brands on the other hand do not benefit much from being consistent in their advertising or by sticking to category conventions. In fact in some instances, consistent advertising correlated with declining sales.

Why is this interesting?

The results of the study suggest that good advertising is not always about standing out. Small brands benefit from imitating competitors, the researchers suggest, because customers are then more likely to associate them with the category and think of them in buying situations.

But since people are likely to already associate larger brands with the category in which they operate, there is no need for them to conform to norms. The research also seems to suggest that large brands should not fret over keeping all their ads the same, with too much consistency depressing sales. The old adage that brands tend to tire of their own advertising before customers may not always hold true.

Any weaknesses?

These are heavy conclusions to draw from a single study looking at a particular type of product within a single channel, and you might want to be careful about extrapolating.

Where can I find the whole report?

Here, and it’s free.

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