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In a world of instant gratification, don’t forget the power of anticipation

As humans, we have a natural urge for instant gratification – the temptation to forego a long-term, future benefit, to obtain an immediate and often less rewarding one. It’s a concept that brands have leveraged with aplomb using technological and product innovation, coupled with bold marketing activity. As such, we find ourselves living in the epitome of a ‘Need it Now, Have it Now’ world. 

From Getir delivering groceries in just minutes, to on-demand manicures in the home with a click, the list is endless. And broadcasters also understand that we struggle to wait or limit our exposure - which is why between them, Channel 4, ITV, Sky, and the BBC now host hundreds upon hundreds of box sets ready to stream. 

But instant novelty doesn’t always work for everyone

Indeed, inspired by TV and cinema, an increasing number of brands find themselves commissioning film-quality episodic branded content as part of their marketing activity. This mode of content has now become the norm, particularly when you look at the alcohol category, such as Stella, Fosters and Estrella.

But with this norm comes the pressure to produce multiple new TVCs for social, TV or cinema every year or planning cycle. These films can take months to produce and can be resource intensive. More significantly, such a constant barrage of instant novelty risks numbing consumers to its impact: content isn’t as surprising because it seems to be served every minute by brands, and so it takes more to cut through. 

Worked and waited for rewards

We know from wear-out figures that memory does not decay that quickly. Added to this is the fact that as humans we actually thrive on anticipation. Instant gratification may ‘scratch an itch’ but - deep down - we cherish long-term ‘worked or waited for’ rewards. So whilst many broadcasters have started making many box sets available to binge, they still also release their best new content weekly; forcing viewers to wait for the story to unfold, and thereby build anticipation and drive the ‘watercooler effect’ for longer-term buzz - a strategy increasingly adopted by the streaming platforms too.

Indeed, anticipation has a stronger emotional effect on our lives; we long for the feeling of excitement that something positive is set to happen in the future: the launch of a new product, one extra piece of a puzzle, a special day in a calendar, the conclusion to a good book.

It also has a biological impact - with the satisfaction neurotransmitter serotonin being released more steadily.  In this sense, anticipation is a superpower to building brand affinity that’s often overlooked, or pushed aside by brands, in favour of focusing on fuelling consumers’ immediate desires. 

Brands should shift gear. Instead of producing a constant stream of new branded content, they could be making fewer and using these lovingly created films for longer stretches of time, starting with teasers, and building to the fuller narrative that satisfies our deeper and often more subconscious enjoyment of anticipation and reward.

In a similar vein, we should consider a return to the art of using trailers, teasers and cut downs for creative video assets (whether on social, VOD, TV or Cinema). 

Remember TV Blips? They became a thing of the past simply because they were no longer seen to be de rigueur in the industry. But audience behaviour has not changed so drastically to have made them ineffective – far from it. Consumers want to be entertained. Novelty of media formats still amuses the consumer. And adverts are entertainment for them. It fuels water cooler conversations - which are returning as more people head back to the workplace. 

Make creative messages work harder and last longer 

Brands and agencies should revisit the release strategies of those adverts from the past that captured consumer attention and created a sense of anticipation -  just think of Guinness’ ‘Good Things Come to Those Who Wait’ and Cadbury’sGorilla’. 

We should also take cues from the success of the Christmas ads that drive consumer discussion on social media as well as in the workplace or at home. For example, think of the predictions for John Lewis’s theme, song, or artist choice for this year. Or what’s going to happen next in the life of Aldi’s Kevin the Carrot – will he even make it into the advert this year? 

The buzz and anticipation improve the efficacy of the TVC, but perhaps more importantly, it isn’t a seasonal phenomenon. This can be employed any time of the year, and definitely in the run up to other key seasonal moments like Easter, Bank Holidays, Mother’s Day, and Diwali.

Working together, brands and their agencies can harness the power of consumer anticipation to build brand affinity rather than chasing the next dopamine hit. By slowly teasing audiences, waiting for specific times to release messages, and even pacing a narrative arc with a bit more consideration is a worthwhile approach. What’s more, we can make creative messages and content work harder and last longer across TV as well as social channels, OOH, VOD or dynamic creative.

This article first appeared on


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