February 03, 2009

The Hoffman Index

A few years ago I developed a theory* about how to balance imagery and information in advertising. I modestly called it The Hoffman Index.

The theory was based on the following assumptions:
  • All advertising contains both information and imagery.
  • Consumers use a different mix of information and imagery in making buying decisions for different kinds of products.
  • Getting the balance right for each kind of product can help us create more effective advertising.
The theory also proposed that we can draw a line - a continuum - on which we can place every kind of product based on whether it is bought primarily for image reasons or for logical reasons.

So, for example, if we draw that line, cigarets will be way over on the left because they are bought almost exclusively for reasons of image, and all the way on the right you will have toothache remedies which are bought solely on their efficacy.

It's no great insight that image and information play different roles in advertising for different kinds of products. The question I was trying to answer was, is there a way to quantify this and apply it to all products?

The idea of The Hoffman Index is that every product will fall somewhere between the two extremes, and knowing where it falls will help us create advertising with the proper balance between image and information.

My hypothesis is that there are three factors that determine this:
1. Privacy: Is the product consumed in private or in public?

2. Perceptibility: Are its differentiating characteristics easily perceived?

3. Utility: Does the product do anything useful?
The higher a product scores on these three factors, the more information an ad should impart. The lower it scores, the more you want to favor imagery over information.

Let's start with the toothache remedy and see how the index works. Each of the factors above is rated on a 0 - 10 scale. So, 0 to ten points for privacy, 0 to 10 for perceptibility, and 0 to 10 for utility, for a maximum of 30 points and a minimum of 0. In the case of the toothache remedy:
  • It is used completely in private, but a spouse or partner might know about it, and so I give it a 9 out of 10 in privacy.
  • It is quite easy to discern if it is works or not, so it gets a 10 in perceptibility.
  • It has high utility. In fact, it is never used unless absolutely necessary. So it gets a 10 there, also.
Adding those three scores up, the toothache remedy gets a Hoffman Index of 29 and is placed way over on the right side of the continuum.

Now let's look at cigarets.
  • Cigarets are highly public. Everyone can see what brand you carry around. It gets a rating of 1 out of 10 in privacy.
  • The differentiating characteristics of cigarets seem quite low to me. I assume in blind tests smokers would have a difficult time discerning the difference between Camels and Marlboros. I am going to give it a 2 on perceptibility.
  • As for utility, unless you are trying to commit slow motion suicide, cigarets have none. I give it a 0 on that criteria.

As the above chart shows, I have created a scale of 30 points, with each of the three factors having a minimum score of 0 and a maximum score of 10 points.

Low scores mean more imagery, high scores mean more information. This is not meant to be a precise determinant of how much imagery and how much information, but a general guideline. The hypothesis is that we can place any product along this contuinuum and have a pretty good idea of how to balance imagery and information.

I'm not sure if I have anything useful here, or just an arcane way of demonstrating the obvious. Your thoughts, please.

*Shout-out to Roger Lewis who reminded me of this.

No comments: