Playing the long game in a short game world. Why do we need to find more of a balance between short-term activation campaigns and long-term brand campaigns?

Long-term brand campaigns and short-term activation campaigns are two types of marketing that generally cover all of a brand’s activities.

outdoor brand campaigns

Long-term brand campaigns aim to create positive associations around the brand in the minds of consumers.

They are typically broad reach, emotionally-led, creative, and aim to prime customers to purchase at some point in the future.

Short-term activation campaigns, on the other hand, aim to trigger customers to purchase immediately, typically they are targeted, rational, product-focused campaigns. 

Both deserve a place in marketing, but along the way (between the global financial crisis and the digital revolution), long-term brand campaigns have fallen out of fashion and short-term campaigns have become the standard approach.

This is broadly attributed to tightened budgets and the digital revolution throwing an abundance of short-term metrics at us.

We’ve been trained to demand immediate effectiveness, and ‘return on marketing investment’ (ROMI), which long-term brand campaigns can’t directly deliver.

So long-term brand campaigns have been reduced to ‘nice to have’ rather than ‘need to have’ campaigns.  

Why is ROMI bad for us? 

As you can see in the graph below, short-term activation campaigns produce immediate and direct sales uplifts that ultimately fall back to pre-campaign levels.

Long-term brand building campaigns, however, produce smaller but more sustained uplift over time that gradually build sales levels.

Brand campaign graph

Because these effects are not immediate or directly attributable to activities, they cannot be measured by ROMI and so in our short-termism, immediate effectiveness, world of measurement we conclude they are ineffective. 

The tendency is to now look at loyalty over penetration, targeting over reach, and ultimately, price promotion over brand building, all with the aim of immediate effectiveness, a direct ROMI and an uplift in sales.

But if we zoom out, we see that there is an overall reduction in the effectiveness of marketing and that is due to the lack of balance between the two types of marketing.  

 “Because the effects of brand building only become apparent over the long-term, short-termism is dangerous. It can lead to excessive activation (which is inefficient) and under-investment in the brand (which can lead to long-term decline)”.

Source: Media in Focus – Marketing effectiveness in the Digital Era

Why do we care? 

With rational, product-led and targeted advertising seemingly being the most effective, creativity in marketing briefs around the world has suffered.

The more creative, emotional and penetration-driving campaigns now need to push products to justify the expense and this doesn’t work. We have put creativity in the backseat. 

 “A short-term focus undermines the case for creativity. This is despite the considerable advantages that hugely creative advertising delivers over the long term. Creatively awarded campaigns underperform non-awarded ones short-term, but not in any other sense”. 

Source: Media in Focus – Marketing effectiveness in the Digital Era

What we do about it? 

It’s not all doom and gloom – we just need to find balance and the handy people at IPA have calculated that balance is 60:40 long-term to short-term campaigns.  

If only the answer was that simple, but using this rule of thumb, here at saintnicks we strive to understand both your long-term and short-term goals and build your brand and marketing strategy to progress both.  

By understanding your brand’s market context, your current positioning and your audience’s behaviour in our strategy sessions, we map out where your brand is, where it should go and how it is going to get there – that bit is devised by our creative masterminds.

Finally, and crucially, we always look at both short-term effectiveness and long-term brand building KPIs to ensure we are finding the right balance.  

To talk about your marketing strategy, get in touch. Call Laura Millar on 0117 927 0100 or email