A Setup Is a Terrible Thing to Waste

Don’t call it a comeback.

-LL Cool J, Mama Said Knock You Out

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

-George Orwell, 1984

Are you watching closely?

-Christopher Nolan, The Prestige


Great opening lines immediately claim all the real estate in your mind. There is no space for anything else because it is so engaging. But all too often advertisements fail in this all-important task – replacing whatever the audience was just thinking about with YOUR idea.

You have to get them interested, romance them… then you have to get down to business.

*Audiolytics™ is Oxford Road’s proprietary method of measuring ad copy across 71 data points – the most comprehensive scoring system in the market – for maximum conversion so that every media dollar achieves optimal impact.

**Due to restricted distribution of trade secrets, we cannot share all 71 sub-components but will reference select optimization levers based on the 9 Key Components of Audiolytics™: Setup, Value Proposition, Positioning, Demonstration, Substantiation, Offer, Scarcity, Path, and Execution.

The first Key Component of Audiolytics™, our proprietary formula for decoding and optimizing creative, is the “Setup.” This is your “attention grabber” or “emotional hook” or any number of ways of saying, “Hey you!”

But if you spend too much time saying “Hey you!”, you’re wasting time and money. To oversimplify, your Setup should attempt to last no longer than about 12.5% of the message’s total runtime. In broad strokes, that allows each of the first 8 Key Components 12.5% of the total run time (the 9th component is “Execution,” which is the style of components 1-8). Each of these Key Components is comprised of 7-8 sub-components, for a grand total of 71 components that we evaluate for every ad we put in the marketplace. The actual word count of each section may fluctuate, of course, but 12.5% will work for our purposes here.

This is a Setup executed well:


Why did they Succeed? You might be surprised that this qualifies as a great Setup given the lack of shock value the category might allow (i.e. an attention-grabbing car accident). This ad uses the setup for the correct purpose – to introduce the problem the product solves. The other use of a Setup is to signal an opportunity that is available before actually introducing the product. In Allstate’s Setup, the spokesperson names the problem of paying a deductible after having an accident. The Setup only lasts 5 ½ seconds of the ad’s total 28-second run time. Because the Setup actually connects to the product, when Allstate is introduced, the listener has been teed up to receive the information. The viewer discovers Allstate offer discounts on your deductible for safe driving. The information hits more directly because it has been properly set up.

This is a Setup executed poorly…


An advertisement needs to get your attention. Yes. And keep it. Yes. To what end? To entertain? To sell? Something else? First and foremost, resolve that question in your mind. What is the purpose of this commercial? The Annual Planning Brand Advertiser and the Direct Response Two-Week Test both need your attention. The longer your brand can wait for the payback, the more time your commercial can spend grabbing attention and winning the audience over. But no brand at any level has an excuse to bring up a subject that will distract the audience from the core solution your brand represents. It doesn’t hurt to do it in a sophisticated and entertaining way – the quality of your ad does communicate a certain amount of value about your product or service.

BUT once you have their attention, you need to clearly communicate some really good reasons to choose YOU, and then you have to ASK FOR ACTION.  Apple knows this. Google knows this. Amazon knows this. None of them are closing with “Call now” deadline-driven offers, and many use an entertaining hook to lure you into the conversation, but all of them land on the solution they are providing to the public.

It’s like junior high. You’ve worked up the courage, walked up and mustered the courage to use an opening statement that finds you talking to your crush. And, would you believe it? They’re actually paying attention to you. Acne-faced, braced mouth YOU?

Now what?

You ask them to the dance.

Click here to schedule your free Audiolytics™ report.

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