Let's Take A Closer Look

Explaining complicated subject matter simply since 1986.

For those companies that bother with advertising testing research (fewer than you think), there are three basic ways they go about it.

The most common is the Disaster Check.

Here companies do one or two quick focus groups after creating an ad. They only want to see if they’ve made a huge mistake. In many cases, this toe-in-the-water “testing” is too close to running the ad to do anything about it anyway.

The most popular is the Beauty Contest.

Another approach also comes after ads are created. Here, more than one ad is built and people are asked to choose the one they like best.

Ad agencies are instructed to produce several ads for comparative testing. This is often resented by copywriters and art directors, who think this approach wrongly interferes with their creativity. As a result, they put their real efforts into the one they like, and grudgingly dash off a few others that stand little chance of “winning.”

To us, it looks like this.

Here are four choices. Which is the most appealing?

This contest has been deliberately rigged.

The outcome has been determined before the voting even begins, much as the winner of a footrace between Fat Joe and Usain Bolt.

Scarlett Johansson “wins” almost all the votes because she is glamorous and the others are not. The other contestants “lose” by a wide margin. Gladys Ormphby, The Wicked Witch of the West, and Regan MacNeil get only a few votes from Arte Johnson, Frankenstein, and Freddy Krueger.

We all see lots of ads; estimates range from 100,000 to 300,000 a year. This is more than enough for us to know creatives don’t always produce Scarlett Johanssons. Sometimes they produce Amy Farrah Fowlers.

When they do, the Beauty Contest looks like this:

Here are four choices. Which is the most appealing?

That’s right – Amy wins!

But the big difference is that Amy wins only because she is the least unappealing of a limited set of less than optimum choices, which is something quite different, isn’t it?

Few companies start with research, not with ads.

They use the iterative development process to identify the themes and elements that are most important to consumers. They share these findings with the ad team, who uses them as building blocks for preparing several different creative versions of the same factual principles.

Then the ads are tested, not to see which one people like the most (for whatever reason), but to determine the extent to which each ad communicates the messages the business’ research has determined are critical to convey. 

This is, of course, the method that takes the longest and costs the most – or does it?

When the ads we run are ineffective, we’ve spent a lot of time and money on production and placement that doesn’t generate the results that really well-developed and thoroughly tested ads do.

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