Research to assess how effective ads are before they are produced and run
Early stage creative concepts can be shown to customers in 1:1 interviews to help the advertising creative team and client understand what works and what doesn’t to hone the ideas.
Focus groups are often recommended by agencies to assess advertising concepts.
From our experience, since ads are viewed/experienced individually, 1:1 interviews are more effective than focus groups.
Many clients prefer going to and watching focus groups because they take less time than 1:1 interviews and are more interesting because of the group dynamic.
Both focus groups and 1:1 interviews are qualitative research techniques so investing in this type of research shouldn’t be considered “ad testing” because the results are from such a small number of people that they cannot be projected to how the ad will perform in market to a much larger population.
Ad testing is a specialized type of quantitative research that is used to assess, with a statistically valid number of people, how an ad performs against specific measures.
Ad testing is something most major advertisers routinely do to ensure their investment in the advertising media (80%+ of the total budget) is justified.
They don’t want to invest millions of dollars in advertising media space for ads that may not be effective. Small businesses can leverage a lot of the ideas and process used by major advertisers to ensure your investment in advertising is worthwhile.
Research to assess advertising effectiveness in market
Direct response ads that are developed to get people to call, click or come in are assessed based on their effectiveness in doing that. Some times what’s called an “A-B” test is done to evaluate one approach over another. Like with any scientific experiment, it’s critical to only change one variable per test to be able to isolate what works in combination with all the other variables.
Search and online advertising is completely measurable and should be optimized (improved) based on early responses.
For other types of brand advertising or for advertising that is intended to drive traffic and sales through retailers and/or resellers, in-market tracking surveys can be conducted to assess the advertising effectiveness in market.
Advertising tracking research assesses the unaided and aided recall of the advertising for people in the target audience.
Unaided recall is when someone is able to answer the question, “What advertising do you remember for (a product category like cars) this week?” with the name of a brand and model.
Aided recall is when someone chooses from a list of competitors that they remember their ad. Respondents are asked where they saw the ad(s), what the main message of the ad was, and what action (or attitude change) they made as a result of seeing the ad.
If the variable of “is the ad effective” is removed because the ad concept was tested quantitatively, then the ad tracking research is more pure and actionable since it is then assessing other variables such as the media weight (spending) and the media mix (types of media used).
Large companies that are major advertisers typically invest in all three types of research (ad development, ad testing and quantitative tracking studies) to determine the effectiveness of their advertising. Most of these companies (Coke, Verizon, L’Oreal, etc.) are not selling direct to consumers so they use in-market tracking as a way to assess their ad spending and correlate the media spend and ad pre-test scores to actual sales. They have very sophisticated analytical models to determine sales projections.
Most major advertisers invest 3-5% of their overall budget on advertising research. Small businesses might want to set aside a portion of your ad budget for research to be able to learn what works and what doesn’t. That learning can be applied to future campaigns and help determine if advertising is a worthwhile investment.