How to run advertising testing for better campaigns

Advertising certainly can help a brand stand out, but advertising testing is essential with the onslaught of advertising messages consumers see daily.

This article discusses some of the advertising testing strategies you can use for better campaigns.

Article sections

Understanding the importance of integration

Thomas Ware, senior market researcher at Liberty Mutual Insurance, said the data must inform advertising decisions. But to do that the research needs to run at the right time, ask the right questions of the right audience and the results must be easily digestible by stakeholders to guide their decisions.

“We have a quant-qual aspect to our pre-market testing,” Thomas said. “I do research, but the application is marketing and brand,” Thomas said. “At Liberty, we have a centralized research team. Previously, we had sat in different departments. Now we all sit together, which is nice because we all get to cross-pollinate more.”

Read next: Why you need centralized data to help your brand be more customer-centric

Use quant methods – like surveys – to ask consumers what they like about an ad and then dive into qual methods to ask them why they wanted it. "The quant is really good for the what. The qual is good for the why and how."

Quant methods can be a great way to start, he said.

“X percent of respondents found that ad funny, and then you want to know why,” he said.

We usually combine quant and qual in our weekly consumer studies – like this one on what’s a good in-store experience. Depending on the campaign, this could be an option, too. Usually, we ask the quant question(s) first and then follow up with a qual question.

  • Example of quant questions (each followed by answer choices using standard rating scales):
    • Thinking about the ad you just saw, which of the following best describes your feelings about it?
    • After watching the ad, how believable is the ad?
    • How well does the ad communicate the message?
    • How unique is the ad?
  • Example of qual follow-up: Please tell us why you answered that way?  Include as much detail as possible.

Asking good qual questions

It’s worth noting the key characteristics of good qualitative questions. They should:

  • Enable the discovery of problems and opportunities from respondents (in their words)
  • Be open-ended in nature
  • Be easy to understand and digest with no need for clarification
  • Encourage free expression of thoughts and feelings

Specifically for video survey questions, consider these simple tactics that will ensure you get authentic feedback without unnecessary research bias. Remember to:

  • Keep questions short and sweet but detailed in prompt
  • Questions should be open-ended in nature, prompting the respondent to tell us a story rather than simply ‘yes’ and ‘no’
  • Write with key themes in mind
  • Think: describe the brand in three words vs. tell me what you think about this brand. Those “three words” will then help to
    identify key themes from the video feedback

Include the following types of qualitative words to engineer the type of responses you’re looking for from interviewees:

  • How?
  • What?
  • Why?
  • Generate
  • Discover
  • Show
  • Identify
  • Describe
  • Meaning
  • Outline
  • Explore

It’s essential to ask good questions – especially in an asynchronous feedback situation where there might not be a follow-up question.

Clarity matters

In your questions, be clear and ask directly, Thomas said.

“That’s not to say leading them, but I’m very precise in how I word questions,” he said. “So they know exactly what I’m trying to get them to talk about. Because if you have something that is even remotely vague, you’ll have at least some of your respondents who will talk about something completely else.”

Keep your questions short.

Read next:  67 open questions to uncover insights with video surveys

“For example, if you have a prompt that has four questions in it – there’s no way that they are going to read that,” he said. “It’s a delicate balance to make clear what you want and make sure that they will read it and look closely at it.”

But also keep in mind that at times, especially early on in a process, it might be worth asking vague questions. An example would be to ask: “What do you think?”

Read next: How to follow the design thinking process to be more relevant to customers

Going beyond gut feeling

Once advertising is running, continue with your advertising testing program, Thomas said.

“I do a lot of research on how an ad is performing,” he said. “Understanding how an ad is performing and in comparison to competitors. That includes quant and qual aspects as well.”

Qualitative research especially takes center stage when it’s essential to understand a theme. For example, let’s say you notice that consumers keep having a specific reaction to the same piece of an ad that could be worth following up on:

  • Why did you react like that?
  • How come you feel that way?
  • What prompted you to have that feeling?

“Generally, we use qual to answer a specific question,” Thomas said.

Thomas explained where that happens in an advertising testing process depends on where the question arises.

“It could be that we are testing an ad, and a theme comes up that we don’t fully understand – like something comes off a little creepy or confusing – and perhaps a spot didn’t come off to us in that way,” he said. “Generally, when there’s something that surprises us that will lead to qual. And that can be before or after quant testing.”

"A big part of it is explaining what you found. If it's not easy to follow or easy to understand it won't make much of a difference."

Testing positive and negative responses

Customer feedback and insights can often focus on the bad. For example, “I don’t like this” or “that service was bad.” But don’t forget to understand the good things, too. For example, Liberty Mutual conducted qual research to understand why consumers reacted so positively to the Struggling Actor campaign.

It’s also important to understand that not every person will respond to a commercial. For example, take the wet teddy bear commercial.

Thomas said that some people don’t relate to it or get why anyone would find it funny. But yet, enough consumers did find it engaging and humorous. So it’s also essential to understand why others can relate to a commercial even when we can’t.

“Without the qual, it makes it hard to believe those quant results,” Thomas said of internal stakeholders who didn’t find the commercial engaging.

“Sometimes it’s easy to look at data and forget that there are real human beings on the other end of it,” said Jenn Vogel, chief revenue officer at Voxopme and host of “Reel Talk.“”Hearing it from a real person’s mouth is so much more powerful.”

Read next: How to use video surveys for consumer research

“It’s vital not to let your thoughts and opinions influence decisions,” Thomas said.

Keeping the current environment in mind

Thomas mentioned that agile advertising testing can help understand what is currently acceptable. But, of course, that can depend on current consumer trends, the world situation, and the beliefs of your target market.

For example, when the COVID19 pandemic started, what was accepted in ads – like crowds – changed. Likewise, when Russia began to invade Ukraine, brands stopped any Russia mentions in ads.

“What is okay, and will people be mad at us for doing something?” Thomas said brands should ask themselves. “Would we be insensitive?”

Sometimes, advertising testing happens as things change, and decisions are made to pull a spot.  Other times, testing might happen before anything is produced, but a significant shift in consumer behavior can already be seen.

Read next: How foresight can help your brand be ready for the future

Keep in mind that answers to questions can change over time, Thomas reminded.

“Let’s say something we make is fine when we make it but then something in the world changes,” he said. “Something is different that will cause it to be received differently.”

What makes good advertising anyway?

Brian Monschein, vice president of research at Voxpopme, shared some foundational tips in an episode of BRIght Ideas, based on hundreds of copy tests.

Create strong brand recall

After seeing the ad, if nobody recalls the brand, what’s the point?

“How many Super Bowl ads have you seen where you are talking about it the next day on how great it was, but you have no idea what the brand was?” Brian said. “They can successfully get me to laugh but won’t get me to buy their product.”

Target the ad correctly

Just as Thomas said, not everyone will love every ad out there. But we want the target audience to like it. That starts with understanding who that audience is.

“If the brand has done their homework, they already know who their ideal customer profile is,” Brian said. “Customizing messaging to them goes a long way in persuading them to take a step toward a purchase.”

Brian said that using the words and tone that resonate with that audience is also essential.

Be original and have a hook

That’s why those Liberty Mutual Insurance commercials are popular with many. They are original and have a unique hook.

“You need to have that special sauce to stand out,” Brian said. “Creative ads that do a good job of storytelling, offering some surprise elements and having a good call to action have always stood out as better performers in testing.”

Be persuasive

A good ad has to be persuasive and convince consumers or strengthen the belief that they need the product and that the product is helpful to them.

At the end of the day, producing ads takes time, skills, and creativity. Running an advertising testing program at the right times can make sure none of those efforts are wasted and have a chance to make an impact.

Like this article? Read more like it here.

What’s a question you’d like to ask consumers?