As the use of data grows in importance in running businesses, marketers are looking to use data to improve advertising and inform creativity.
“Businesses that have successfully integrated creativity and analytics have grown twice as fast as those that haven’t.”
As technology becomes more sophisticated, there are many more ways and tools that marketers can use to test ads’ effectiveness and performance, pre and post campaign launch. These include simple A/B testing for campaign optimisation to neuro ad testing to measure subconscious responses.
Still, not everyone believes that ad testing helps creative advertising. Many creative agencies feel that ad testing hinders the creativity process and has stopped many amazing ideas from coming to live.
Sometimes they are right, as ad testing methods may generate only conscious responses and we know that people respond to ads emotionally and subconsciously.
As Steve Jobs famously said, “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
Testing an animatic (not a finished ad) with a small group of audience may not necessarily give the idea the best chance to succeed. However, in a world of data, we should not stop ourselves by using data just because we are let down using the wrong approach or methodologies.
It is foolish for advertising agencies and marketers to resist integrating data into the creative process when it has been proven to help them achieve better results. Rather they should ask how they can leverage data to be more creative.
Many studies have shown and proven that creativity and advertising work in driving growth for business.
Creative is by the far the most important advertising element driving sales (47% contribution, way ahead of reach at 22%). It’s no surprise that highly creative ads have doubled the sales impact. (Nielsen Catalina Solutions, 2017)
Advertising testing isn’t a new practice. As early as 1910, leading advertising agencies have started conducting effectiveness tests of their ads by adding a return coupon in their magazine ads and checking the rates of coupon returns.
‘Whole-brain’ talent teams
The core of creativity is the idea. Ideas come from insights. Insights are informed by data.
If you think of the current creative process in an advertising agency, research and data only features at the beginning of the process and at the end when the client wants to test the concept. The creative teams very seldom get to meet the research teams who gather and interpret the data.
Why is there a wall between research (data) and creative teams?
Creative teams need to understand how and where they can get data and what the data really says and researchers should understand how creative teams use their data to create solutions and outcomes for the clients.
Both sets of talents should be in the briefing, the review and the presentation because both parties should determine the outcome. If agencies actually put data teams with creative teams together to define a process where they both can contribute to creative solutions, I believe you will find a new way of working that will lead to sharper ideas.
Agile and iterative research approach
Research is used pre and post the creative process and is not integrated into the creative process, usually because of lack of time, budget and the many different parties involved.
What if research and data is in-baked into the creative process where there are more frequent research and data gathering done at every step to help:
- ● Diagnose the key problem and opportunity
- ● Test the strategic hypotheses
- ● Test creative concept
- ● Test creative executions
- ● Track outcome and learning
However, this kind of process can only be done if research can only be executed cost- effectively and with quick turn-around times. With online access to audiences, this is possible if agencies are disciplined and value audience’s feedback to help them be more effective.
Testing the right stimulus
Too many times, we are testing unfinished creative executions, hoping that consumers, who are not in the advertising industry, can understand the intended outcome of the idea. It is no wonder that many creative concepts do not test well.
We should be using data to guide creative thinking and provide guard rails, rather than to find faults in the ideas. With check-ins at every step of the process, by the time marketers get to creative concept testing, they should already know they have diagnosed the right problem and that their strategy is on the money. Theoretically, by that stage, the creative concepts developed should have a high chance of performing well.
Testing TVC storyboards or illustration of a key visual may not be effective. Our ad testing data has shown that illustrations perform worse than photographic visuals, not because of the idea but respondents are unable to relate to the characters. Think about it, we won’t be able to tell how much we want to pay for a dress just by seeing a sketch of a dress without knowing the material, feeling the texture, seeing the details of the cut or knowing how it’ll fit with our body.
Imagine, trying to describe this ad: A gorilla playing drums to Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight”. Will you buy Cadbury after seeing this ad? No one will say yes. But if the question was phrased like this: Which of these scenarios give you more joy? Someone eating a bar of chocolate vs a gorilla playing drums?
I believe we should be testing elements within the idea that will help improve the resonance of the creative execution. For example● The characters people relate to, e.g. which celebrities
● The best setting best for the product/brand/story, e.g. beach vs mountain
● The lines that most clearly express the idea, e.g. taglines and key messages
● The music / sounds that grabs their attention or communicate the feeling
The results of the test can provide feedback that will help creative apply the right context to build stronger connection with the target audience. To give creative ideas the best chance to perform well, we have to ensure that we create the right stimulus, and ask the right questions. And sometimes that stimulus may not necessarily be the TVC storyboard or animatics.
Creating benchmarks over time
We are often asked what score is a good one? However, the answer is that there is no one good score because it all depends on the categories, products, audience, ad formats and intentions. Just like brand building, ad testing should not be a once-off process. Agencies and marketers should aim to continuously research and gather multiple data points, from different sources, over time. This data will help them figure out what they have done well and what they need to improve on every time.
There is no perfect ad testing system out there. Some may be better than others, but any system will help improve your advertising creativity. The key is to continuously use one system so everyone learns how to interpret the testing results and build benchmarks for your brand, product and category over time to learn from.
Besides ad testing, there are many sources of data that marketers can learn from – consumer research, media tracking, sales tracking, customer service feedback, trade feedback and so on – and they often sit in different places with different reports. Most marketers still struggle with integrating all these different data into one dashboard to help themselves and their agencies to apply learnings.
Whose responsibility is it to use data to inform the creative process?
Most consumer feedback data currently sit with the client and research agencies are often engaged by clients. While agencies pride themselves to be the voice of the consumers in the relationship with their clients, they seldom have in-house quantitative research offering to provide consumers’ feedback. They may be able to access social media responses and dipstick feedback through some interviews or focus groups with colleagues, friends and family members.
To truly be positioned as the voices of consumers, advertising agencies should start taking a more active role of representing consumers’ voices – quantitatively to ensure reliable data. Rather than leaving the role of learning to their clients, they should be offering research and data services as part of the creative process, or truly integrate themselves with clients’ research processes rather than waiting for clients to provide them the data.
Creativity begins with a foundation of knowledge, by connecting various different dots and coming to a new place through human ingenuity. Creativity should be guided, validated, and even helped to some extent; all of which can be ensured through analytics and data, because that will only lead to richer insights and more powerful ideas. Ad testing, if done for the right reason, at the right time, with the right material and questions, can supercharge ensure creative perform optimally.
Creative intelligence specialist, Michelle Beh, is managing partner at ADNA.
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