When you’re shopping for a new car, you’ll likely look it over pretty carefully in the showroom. You’ll test the seats and radio and admire the slick finish and that new-car smell. But would you actually buy it without taking it for a spin? Not likely. And the same is true for advertising. You need to take it for a test-drive before you buy it, and actually do a consumer test of your advertising concepts.
You Need Results
Like buying a luxury car, advertising—from design to placement— is a big expense. For any company, small or large, there’s a lot of pressure to make sure that the advertising will be effective. It’s not just an academic exercise, it has to make an impact on customer attitudes and help promote desirable behaviors — in other word, sales!
Consumer Testing for Advertising Effectiveness
Just as a test-drive can help you gauge the real-life performance of an automobile, online surveys can be a useful tool in testing possible customer reactions to advertising. Let’s look at two types of common ad testing-related projects:
- Ad Testing: How will that new ad concept play in the real world? Here we can test potential ad concepts — take them for a spin — using the actual advertisements? This might be a banner ad for use on a website, a newspaper print ad, or even a mockup of a billboard design. We’d show visual displays of potential ad concepts. To improve our analysis options, though, I have one recommendation: always include one concept in the mix that you actually don’t like. If your respondents like all the concepts, even that “red herring”, that’s probably not good news. We don’t really care what percent like the red herring idea, but we do want to see that the ads you’re serious about investing in are performing notably better.
- Ad recall: Do people remember your ads? Do they associate your brand with those ads? In recall surveys, one of the things we often do is show different ads and ask if they recall seeing it, where they saw it, and what company they associate with each one. Alternatively, we might show slogans or taglines to see if they can recall which company used each one. To be clearer, we often do this both unaided (“Which company comes to mind when you see this advertisement?”) and aided (asking them to select, from a list of three to five companies, the one they associate with that ad). Low recall may indicate the ad simply isn’t distinctive enough to your target market.
It’s All Connected
Testing your advertising should never be done in a vacuum. What about the competition? It is best to also understand what your competitors’ ads look like, where they are running them, and how frequently. Familiarity with the competition can shed a lot of light on your own advertising research results. If an ad isn’t performing well, it might be because it’s too similar to a competitor’s ad or is creating confusion with a competitor’s message.
The Bottom Line on Ad Testing
Different people are going to have different reactions to a given advertisement, and some consumers are more critical than others. Like a 15 minute test-drive, ad testing is an artificial environment, and seeing an ad, slogan or banner in an online survey can be very different from encountering it in the real world. But by testing ads we can at least weed out the bad concepts, and then focus on refining the one or two designs that emerge as most viable. When you’re shopping for a car, knowing what you don’t want helps you concentrate on what you do like. In advertising, knowing what won’t work is half the battle in choosing what will.