From the moment we wake up to when we go to sleep, advertisements find a way to bombard us with their offerings. Consciously or sub-consciously, the information propagated via ads is continuously consumed by us. Ads influence a customer’s perspective and have the potential to affect their feelings, attitudes, purchases, and consumption pattern. Digital Marketing experts estimate that most Americans are exposed to around 4,000 to 10,000 advertisements daily.
Customers pay for an ad-free experience, whereas brands pay to run these ads to reach out to their target audience. This might sound like a better love story than Twilight, but what is perceived as a menace to customers is a vital source of communication for a brand.
Advertisements are essential because they usually act as the first point of contact with customers. They are the primary means through which brands communicate to customers about new and improved products. They also play a significant role in competitive markets, where a brand is trying to increase or maintain its market share.
Brands usually rely on their ‘gut feeling’ regarding ad concepts. But, given the critical role ads play and the number of resources and money that go into the entire process, it only makes sense to test out your ads and eliminate the scope of intuition and guesswork.
The 5 M’s of Advertising
Before we dive deeper into understanding all about ad testing, it is important to look at the pillars of advertising. These play a vital role in empowering advertisers to connect with their audience, boost sales and improve brand image.
What is Ad Testing?
Ad testing is the process of showing your ad to a set of respondents and gaining feedback. This can be done in two ways- single ad testing (monadic) and multiple ad testing (sequential monadic).
A common misconception is that the ad needs to be fully ready, or the entirety of the ad can only be tested. But you can test out your concepts, scripts, mood boards and even analyze parts of your ad like the messaging, visuals, characters, CTAs etc.
Why is Ad Testing necessary?
“Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving.” - David Ogilvy
There is a myth about advertising –‘Even if the advertising does not work now, repetition will ensure ultimate success ’. This just assumes that a particular ad will take a long time to wear in with customers. But here is the catch, the market dynamics are highly vulnerable to external variables like recession, natural disasters, pandemics etc. The customer’s perception and consumption pattern are directly or indirectly linked to such changes. As a brand, staying put to one single ad and not keeping up with the customer’s evolving mindset, can throw you off your game.
For example, the COVID-19 led pandemic caused two major shifts in consumer behavior-
- Increase in consumer spending – Around 51% of the consumers reported to spend and indulge themselves as a form of post-pandemic revenge spending.
- Disruption in brand loyalty – More than 60 % of the consumers in the US experienced out-of-stock items in the last three months. Surprisingly, only a minimal percentage of consumers waited for the item to come back in stock. Most of the consumers either switched brands and products or switched retailers.
Advertising is also an extremely resource rich exercise. The first TV ad was the 1941 Bulova ad which was broadcasted over WNBT before a baseball game. It costed the watchmaker around $4-$9 for the ad. But today if you were to advertise your brand during a sports game, it would cost you several million dollars. For example, a 30-second commercial during the 2018 Super Bowl, cost $5 million!
We get it, advertisements are all about creativity and sending across the brand’s message and offerings. But advertisements can fail BIG TIME. Let’s look at some examples-
Nivea’s “White is Purity’ advertisement was widely criticized for its racist connotations and the brand was forced to delete the post. It was geographically aimed at its followers in the Middle East and the brand accepted the ad to be “misleading”.
In 2002, Starbucks released an Ad that was perceived as ignorant and a mockery of the 9/11 catastrophe.
In 2013, Hyundai wanted to convey to customers that their new sedan does not produce harmful emissions. Unfortunately, they felt showing a man’s unsuccessful suicide was the best way to showcase their idea. This ad trivialized the devastation and mental suffering that suicide entails.
In 2017, Pepsi mistook a social justice movement as an opportunity to sell their sodas. This ad received backlash as it was disrespectful to the people who have suffered to bring about change.
These examples remind us how perception, attitude and feelings play a major role when it comes to interpretation of a brand’s message. Ad failures don’t just burn a huge hole in the pocket, but also have the capability of ruining a brand’s image.
All this could have easily been avoided if Nivea, Starbucks, Hyundai, and Pepsi would have pre-tested their advertisements before releasing them. Analyzing the fallacies before investing your time and effort in a ‘gut based’ ad concept can greatly impact your overall marketing campaign.
Consistent pre-testing improves an ad’s effectiveness by at least 20%, according to Millward Brown
Behavioral Research- Your Ace card!
Even though behavioral research gives in-depth insights that are scalable and reliable, brands are skeptical about adopting it. Switching to a new method and experimenting may seem like walking on uncharted territory, but it is important that brands get over their false sense of security and evolve with time. Even though behavioral research goes a step out of the comfort zone of traditional research methods, it is making headway at some brands.
A common misconception when it comes to behavioral research is that it is new. The study of human behavior is over 100 years old, and Sigmund Freud gave us deep insights that most of human behavior is unconscious.
With nudges—subtle interventions based on insights from psychology and economics—we can influence people’s behavior without restricting it. (Source: McKinsey)
Other common misconceptions that brands have are that behavioral research requires special equipment, highly specialised staff, additional allocation of money and more time. Moreover as a newbie to behavioral research, brands get bogged down by the fear of failure. What they do not realise is by placing faith on intuition instead of hard evidence is making them more vulnerable to failure and loss of revenue.
Factors derived through behavioural science had a 44 per cent stronger impact on repeat sales transactions (Source: Raconteur)
Customers in the modern world are spoilt for choice, have the attention span of a goldfish, and are subconsciously affected by the things they see, hear, and feel. Understanding what your customers want might seem like a difficult task, but it does not have to be. Analyzing metrics like attention, engagement and their emotional journey will help you better predict how your advertisement will perform before its released.
Traditional research methods rely solely on the answer that the respondent gives during an ad test. Such stated responses are difficult to comprehend, analyze and implement. Sometimes respondents don’t pay much attention and select any random answer, making the results unreliable. To top it all off, response bias creeps in making the results inaccurate and not actionable.
A modern research method which uses behavioral analysis of your respondents while they take the test reduces and eliminates these problems. Technology has come a long way and by integrating facial coding and eye tracking, online platforms provide a way for brands to know their customers at a subconscious level.
The facial action coding system was originally developed by Carl-Herman Hjortsjö in the late 60’s and pioneered by Paul Ekman and Wallace Friesen in the 70’s. It is used to analyse the facial expressions of a person mainly through facial muscle movements. This is done to evaluate the person’s emotion response and better understand what they truly feel.
These movements are broken down into ‘Action Units’ (AU) and are identified by a number, where each unit represented changes in one or more facial muscles.
The facial movements are captured while a respondent takes the ad test. These movements are then processed frame by frame to give insights about the respondent’s emotional journey while taking the test.
Eye Tracking is used for measuring, analyzing and interpreting data based on the position of the eyeball. The interest arose for this kind of a method was to understand the relationship between the brain and the visual system.
Two types of eye movement can be distinguished  –
- Fixations-These are relative pauses in the movement of the eye during which the retina stabilizes at a specific point in the visual field .
- Saccades- These are quick eye movements occurring between fixations that rely on eyes moving from one place to another.
The eye movement gives a detailed understanding of the respondent’s visual path. It also makes it easy to isolate the focus areas of the advertisement making it possible to evaluate the areas that will garner the most attention.
Entropik Tech makes Facial Coding and Eye Tracking highly accessible and easy to use with the help of webcams or smartphone cameras, while providing lab-level accuracy. With zero hardware dependency and easy accessibility, AI technologies like these are democratizing behavioral research and making it a must-have methodology in research studies.
The Right Ad Test Strategy
Now that you have got a brief idea about why ad testing is important, let’s look at how you should plan your strategy-
Decide when you want to test your advertisement
As a brand, you may feel that pre-testing is the ultimate way to test out your advertisements, but there are cases where conducting a post-test is best option for you.
Select your target audience
It is important that you select your target audience carefully. Understanding your respondent’s demography, age, gender etc. can help you bias and get reliable and actionable results.
Choose the metrics you want to evaluate
Focus on what you really want to know about your customer. Do you want to know if you were able to capture their attention? Or do you want to know if they could really connect with the content? Ask yourself these questions before you proceed to your ad test.
Set-up your campaign
This might seem like an easy task, but there are lot things to consider here. For example- number of ads, the screening, pre and post survey questions, the question type, the total test duration etc. To avoid fatigue, keep your questions relevant and the number of ads limited to a maximum of 3-4.
Related Read- The Ultimate Guide to Survey Question Types!
Integrate Behavioral Research
Using behavioral research while conducting your ad tests will give you an edge over your competitors and help you conduct effective market research, saving you money and time.
Send out your campaign
It is essential that you decide the mode of transmission. If the campaign is not device friendly or takes too much time to load, respondents will not complete the test. Do a bit research to understand how you can optimize your campaign’s testability based on your target audience.
Ad Testing is a great way to know your brand’s message will be perceived by your audience. Complementing it with Behavioral Research will help you tap into the subconscious mind of your customers and get scalable, accurate and actionable results.
Using Entropik Tech’s quantitative and qualitative research platform you can tackle response bias with ease. It gives you access to not just run surveys in over 17 languages and use over 22 survey question types, to understand what works best for your research study.
 Białowąs, Sylwester, and Adrianna Szyszka. "Eye-tracking in Marketing Research." Managing Economic Innovations-Methods and Instruments (2019): 91-104.