Ad Testing

The Challenge: Two different Resonance clients (both major advertisers, in the Top 10 in annual ad spending) were confounded by the success of their advertising! In each case, ads with mediocre scores on conventional tests had succeeded by dramatically lifting product volume. What was going on? Was this a case of loving the brand versus liking the ads?

Our Findings: It’s natural for clients to want to rely on well-established tools like Nielsen Bases, Accupoll and IRI BehaviorScan to measure an ad’s success. However, we knew that pre-tests are often wrong—perhaps as often as half the time. It’s what we statisticians call a “Type 1” error (or “false positive”) – when an ad tests well but doesn’t produce results with consumers and underperforms for the client.

Product managers hated losing money but accepted a certain error rate in the pre-tests. But what really kept these clients awake at night was the occasional “Type 2” error (false negatives)—ads that performed brilliantly in the market despite mediocre pre-test scores. Product managers wanted to how to create more ads like these “black swans.”

Our Strategy: We started by focusing on emotional levers that motivate consumers in different product categories. Our main focus was consumers’ connection with the needs expressed in the ad.

We discovered a previously undervalued importance in the authenticity of ads—audiences consistently resonated with advertising portraying real people. We found these ads inspire viewers to reflect upon their own lives and outcomes in relation to the brand. Conversely, we found that advertising featuring celebrities or memorable production actually diverted the viewers’ attention away from the brand.

The Results: While pre-testing wasn’t abandoned altogether, the client gave priority to advertising that maximized authenticity and minimized distraction. Other Resonance clients have embraced these revolutionary findings, which have resulted in powerful results. (For instance, Bayer won an Ogilvy Award for “research contribution to advertising success” for Aleve’s “Real People” campaign.) And smaller, more innovative clients made small advertising budgets go further armed with this knowledge.