Tom Mabon - DVJ Insights

By: Tom Mabon

Now, I know that ad pre-testing is nothing new. And that in a world where it’s imperative to write current and relevant content it may seem like an odd topic for me to rabbit on about – but bear with me. It’s not just because I’m a former Millward Brown employee that I’m so precious about pre-testing. There’s a reason that it’s a cornerstone of our profession, and it’s that when it works, it’s one of the most powerful, effective, best-value-for-money products on the market. I use the term ‘when it works’ deliberately. In some cases, the client simply won’t use the tool, viewing it as a nice-to-have rather than a necessity, and in others the particular methodology implemented by the agency isn’t able to deliver maximum ROI.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed an increase in articles around the theme ‘pre-testing is a waste of money’. These articles are countered by spurious claims from agencies of “our test is the only test that has proven links to financial return on the market”. They boast, with their thumb on their nose, blowing a raspberry to the rest of the industry. An excellent headline, but one that no-one takes for more than that. Quite frankly, squabbling over which agency’s forced exposure testing generates the strongest correlation with in-market sales when using selective data isn’t the answer. The times have changed, people demand more, and most pre-testing hasn’t moved on yet. And ‘but what about product automation?’ doesn’t count.

Unicorns aren’t just skinny rhinos

UnicornAccording to Byron Sharp, 80% of all advertising is wasted. This is because consumers do not notice ads or if they do, they then fail to correctly link them to the brand. If the current pre-testing solutions in the market were as incredible as the marketing would have you believe, would this be the case? Some people in the industry (including myself) expect this trend to continue, if not increase, as ad blockers rise in popularity.

So how can you ensure your advertising is in the 20%? How does the tool need to be transformed so it once again becomes integral to every brand’s business? The key is to stop comparing rhinos to unicorns – and again, bear with me here. From a distance, or on paper, the two animals share fundamental similarities; 4 legs, a horn, a tail. Glance at the beasts and you see that they’re as different as night and day. I know that this analogy is a little silly, but I’d say it’s a fair reflection of the current copy testing model.

Using a forced exposure will lead to misinterpretation and misleading results. To avoid this and to create valid outcomes the advertising copy testing should mirror real life consumer behaviour as closely as possible. Brands spend hundreds of thousands of pounds, millions even, to create, edit, and then re-edit an advert. Tweaking a branding cue here or voice over there, believing that these subtle modifications obtained through forced exposure research will make all the difference. Then, after all that graft, you release your well-preened unicorn into the wild, into the world of rhinos, only to find that it doesn’t work as you expected. Why? Because you were unable to test the most important thing: do people engage with it to begin with?

Creating success out in the wilderness

Toy rhino on a rockSo, how do you test that? Move to a blind reel, in situ approach. This approach, places the advert within a reel of other adverts, allowing the viewer to engage or skip as they see fit, just like in real life. It lifts the tool to the next level, it lifts your client’s ad to the next level, it lifts your relationships to the next level. This way, you can discuss drop out rates, hot points, engagement over time, and how to maximize each second of each piece of content. Oh, and of course, my turn to boast: ads tested in this way do correlate with sales, and tracking data. And the relationship is much stronger than with the other pre-testing tools. But I’ll stop blowing that raspberry now.

Contact Tom ( for more information on integrating new techniques and ideas into copy testing.

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