Copy Testing (Pre-Testing)

Advertising pre-testing or copy testing evaluates advertising in terms of impact, communication and appeal, and measures shifts in disposition towards brand from pre to post exposure. It is suited for taking go/no-go decisions and can reveal insights on how to improve the effectiveness of the advertisement.

By and large copy testing is a two-stage — quantitative and qualitative — interviewing process. The quantitative stage usually consists of 125 to 200 respondents who are shown a clutter reel comprising the test ad and some 8 to 10 other commercials, at a hall in a central test location. A second viewing where only the test ad is shown follows the first viewing.

The test ad many be in finished, animatic or stealomatic format for online video/TV/cinema, or in print (electronic) for press/poster.

Animatics/other unfinished formats are economical to use for testing, especially when the strategy and the creative ideas are to be assessed and validated. Finished formats, on the other hand, are used when the objective is to tweak and further improve the commercial before airing.

With about 240,000 ads tested since its launch in 1989, Millward Brown’s LinkTM is the most widely used copy testing solution in the industry.

The name “Link” is derived from a paper published by Gordon Brown in 1987, titled “The Link between Sales Effects and Advertising Content”, and the test is based on the notion that effective ads link the brand and the message with the most involving elements in their creative. So that when people recall the ad, the brand comes to mind.

Link uses a comprehensive set of evaluative and diagnostic questions to assess the different ways that advertising may be intended to build a brand. Taking advantage of advances in neuroscience, it also uses facial coding and eye tracking to analyse customer reactions to advertisements.

Amongst other leading research suppliers, Ipsos ASI’s Next*TV solution adopts a rigorous approach that uses both in-home viewing of the ad and day-after-recall. Participants are asked to review a 30 min television programme broadcast on an unused cable channel in their homes. The actual intent, however, is to evaluate the commercials embedded within the programme. Responses are collected a day after exposure. Though relatively expensive compared to a central location test, in-home viewing methodology better simulates the natural viewing environment.

Respondents are interviewed three or four times — at recruitment (screening questions), before the first viewing, after the first viewing and after the second viewing. The questions test for advertising awareness and brand recognition, attention to brand, purchase intent, comprehension, recall of messages, and various diagnostic questions and measures. These metrics, and the methods deployed to measure them are described in the sections that follow in this chapter.

Purchase intent is gauged through pre-post exposure measurement of the respondents’ disposition to buy the product. In the case of the Ipsos test, prior to watching, respondents are asked what brand they are likely to buy on their next purchase occasion. After exposure, they are asked what brand they would prefer to win. Asking essentially the same preference question in a different context, masks the purpose of the question, limiting any bias that this might create.

A subset of approximately 25 to 30 respondents with relatively strong opinions on key aspects of the ad, are chose for the qualitative stage. These respondents participate in group discussion/in-depth interviews where projective techniques are employed to elicit insights from their thoughts and feelings.

The testing of print advertising involves using similar metrics and methods. To test a magazine ad, respondents are given fake magazines containing the test ad and asked to flip through and provide their initial reactions.

In the first round of questions, respondents are asked which ads they recall seeing. They are then given more time to peruse the magazine and asked a series of questions related to recall, the persuasiveness of the ad, and message recall. Next, respondents are directed to the test ad itself and asked to read it. The final set of questions that follow pertain to ad comprehension and diagnostics.

Copy testing is rich in diagnostics and can guide advertising creative development. However, since it does not replicate real life, unmotivated viewing and long-term memory, it should not be relied upon for making predictions on the performance of the test ads. Rather, it can provide a ballpark estimate of how a commercial may perform on-air and be used to make go/no-go decisions.

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