The Ultimate Guide to Advertising Testing for Market Research

mrx glossary ad concept testing

In the sections below, explore why it‘s important to test ads before launch, key considerations to keep in mind when crafting your ad concepts, and how to go about actually testing consumer reactions. 




Table of Contents: 


What is ad testing?

Ad testing is just as it sounds: a means of testing your idea for an ad, whether it’s fully formed or still at the storyboard stage. The metrics for ad testing will depend on the business area, ad genre, and what you’re hoping the ad will communicate, but typical elements to measure include: ad recall, ad engagement (if things like eye movements or mouse clicks are trackable), and strength of the call to action (how likely somebody will act as a result of your advertisement).

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Why test your ads?

Say you have this great idea for an ad - it involves a bunch of tiny animals dressed up in clothes talking about financial products. It’s going to be hilarious - or so you might think. If you haven’t screened the ad amongst your primary target audience, you might find out only once it’s too late that that idea is considered ’done before’, and that your audience just doesn’t find dressed-up animals talking about financial topics amusing.

Reactions to ads, as we all know, are very subjective. What one person finds interesting and motivating, another will find a total turn-off. However, the chances of your ad campaign succeeding will be higher if you pre-test it to understand what drives the purchase decision of your target market, which messages resonate with them, and which executions are likely to make them pay attention and remember it so that your brand is top of mind at the time of purchase. Through an ad test, ad elements that show room for improvement can be adjusted before the ad is released to the market (and before a lot of budget has been put toward it).

Ad spend can be high, so there needs to be a good conversion rate to maximize return on investment. It also has brand-building benefits; the right advertising aligns with brand values and image, forming trust and consistency among your brand. Contrarily, advertising that doesn’t fit the consumer perception of a brand can have detrimental effects on your image.

Beyond just helping to create inspirational and budget-optimized advertising concepts for specific campaigns, consumer insights from ad testing have far-reaching benefits for companies‘ borader market knowledge. Ad testing aids the creative decision process across the marketing and advertising mix, as it builds up a picture of the consumers who will ultimately buy your product. Knowing this kind of information about your consumers ensures you keep ahead of trends so that your branding strategy stays relevant.

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How to run an ad test

1. Design your ads

Of course, the starting point for ad testing is having something to actually test; this can be a still image, a series of images, or a fully developed commercial spot. The format of your testing concept could be images of digital advertising, printed copy, audio content, videos, or billboards. Whatever it is, it‘s wise to check for the following aspects before you put it into research testing:

- A hook: An idea, theme, or message that grabs your audience’s attention so that they feel compelled to watch or read through right to the end to find out what the advertising is all about. At the beginning of advertising or copy, there might be a question for which the consumer needs to wait for the answer: for example, ‘This is the single biggest mistake people make when buying travel insurance.’

- Engaging visuals and voiceovers: To grab attention, hold attention, and help memorability of your message, you need engaging visual and audio components. Make sure that images are clearly linked to your brand, and that any copy or voiceovers mention your brand too, ideally more than once. The last thing you want is people thinking your ad is for a competitor brand (or, not knowing at all who the ad might be for).

- A clear message: Focus on the key idea you want to get across and don’t include too many messages about your product. For example, ‘90% of people said they would buy our insurance again’ implies reliability and customer satisfaction, so that you don’t have to list each benefit of your product.

- The right language: This might mean changing the tone or words you use across countries and by customer segment. Segments could be based on exposure to advertising, life stage, gender, or some other demographic. If you don’t already have this customer knowledge, consumer profiles can be determined through market research segmentation done prior to ad testing.

- Honesty: It’s tempting to include overly optimistic claims about how your product will turn the consumer’s life around. But unless done in an ironic and knowing way, unrealistic messages will put customers off rather than encourage them to check out your product.

- A USP - Unique Selling Point: Tell your target market how your brand is different from the competition. Why buy your product rather than competitor products?

- A clear call to action (CTA): You’ll need to decide what you want your audience to do as a result of seeing your ad. Do you want them to call you, find out more online, go to a specific store and buy your product? Whatever it is, tell them at the end of the advertisement what they should do and how they should do it.


2. Decide what you want to test

Once ads have been designed, there may well be several potential avenues of executing them. Do you go with a serious or silly tone? Loud or soft audio? Celebrity or athlete cameo? All different options may feel interesting and persuasive, but which will the target audience prefer?

Further, there are then different parts of the marketing mix to consider: social media ads, TV ads, print advertising, and many more. Additional research can elicit reactions to each format and help you ensure consistency across them. A TURF analysis is particularly useful for understanding which avenues of advertising will result in the optimal audience reach.

There’s also the option to include your previous ads or competitor ads to benchmark reactions. This will highlight whether your new advertising is in line with previous campaigns, on which measures it does better or worse, and how it stacks up against the competitive set.

When you’ve decided which stimuli (the ads you’re testing) to put into research, it’s time to plan which elements of the ads you would like to test and which metrics you will use to evaluate how successful they are.


3. Choose the metrics to measure

The success of an ad hinges on its ability to meet a selection of criteria. If one criterion isn’t fulfilled, the ad can fall short. You’ll therefore need to ensure that your research methodology allows respondents to score, rate, or give reactions to a range of metrics, including:


- First impressions: Does the ad give off the right vibe from the start?

- Standout: Does the ad have a ‘wow’ factor when up against competitor ads?


- Appeal: Do respondents like the ad? Do they like the message?


- Clarity: Is the main message clear? What do respondents understand it to be?


- Engagement: Does the ad hold people’s attention? Or did respondents look/click away?


- Believability: Do people believe the claims in the ad?


- Relevance: Is the product or service being advertised one that fits into the audience’s lives?


- Brand fit: Does the ad match with perceived brand image and values?


- Uniqueness: Is the ad idea original and unique?


- Call to action: How high is purchase intent after seeing the ad?


Beyond closed-end metrics such as the above, ad testing research can also capture spontaneous feedback from consumers (through open-end texts or through qualitative research) so that all possible criticism or praise is included in the final analysis of the ad’s performance.


4. Pick market research software

You have your ads, and you know what you want to measure, so now you‘ll need to find a way to measure it.


There are a few ways to test advertising effectiveness. One of the best quantitative approaches is A/B testing, also known as monadic testing. This method shows each of the advertisements being tested to separate groups of respondents, each group equally structured in terms of respondent criteria (demographics, purchase behavior, and whatever else is deemed to be important in the sample quota). Each group sees just one ad. The advantage to this single exposure is that respondents can give their full attention to a single ad, survey length is kept to a minimum, and therefore response rates will likely be higher.


A variation on this method is sequential A/B testing, in which each group of respondents sees multiple ads and can make comparisons between them. This does make the survey longer for each respondent and there can be an order bias in responses. However, it typically demands a smaller sample than single ad tests, which could make them more cost-effective.


Beyond quantitative research, you might want to gain more emotional, nuanced reactions to your ads using qualitative research. Qualitative responses tend to be more spontaneous, and respondents go into more detail explaining the reasoning behind their reactions which can pinpoint how ads need to be changed to elicit the desired response. Qualitative research can be done via focus groups, in-depth interviews, or online methods such as video research.


5. Create the test/survey

When your advertisement(s) are ready to test on your chosen market research software or platform, it’s time to decide who you will show it to and which questions you will ask.


The respondent sample should be representative of your target audience and statistically significant so that you can rely on the findings with confidence. Any good research service will help you define your sample’s profile and size. It will also guide you through the questions you‘d want to include in your survey and the style to use (e.g. scales, select-all, open text fields).


In terms of constructing the survey, make sure each ad receives the same amount of attention from respondents, with the same set of questions asked of each so that fair comparisons can be made. Also ensure that the ads you’re showing are as high quality as possible so that they can be easily evaluated and give the best possible impression of your brand.

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Choosing the right ad testing service

Advertising testing needs to be done well. After all, you have a lot riding on your ad performance - brand awareness, brand image, brand equity, not to mention profitability. When looking for a service to use, make sure it‘s one that can help you with survey design, sample allocation, and high-quality research and analysis to deliver findings that feed into your final creative development. 

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Start creating more compelling ads

quantilope has a wealth of experience in delivering outstanding advertising research via its online survey platform. With quantilope, you can be in control of your ad testing from start to finish. quantilope’s intuitive drag-and-drop functionality enables you to upload stimuli and choose the research method most suited to your study, such as a fully automated quantitative A/B pre-roll test for digital advertising.


If you‘d prefer to go the route of qualitative research, quantilope‘s inColor tool gathers responses in video form so that you can see and hear consumers talk about the ads and analyze their responses using keyword, emotion, and sentiment analysis.


quantilope’s survey templates suggest questions and phrasing most suited to ad tests, though you have free creativity to customize however you wish. Once your research goes live, you can watch results come in in real-time, with findings displayed visually on quantilope’s live, interactive dashboard. You will be able to see how your ads perform according to key metrics, as well as how responses can be sorted into customer segments where applicable. This information will help you to optimize messaging and advertising styles by consumer type so that ads are always relevant to your target market. And what’s more, the dashboard is shareable so that all stakeholders can view results through a single link. quantilope has expert research consultants dedicated to each project to help with any stage of the research process and to help interpret the findings.


To understand if your advertising concept is persuasive enough and if it fits with your brand‘s personality get in touch below to learn more:

Get in touch to learn more about ad testing!

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