When it comes to advertising development research, there are numerous objections and perennial worries for both the agency and the client. Here’s a couple of concerns that you may have heard before!:
So what can be done to cultivate and protect your fragile, creative, big idea?
As a long-time researcher and ex-planner from agency land, allow me to share some suggestions. These suggestions are largely about qualitative research, often via focus groups or individual interviews. Here are our seven secrets for highly successful ad research…
Pro-creative One thing that really annoys me is the attitude of some researchers whose starting point is ‘The ads are crap and it’s my job to get the respondents to tell you so’. This sort of attitude is born of fragile egos, lack of experience, and naivety regarding the creative marketing process.
The right attitude for a researcher should be, ‘There’s probably something in this idea’. After all, if an agency and a client have got to the point where they are willing to spend good money on research, there is a fair chance that the idea is half decent.
Secret #1: Look for signs in your researcher of pro-creativity. Do they say that they can see there is something interesting in the creative ideas you present to them? Do they suggest what sort of consumer reaction would constitute an endorsement of the overall concept?
Context counts In the real world, people evaluate marketing communications in the context of the category and what the competition are doing. So it’s a bit weird to simply have a warm-up chat about the brands in a category and then hit people with ‘Do you like this idea for an advert?’
The category is important because most advertising is competitive in its intent; e.g. If it’s a retail advert for a Ford vehicle, they want to take business from other car brands like Holden and Nissan and Hyundai. If it’s a brand advert for Westpac, they want to build equity versus other big banks. So how the competitors are trying to communicate with people is important.
Secret#2: Show some competitive advertising within the category to give context to the creative being tested. It gets people talking about advertising, attuned to the category style, and understanding if the adverts are brand, retail, or promotional. It also helps research respondents remember the quality of finished adverts in whatever medium is being discussed.
Realistic recruiting Most consumers who volunteer to do research are actually genuine, constructive, and normally intelligent individuals. They are not – as the more cynical viewpoint suggests – the dross of society. The recruiters have gone to great lengths to build the quality of the panels from which research respondents are drawn, and recruitment processes have become more sophisticated.
However, there is one trick that many researchers miss. This is to exclude those who are attitudinally ‘advertising haters’. These people simply don’t like advertising and will enjoy telling you that your ideas are rubbish… even if in real life they will be influenced by this advertising.
Secret #3: Ask if there is a process for identifying and excluding advertising haters. We have quantitatively measured the proportion of these people in the population and it’s around 10% who have strong anti-advertising views. They will be unlikely to give you useful feedback.
The right stimulus I have had more debates over the issue of the stimulus material than any other part of the advertising research process. Especially when talking about TV ideas. E.g. Should it be a storyboard or an animatic? Should the moderator read the script or should it be recorded?
And so on. We are often asked to specify the ‘best stimulus material’.
There is no one best stimulus material and it depends on the creative idea itself. The right stimulus material equals…Whatever will give participants a good chance of understanding what the end creative will look like. It also helps to give people some representation of the 360 degree campaign across different mediums (print, web, promotion, TV etc.).
Secret #4: Less is more when it comes to stimulus material. Too many boards, and over-crafted illustrations and long read-outs will often confuse and distract research respondents. Today’s marketing savvy humans can easily imagine finished creative from loose illustrations.
Objectivity One of the reasons for hiring a researcher is objectivity. But in an effort to be objective, some researchers simply repeat back what the respondents say about the creative. Quotations and summarising comments is a valid task - but research needs to go beyond mere regurgitation.
An objective researcher will undertake reasonable editing of what people say, based on judgements about whether respondents were expressing genuine opinions. To put it another way, you don’t believe everything your friends say about a topic when you have dinner with them!
Secret #5: Choose a researcher with objectivity and the confidence to edit respondents when necessary. Objectivity means not taking a position on whether they personally like or dislike the ideas being researched. Confidence means having judgement about what respondents say – getting them to express opinions, but not taking every comment literally.
Intuitive responses One approach to advertising research is about de-construction and analysis. This focuses on specific executional elements and can lead to detailed, rather artificial discussions… about such topics as the colour of that jumper. The respondents make an effort to be helpful and keep saying things - and because our culture encourages criticism - comments can often be ‘picky’.
We subscribe to a ‘low involvement processing’ theory, which holds that consumers generally (and there are exceptions) don’t really think about advertising too much. They tend to process via emotions, rather than rationally – even if the message has facts and a functional benefit.
Secret #6: Initial responses and emotional reactions are important. The researcher should have a method for collecting and reporting of these split second reactions. We have a tried and test emoticon system that helps people respond fast, and intuitively without over-analysis.
Psychological principles We believe that the traditional set of research questions is rather outmoded. If the questions are simply: ‘Do you like or dislike this?’ and ‘What is the message?’… Then do you really need depth research? Good research should help you understand how people are evaluating an idea.
So we are trying to delve into their minds, rather like psycho-analysis – not just asking whether they like it and what behaviours might happen. We have an approach based on psychological and neuroscientific principles about how people evaluate marketing. Our seven principles are: Cognitive load, Approach / Avoidance, Status, Certainty, Reciprocity, Belonging, Heuristics.
Secret #7: Use measures that relate to how people evaluate marketing initiatives and brands. These include but go beyond like and dislike. We call it ‘neuro research without the electrodes’. Rather than using physiological measures, we have a set of questions that relate to the seven psychological principles above.
I hope you find our seven ‘secrets’ for successful ad research useful. Most of these simple steps are missed or used inconsistently by the research community. FF2’s approach is not just about ‘researching ads’, it’s more about assisting the client and agency meet communications challenges and helping creative ideas.
Plus, on every project, I remind myself that being associated with great advertising and successful marketing is good for researchers too.