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In a world saturated by dull and irrelevant ads, people are experiencing advertising blindness, filtering ads they don't want to see. To remedy the problem, brands such as Dove, Coca-Cola, and Oreo are creating their own customer insight armies to understand how to develop and successfully deliver winning ads.

Consumer insight for advertising

When Dove asked female consumers, "Do you consider yourself beautiful?Û the results set the stage for developing an ad that eventually turned viral. On YouTube, the 3-minute ad became the most watched video ad of all time with 114 million views.

In 2013, U.S. brands spent nearly $171 billion on paid advertisements. But only a small percentage of those ads came anywhere close to the success of Dove's, "Real Beauty SketchesÛ. Many of the breakout hits - like the Dove campaign - start with consumer insight.

This post explains everything you need to know about harnessing research for your own advertising. We answer questions such as: what types of advertising require consumer input and why co-creation can become an advertiser's best friend. We'll also provide a glimpse into what the future holds for advertising research.

i) Consumer Insight for Advertising

ii) Co-creation

iii) Ad-testing

iv) Media Buying

v) The future of advertising research

How do advertising formats benefit from customer insights?

Customer insights play a pivotal role in improving all types of advertising formats including digital, TV, and radio. Here are several reasons why different ad formats benefit from insights.

As with traditional advertising, creative elements are needed for a digital campaign's success. Websites are filled with clutter and it's most often the creative ad that captures and holds the viewer's attention. Creative elements drive critical brand metrics, including purchase intent and favorability, but bad online ads have the ability to negatively impact a brand. As investments in digital advertising continue to grow (U.S. digital ads accounted for $42.54 billion, right behind TV spending at $63.35 billion), so does the need to extract insights.

Digital advertising in particular is easy to test in online research settings. In contrast to TV and print magazine ads, digital ads are tested on the native platforms - computers and mobile devices - that consumers will eventually view the finalized ad on.

Extracting customer insights for TV ads is valuable because TV processes at a low-involvement level and is the best way to increase a set of associations around a brand. In fact, a PwC Payback Study found that TV ads pay back an average of 4.55 times increased sales: 30% more than press.

TV commercials have a predetermined length (15 to 30 seconds), so it is easier to group and test multiple advertisements successively. Brands have the ability to space smaller groups of ads over longer periods of time to mitigate respondent fatigue. Also, compared to digital and print, TV ads tend to elicit more descriptive and emotional feedback from respondents.

As media budgets continue to shift to digital, print advertisers are no longer the kings-of-the-advertising-hill they once were. However, print advertising is far from dead and neither are the consumer insights that can relay the impact of advertisements on subscribers, newsstand buyers and how they benefit print brands. Here are two guiding principles for testing print advertising.

  1. While television commercials have a predetermined length (15 to 30 seconds), print advertisements have a predetermined space and the reader determines how long they will look at the ad. In print, the reader is fully in control of how they will consider the ad. Brands should not set an allocated time for the tester to view the print ad. Rather, it is most realistic to show the print ad within magazine or newspaper clutter while the readers view the ad at their own pace. This difference must be taken into consideration when doing print advertising research; including variables such as design, spacing and layout - and their impacts on the brand, consumer and purchase intent.
  2. If the objective is to optimize a print ad, a system must be put in place to uncover which areas of execution fall short. Print ads are easy to refine; however, print testing should not rely on a single measure such as "recallÛ because it won't provide the insights needed to guide improvement. Rather, it is best to use a combination of measurements (such as point-of-interest mapping, eye tracking, highlighting of the best creative and more) that take into account all of the unique variables that impact a print advertisement.

Who should brands involve?

Brands must involve the right mix of people in their insight communities to take part in co-creation or ad-testing activities. To do this, brands should take a look at their past advertising briefs. Do the briefs speak to loyal brand advocates or prospective customers? Is the goal of the campaign to attract Millennials or Baby Boomers?

But before narrowing down on specific demographics and enlisting participants, brands should take a step back and decide whether their advertising situation calls for listening to customers or the market:

  1. Voice of Customer (VOC)

Loyal customers are often a brand's harshest critics. Customers have an intrinsic incentive to offer useful feedback. Since brand loyalists already understand your brand, they can provide the spark you need to develop highly relevant ad ideas.

  1. Voice of market (VOM)

The voice of market includes people who are not your customers. Although these people don't directly engage with your brand, non-customers (including those loyal to direct competitors) provide valuable input. By listening to the market, brands can discover what makes people purchase competitor products over their own, and adjust their advertising pitch accordingly.

ii) Co-creation

Why is co-creation an advertiser's best friend?
Co-creation is where brands work and communicate with customers to develop new, relevant, and highly engaging ideas. Co-creation removes the monopoly on creative thinking and promotes open sharing. Thousands of participants can be invited to generate, evaluate, and refine ad concepts.


When do brands use co-creation for ads?

B2C and B2B brands in almost any industry can benefit from co-creation. Here are five instances of when brands should use co-creation to develop advertisements:

  1. Out of ideas: Sometimes even the best ad agencies can't think of more creative advertising concepts for your brand. Co-creation taps into the creative and intellectual skill sets of thousands of your customers.
  2. Customer engagement: Making customers feel like they are part of the advertising process is rewarding. Customers like to be personally involved in the development of goods, services, and experiences that they use - or a part of - every day.
  3. Reduce risk: Brands can be much more confident in the ideas that come out of the community. People in co-creation communities are typically pre-screened to ensure that they are familiar with the brand, the product, or the industry.
  4. Quick turnaround: Receive ideas from a target market within weeks of fielding questions or sending a brief.
  5. A pipeline of advertising ideas: Even if many of the ideas don't contribute to the winning advertisement, brands now have a wealth of creative inspiration for future ads.

In the following case studies, Coca-Cola and Oreo used co-creation for different reasons. Coca-Cola wanted to gain advertising ideas from consumers while Oreo sought to increase customer engagement. For both stories, co-creation was the catalyst that improved certain business processes.


When Coca-Cola's ad agencies were out of ideas, the beverage company turned to co-creation and online communities to fuel their 'Energizing Refreshment' marketing campaign.

A few years ago, Coca-Cola had trouble repositioning itself. Apart from the other beverages under the Coca-Cola umbrella, the standalone product of Coke was in dire need of fresh advertising. Coke decided to run a co-creation experiment in Asia, in hopes of developing a brief that would appeal to a new generation. The company invited its community to create and vote on a film, print, or animation revolving around the theme of 'energizing refreshment.'

A video submission from Coke's 'Energizing Refreshment' campaign

According to Leonardo O'Grady, regional director for Coke's sparkling & activation platforms, Coke already had a large consumer-generated community, but the company used them in a way to drive engagement rather than leveraging them as a source of advertising inspiration.

"The results were amazing, we had around 3,600 responses, which we weren't expecting at all,Û said O'Grady. As customer submissions began to stream in, Coke expanded the project internationally to North America and Latin America. "We were also blown away by the quality of the submissions and to be honest some of the film quality was better than we get from our global agency partners.Û

The winning advertisements outperformed many of the past third-party work and it only cost a fraction of the price. Coke paid their vendor a flat fee to tap into an active community and for rewarding those customers who contributed ideas.

"We achieved something like a 900% productivity gain against briefing through traditional means. That's if you compare all the costs of using co-creation versus our usual agency and production fees for just one piece of copy, never mind 3,600.Û


The Daily Twist campaign, part of Oreo's 100th year-long birthday celebration, is a unique co-creation success story. Oreo wanted a way to engage cookie eaters in America, so they invited customers to share their advertising ideas.

Oreo held its "Daily TwistÛ campaign live in Times Square, where a team of creatives drew over 100 ads while working in a glass box. Earlier in the morning, the brand asked its Twitter and Facebook fans to submit and vote for ideas. The creatives selected eight of them, drew the images on paper, and put the top three to an online vote.

Each advertisement focused on celebrating historical anniversaries tied to a specific date: from the anniversary of the first high-five between Dusty Baker and Glenn Burke of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1977, to the 1969 moon landing, to the first LGBT Pride celebrations. An Oreo cookie was modified in some way to signify the event.

Oreo added a real-time social media aspect to amplify their efforts. "It's nerve wracking, but it's also exciting,Û Cindy Chen, director of marketing for Oreo, told Adweek. The experience let Oreo not only extract great ideas, but also to create an immersive experience that left customers feeling more involved and attached to the brand.


iii) Ad testing
The concept of ad testing has been in existence for decades. But online collaboration platforms, including insight communities, have changed the traditional methods of ad testing. Brands can now involve thousands of participants or test certain segments of people based on specific variables ranging from gender, income level, to product preferences.

Why pre-test your advertising?

Several studies reveal that nearly two-thirds of all ads do not work. A large portion of ads are never seen or remembered by most people. Given the high probability that brands will create an ineffective ad, pre-testing is responsible risk management. Here are four benefits of ad-testing:

  1. Pinpoints problems. Pre-testing reveals why your ad may not be working. If 5,000 customers review your ad, they might say, "The music did not match the visuals,Û or, "The two-minute ad felt too long.Û With open-ended feedback, brands receive clear directions on how to improve the ad.
  2. Saves media dollars. Ineffective ideas are costly, especially in a $171 billion U.S. ad industry where the cost for a 30-second prime-time spot is shy of $110,000, or where an advertisement for the Super Bowl averages $4 million dollars. While it may be painful to hear that you blew a $100,000 making an ad that doesn't work, wouldn't you rather learn that before you spend another million paying to air it? Of course, pre-testing at an earlier stage of the process - by sharing a concept or a storyboard - could save you the $100,000, too.
  3. Minimizes risk of a PR disaster. Pre-testing a potentially damaging advertisement on a smaller scale of customers (before showing it to the entire world) can save brands from experiencing a major public relations fiasco or receiving unwanted media attention.
  4. Creates an engaging experience. Involving customers in the ad-testing process will make them feel like they are contributors and sculptors of the brand rather than mere end-users. Engagement through ad-testing also helps gain early consumer interest in products.
  5. Provide your advertising relationships more value. By showing the brands that advertise on your platforms (or co-sponsor initiatives your brand is involved with) the true value of their advertisements, you are delivering them a benefit that is crucial to a healthy long-term relationship. Traditionally an advertisement's success has been based on the amount of people it reaches, not necessarily the amount of sales it produces. By having access to your customers, more specifically customers that have seen certain advertisements, you are able to generate what resulted from the spot in terms of brand satisfaction, net promoter score and purchasing intent - which are key variables that have traditionally been in a "black boxÛ for advertisers.


In August 2013, Unilever's Marmite launched a new ad called 'End Marmite Neglect' in the UK that generated over 400 complaints and had people up in arms. In response, Marmite tested their advertisement to dig deeper and to gauge if the so-called 'controversial' ad truly affected consumer sentiment around Marmite.

The Marmite spoof followed rescue teams as they visited homes to take away the neglected yeast paste hidden away in the back of kitchen cupboards. The tagline "Love it. Hate it. Just don't forget it.Û attempted to target the 1 in 10 British who haven't touched their Marmite jar in over 3 months, to remind them it's still there.
"Love it. Hate it. Just don't forget it.Û This witty commercial for Marmite will have many of us wondering whether we too have a jar of the neglected spread lurking in the back of the cupboard.

The concept of the commercial was innocent and fun to many in the UK. But shortly after releasing the commercial, many animal lovers complained that the ad's rescue motif trivialized the work of animal rescuers. In the UK, many people are very fond of animals - it's the only country to have "toad patrolsÛ that help frogs safely cross streets and avoid cars.

To paint a clearer picture of consumer sentiment surrounding the brand, Marmite tested their advertisement on Vision Critical's add+impactå¨ platform. More specifically, the test sought to grasp an objective view of what people considered to be the ad's creative strengths and weaknesses. The test also discovered whether the ad damaged any feelings towards Marmite.

Marmite was relieved to hear the ad-test results, which indicated that the majority of people enjoyed the ad, while only a small proportion of viewers - less than expected - found it to be offensive. In fact, 7 out of 10 people from a representative sample said only positive things about the ad. In addition, the ad did not disturb purchase intent and feelings towards Marmite remained strong with heavy and medium buyers.

How to maximize the effectiveness of ad testing

If you want to ensure that the data you receive from ad testing is useful and actionable, consider the following tips:

  1. Benchmark your ad. Testing becomes more powerful when brands have other industry ads to compare against. This is especially important in environments where competition is high (think Pepsi vs. Coke). Certain ad-testing platforms have databases of thousands of industry ads, all of which are measured across with standardized metrics.
  2. Test early, test often. If you need to test more than a dozen ads, group them into smaller, more manageable phases for testing. Doing so spares participants from survey fatigue. Shorter tests also promote more accurate and honest feedback as participants are less likely to rush through the survey.
  3. Get rid of your bias. Before showing customers print, radio, TV, or digital advertisements for testing, brands should avoid influencing people with words that are included in survey instructions. For example, instead of, "Watch this exciting and colorful ad, then describe your feelings towards it,Û remove the bias words to pose a neutral description, "Watch this ad then describe your feelings towards it.Û
  4. Decide on how to measure success (KPIs). Brands need to establish multiple success metrics to grasp a better sense of an ad's effectiveness. Several advertising KPIs could include:
  • Attention: Did your ad get noticed?
  • Brand bonding: Did you improve on consumers' emotional connection with your brand?
  • Message takeaway: Did consumers accurately get the message that the ad tried to convey?
  • Brand recall: Is your brand the hero? Do consumers know the brand behind the ad?
  1. Dissect your advertisement in parts, but evaluate it as a whole. Simple A/B testing determines what parts of your ads are effective. In the example shown below, we are testing pictures of a cheeseburger versus a cupcake. The text is the control variable because it's the same for both ads. Afterwards, we would place one picture as the control variable and test multiple versions of text. Test advertisements in parts first, then later as a whole.

Why post-test your ad?

Just as important as pre-testing, post-testing allows advertisers to find out how their ad performed. It works by engaging the people that actually saw the advertisement and gauges the difference in their propensity to buy or refer the product, as well as their perception of the brand. This can be measured by aided awareness (showing the ad in the survey), or unaided awareness (targeting viewers that have already seen the ad), of any advertisement or sponsorship.

For example, after an ad goes on air, brands can do post-testing by following up with the same people who previously pre-tested the ad - ensuring that they have seen it. This process is taken a step further if your organization have the ability to track passive data on your audience, as you can then target people that have seen certain advertisements (via TV, digital, mobile, etc.), without having to have them pre-test the advertisements prior. Some questions that can be asked during a post-test includes whether the viewer liked the brand more, if they are more likely to refer the brand, if they are more likely to buy the product or category, etc. With a long-term audience research perspective (for instance, through VC Insight Communities), companies have the ability to go back to the same people they pre-tested with 6 months later and ask if they actually purchased the product that was being advertised. Post-testing helps to truly close the loop on your ad's ROI.

iv) Media Buying

In an industry where ad formats are becoming increasingly engaging and interactive, and where PPC prices are soaring upwards, the art of media buying has never been more difficult to master.

Part of the problem is that many marketers fail to develop thorough strategy - complete with target customer profiles and competitor analysis - before rushing into media buys. Research and due diligence save marketers from wasting advertising dollars on unwise media purchases.

For Liz Gazer, a retail marketing professional who specializes in digital media, competitive analysis answers questions such as, "Where is your competition advertising? Where are your consumers hanging out? What are they reading, watching, and listening to? What motivates them to spend in your vertical?Û

It's easier to identify the right media channels to invest in when brands ask the right questions of the right people. With insight communities and voice of market solutions, media buyers can ask customers what ad formats they prefer to watch an advertisement in.

For example, a male deodorant company may want to find out which types of TV channels they should promote their advertisement on and during what times. They could go to their insight community of a thousand customers to inquire about the TV programs they watch. After discovering that their target customers mostly watch sports channels between 7:00-11:00PM, buyers can proceed to make an informed media purchase.

v) The future of advertising research

Advertising research has progressed in leaps and bounds over the last two decades. While co-creation, ad testing and research-backed media buying have helped advertising become a science as well as an art, the future will offer even more ways to power advertising with customer insight. Here are 5 of the most exciting evolutions in advertising research.

1. Eye-tracking and wearable technology
Today, there are innovative tools such as online 'highlighters' and virtual 'heat maps' that enable respondents to mark sections of advertisements that they find to be the most interesting. Data from these eye-tracking tools let brands verify open-ended responses and garner meaningful insights.


Wearable technology such as Google Glass are expected to improve the quality and depth of data derived from ad testing. For instance, wearable glasses will be able to detect the intensity of a gaze for particular sections of an advertisement. Wearable tech won't take over every aspect of ad testing, but it will supplement tools that already exist for ad researchers. Marketers, advertisers, and CMOs need to prepare for the era of wearable computing.


Behavioral Economics
Currently, advertisers do ad research by administering quantitative and qualitative studies. But recently, the field of behavioral economics is progressively adding a third dimension to the practice.

Behavioral economics involves measuring brain waves, facial responses, heart rate, and skin conductance to reveal how people feel towards ads. Researchers believe that physiological measurements will add value

How Insight-Driven Businesses Will Lead in Digital Experience by 2020

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