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New Ad Campaign? Speculation is No Substitute for Solid Consumer Research

New Ad Campaign? Speculation is No Substitute for Solid Consumer Research

For advertisers who spend tens or hundreds of millions of dollars on ad campaigns, the first few months of a new campaign are full of hope, stress and uncertainty about how it’s actually going to work in-market. Ad agencies encourage clients to push the envelope, and most advertisers understand that big wins come from taking big risks with the creative. But big disasters are also sometimes the result of big risks – explaining the high level of anxiety.

From the very first day, apprehensive advertisers scour the data for clues as to how the new campaign is being received. Is there buzz about it on social media? Is the chatter positive or negative? Is it being shared? And, heaven forbid, is the advertiser getting pushback from offended individuals or groups? What about the trade? Do they like the campaign? Is there a sense that sales are picking up?

Of course, none of this can substitute for solid, quantitative consumer research. But how soon can research provide solid insights on in-market campaign performance? It’s relatively easy to launch a survey that will indicate whether consumers are engaging with the advertising, and if they are getting the message. This research can provide reassurance if the numbers are good but many researchers struggle at this early stage to answer the, “How high is up?” question.

A tough question to address is whether the campaign has the potential to build the brand. For most advertisers, marketing mix and other sales-based analyses require many months of data, and thus cannot provide the immediate feedback that advertisers crave. As such, these analyses aren’t generally part of an early feedback toolbox.

In-market brand tracking is rarely a leading indicator because of campaign wear-in. In the early days, as campaign awareness is just starting to take hold, most of those in the target market have yet to see the campaign. Therefore, overall brand-tracking numbers will not reflect changes that are just beginning to occur among the small subgroup who become aware of the ads. This is why experienced researchers are uncomfortable promising that their clients or internal advertising constituents will know within the first couple of months from the brand tracking as to the overall potential of the new campaign to build the brand.

Some advertisers have found early in-market research that focuses on those who have been exposed to, or actually engaged with, the ads in the early days can provide insights. One approach is to identify and interview a sample of consumers who have known exposure opportunities, and to also interview a control sample of similar individuals who have not had such exposures and compare brand KPI’s across the two groups. This can provide useful insights but usually only looks at one ad at a time. As such, the potential of measuring the campaign’s ability to build the brand across multiple ads, in a cross-channel fashion, is typically not possible. For campaigns that are designed to build the brand for the long term, ad-by-ad methodologies may not do the new campaign justice.

Another approach is to survey a sample of consumers and determine, via direct questioning, which ads within the campaign they have seen. At first glance, it seems like a comparison of brand KPI’s among those who’ve seen more or fewer of the ads, or none at all, could provide good ad and campaign level insights. However, there’s a catch here, too. Namely, the selective perception phenomenon – that dynamic by which those who already prefer, or are otherwise connected or predisposed to your brand are more likely to engage with your ads than are those who don’t already have these connections. Of course those who engaged with the Cadillac ads have higher purchase consideration for Cadillac than those who did not engage with the ads. They were thinking about buying one, so they perked up when Cadillac ads came on their screen. It’s the chicken and egg problem, and researchers who fail to take this into account will vastly overstate the early impact of the campaigns that they study in this fashion.

What’s the solution? It’s two-fold. First, advertisers need to be able to identify the small group of consumers who their advertising has reached in its early days. To provide early insights, we cannot afford to wait until this group has become large enough to affect the overall target population. Then, we must determine ways to track the changes that have occurred among this small group and monitor how brand KPI’s build as more ads are seen. With this data set, we can then answer questions about how well the campaign will perform as it takes hold in-market, and what media and ad mix will provide the best boosts for the brand.

The challenges are not insurmountable. But as campaigns move more toward cross-channel, and as advertisers strive to be as different as possible, the demand for solid, early in-market campaign feedback will grow. Researchers who step up to the plate will earn the sincere gratitude of anxious advertisers and their even more anxious ad agency partners.

This article was inspired by a topic that was thematic at the ARF Re!Think 2016 conference.