An overview of ad pretesting, its critics and its future.

An overview of ad pretesting, its critics and its future.

We took a look at most of the literature available in order to help you answer what is copy testing, why brands rely on it, and how it works technically. We’ll also walk through some other alternative concept and ad testing methodologies used to determine advertising effectiveness.


We will also explore how this helps brands in the creation of more effective ads as well as how startups (like us) are attempting to improve some of the techniques that help brands with creative campaigns and end on the emerging trends in innovations in pre-testing.


An overview of concept and creative testing in advertising

Copy testing is commonly known as a method used to evaluate an ad campaign's effectiveness either before the campaign launches as a predictor of success or after it launches as a benchmarking tool to improve on subsequent campaigns.


Traditionally, ad testing is conducted through the use of a focus group (especially at earlier stages of the creative process) or a quantitative survey (more frequently administered online) where both techniques rely on groups, also known as panels, of consumers. When testing is done, it is either in the pre-production stage or as a finished ad.  

As a rule of thumb, the more important and bigger the budget for the campaign is, the more inclined the brand client and their agency will be to test the creative several times throughout the development.


Global companies that have large research budgets and are data-driven would have the luxury to do both early and finished products.


There are however smaller companies that would test with early ideas and evolve it to a finished product within the research process, but those are very agile companies and very few.


Some of the reasons why copy testing is done:


1. Predict the overall performance of the ad creative before millions of dollars are spent on purchasing media

2. Discovering creative opportunities for the creative team to improve its execution

3. To measure and identify certain moments that are more subconscious or inexplicable responses that drive emotional engagement when a consumer watches an ad



Methods and techniques used in pre-testing


Normally, qualitative methods are used with the early/rough stages of the creative process of advertising and these tests can include qualitative research focus groups. But it can also be quantitative in nature such as through the uses of Link tests, Theater test or Day after recall tests.


Within ad testing, what we receive are different types of stimulus such as; Story-Boards(like the one below),Moodboards, and animatics/photomatic.

3596956_1485255358TV commercial storyboard.png

Now, depending on how refined the concept is and where it is in the creative development, you might just find that Big idea you’ve been looking for within the roughest form and then be able to add some copy/script to it.


If it’s more evolved however, you would go to Moodboards, then Story-boards or animatics/photomatics. If you are very spoiled, a draft or finished filmed TVC.

Sometimes you might have 2 ideas you need to test, and the research purpose then is to look at the strengths and weaknesses of both, and help identify which one is stronger and why. This decision can sometimes be difficult because there may be more than one campaign objective (drive sales, drive long term loyalty) and each idea may be stronger in one area.


At the end of the day, research's role is to help elevate the decision of which is better through the prism of the bigger business decisions like driving ROI, brand switching and market share(and have a higher ROI)


Below is an interactive presentation by Zanele Maisela mapping out the evolution of copy testing from the first syndicated services in the 60’s to Marketers introducing target group testing in the 1980’s

Some problems in the testing phases

Copy testing has it’s share of critics. There have been decades of back and forth on the actual methodologies employed by some of the largest ad testing vendors, but on the practice’s impact on creativity. A few of the essential problems that may result during pre-testing ad executions:


  • The test is misguided insofar as it is being used as a final go/no-go decision rather than as a guiding factor


  • It has been accused of manipulating the creative process because creative professionals find themselves writing to a script to boost scores on ad persuasiveness and recall


  • The interpretation of results become subjective. Although the integrity of the testing techniques might be validated by decades of benchmarking, interpreting the actions to take based on the scores ultimately rely on the research analyst, the brand custodian and their creative agency.



Scott Bedbury, former worldwide advertising director at Nike, told Bloomberg in 2007 “that as long as our hearts beat, we would never pretest a word of copy. It makes you dull. It makes you predictable. It makes you safe”


Problems in post production stage


The test is done too late, loads of money has been spent and there is now little room to change the copy.


olution and Trends:


Advances in technology have ushered in opportunities in consumer research with the inclusion of biometric systems which are used to improve the predictive success factor of an ad by understanding how people truly feel.

It was back in 2014, when Millward Brown made headlines on BBC explaining how they’ve added a new layer of effectiveness in the testing stage

And there may also be some other advances you’ve already heard of such as: eye-tracking, voice-pitch analysis, facial expression analysis and what is also known as Galvanic Skin Response(GSR)


Speed and effectiveness


One of Charles E Young’s articles from Ameritest, one of the marketing research vendors, on some of the future trends of global research standards said:


‘’In an age of rapid-response marketing, the emphasis is on speed of decision-making. The internet is the obvious choice for shortening the time involved in the research step of the creative development cycle’’

Here at, one of the things we do is specialize in providing brand feedback within 5-10 days and help accelerate the creative cycle with specific suggestions and how to rewrite a TVC for a more creative ad. Our technology, Feedback 2.0 and a panel of creative professionals are used to help improve an ad’s effectiveness. We've also introduced BigTeam for internal feedback colleciton.


In the current climate of agencies becoming more innovative we have our own unique approach called Sense Check , allowing brands to receive a report on strengths, weaknesses and actionable recommendations on all media campaigns.