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Is ad pre-testing a waste of money?

Is ad pre-testing a waste of money? I don’t think it is. Books get reviewed before being published and movies are pre-screened before their release; so why shouldn’t advertisements be pre-tested? The costs of the testing come at a fraction of the actual ad costs; and the benefits are well worth it, as pre-testing aids in generating “relevant attention” (McKee, 2008). As a matter of fact, with relevant ads, companies end up benefiting in the long-term, as “less media money [is needed] to be spent on achieving frequency and more available for increasing reach, since cut-through occurs faster” (Agee).

In today’s technologically connected world, companies must be especially careful with their advertising. Although a company might be releasing an advertisement for a specific region, its reach could become global, via web technologies {youtube, facebook, blogs, etc} – especially with ads that generate reactions at the extremes: if an ad is brilliant or horrible. So, with the help of pre-testing, companies increase their chances of outputting brilliant ads, all the while steering away from potential pitfall.

We shall also not forget that the non-technical world is also connected, as a by-product of globalization; products/services are constantly crossing borders. Pre-testing becomes especially important, as a successful ad in one country, could have a whole different meaning in another. There is a story that goes along the lines of a cola company placing an ad in the Middle East made up of two adjacent pictures: the first is of a man lying in the dessert exhausted from the heat, the second is the man all refreshed after drinking the cola. Though the ad was successful in the West, it was a complete failure in the Middle East, as Arabs read from right-to-left (thus the message they understood was: if you drink the cola, you will die). “Ad testing [serves] to sniff out potential pitfalls in the ad” (Sara), increasing the ad’s potential to be as effective as possible.

“The new currency is measuring engagement” (Businessweek); the more an advertisement has an “emotional impact” (Walid), the higher the chances of converting the advertising costs to consumer purchases. Thus pre-testing plays a crucial role:

  • In the early life stages of a product/service; as no connection exist with the customer
  • With creative or controversial ads; as consumer’s reaction is unknown.

Some companies claim that pre-testing can’t predict the real-world, as the testers usually “select the strategy that is less differentiated..[thinking they are being critical] as they munch on nachos … on a Sunday afternoon” (McKee, 2007); effectively killing ad creativity. Countless examples are raised of how some ads failed pre-testing, yet were extremely successful with consumers.

Although the science of pre-testing is still imperfect, but the solution is not to stop it altogether; we must remember that countless other examples also exist on the flip side of the coin: brands saved from bad advertisement at the pre-testing phase. As technologies advance, testing methods are becoming much more accurate. Also, companies are increasing the size of the test groups in creative ways, yielding more accurate results; for example, Google has done so by taking user-generated video entries when creating their Gmail commercial (Google’s email solution). Pre-testing should be used as a “compass … to explore … and not [like] a map” (McKee, 2007).

~ Youssef Aboul-Naja

  1. Wassim A. N.
    January 19, 2010 at 12:34 PM

    V. Good as usual. I also agree with your conclusion

  2. January 21, 2010 at 2:40 AM

    Haven’t seen that cola ad, but it’s such a great example! I also root for pre-testing. It helps know your audience, and gives a return on your investment in the long run.

    Nice post!

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