Few aspects of marketing generate more passion among marketers than advertising.  Of all the marketing mix elements, advertising is the most visible part of a business strategy and is a high risk for both a business and the marketing director.  When the risk pays off, businesses benefit from strong sales increases that last long after a campaign’s end.  Each year the Effie Awards, marketing’s version of the Oscars, showcases many of these brands.  A common theme among the winners is the strong role of insights and advertising market research in achieving stand-out performance and memorable campaigns.  

For all the Effie award winners and brands that increased their sales, there are businesses whose campaigns failed to deliver.  The campaigns we don’t pay attention to; the campaigns we never remember.  These campaigns fail because they lack relevance, are unable to engage with consumers emotionally, and lack distinctive creative.  Without engaging consumers, their advertising failed to get cut-through and deliver a compelling reason for consumers to buy their brand.  Having advertising that fails to achieve a business’s objective is a major risk for a business.  Money spent on marketing is money not spent on other business areas; areas that can often show more concrete and immediate results.

Adding to the cost and complexity for marketers in developing their advertising is the ever-increasing range of media choices, ways to run advertising on those media, and increasing demands from the business to show a marketing ROI for a communication strategy.  To reduce risks and increase the chances of a business having a positive ROI, is the role of advertising market research.

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” John Wanamaker 1838-1922

When John Wanamaker uttered these often quoted words, he did not have the benefit of advertising research.  If he did, he would have been more optimistic or knew which half was wasted.


 Why do advertising market research? Q: It is about risk and reward

A simple answer is to increase the chances that your communication strategy will achieve your business objectives.  For the majority of business, this business objective is likely to include increasing immediate sales as well as improving brand health to deliver longer-term sales.  However, another important objective is to minimise business risk.  Advertising is highly visible, expensive, and has no certain outcomes.  In creating a communication strategy businesses want to avoid running campaigns that needlessly risk a business’s reputation or run campaigns with quickly wears-out, unless that was the strategy.
Advertising market research is about maximising opportunity and minimising needless risk.

  • Opportunity Maximisation. Maximising the chances of achieving your business goals.
  • Risk Minimisation. Removing or reducing the chances that mistakes harm your business and its reputation.  Needless risks are those risks that offer no benefit to the business.

Advertiser agencies often chastise marketers for being risk averse and by creatives who feel that brilliant advertising is about taking risks.  Advertising research helps markets make those calculated risks by helping to create advertising that breaks way from past messaging and industry clichés.  Advertising market research also assures markets that foreseeable mistakes will not undo their time and effort.  If PepsiCo had conducted market research their infamous Kendall Jenner campaign, they would have been able to amend the campaign and run it, rather than spend the large amounts of money then pull the advertising and spend more money apologising for what was something that was never going to appeal to Pepsi consumers or convert other brand drinkers to the Pepsi brand.



High risk do not always mean high reward.  The focus in advertising should be on achieving the reward.  Having worked on many campaigns that carried risk, we knew what elements carried a down-side risk and that the upside risk was higher.  For example, for one client we knew the character played by a well-known actress was going to annoy some customers, but we also knew the character was highly engaging, distinctive, memorable and liked by more customers.  Having done the research, we knew that when our client’s Facebook page started to get complaints, the comments were coming from a vocal few and were not representative of the majority.

“High risk does not always mean high reward.  The focus in advertising should be on achieving the reward.” 


What is advertising market research?

Advertising research, and more broadly communication research, is not a one-off specific type of research.  Instead, it is a range of different types of market research techniques used to help marketers move their communication from initial brand strategy through to understanding the effectiveness of an advertising campaign.  Advertising market research reflects both the process of building a communication strategy and the stages of design thinking.  In initial stages, advertising research focuses on helping marketers uncover insights that help them create the right brand positioning and brand expression on which you can build a communication strategy.  At each stage of the communication research process, the research becomes more focussed on execution elements and the impact of the advertising.

Eris Strategy design thinking for adverting market research

Design thinking for adverting market research | Eris Strategy


Keep moving forward!

At each of stage of your advertising development, your market research needs to provide insights that allow you to move forward.  Results from advertising market research can become a hotly contested area, with the advertising agency and others in your business competing to have the campaign reflect their objectives or their personal views on what makes great advertising.  So that the research provides clarity of direction you need to ensure you know what is being tested and how you will use the results.  At some point in developing your brand and communication strategy, and in creating your advertising, you need to move from discovery and synthesis to evaluation.

“You need to ensure you know what is being tested and how you will use the results.”

When others are challenging the communication strategy, it is tempting to keep ‘taking a step back’ and asking the research to validate your strategic direction.  Research methods are designed to address your main needs at each stage are not always well equipped for answering strategic direction questions.  For example, research at the pre-test stage is about execution specifics and is not always designed to address what alternative positioning directions you should have pursued.  That should have been addressed before investing in creating the advert.


What are the types of advertising research?

When conducting communications research, there are five broad types of research.  Not all campaigns will need you to complete all stages, and some stages may have been completed as part of a previous campaign or for another project.  Some projects may need advertising research to cover more than one area.  When projects do need to cover more than one area, be clear about which is your priority area and what decisions you will need to make based on the research results.

When working with a global manufacturing client, they had two potential adverts developed in different markets that were based on different brand strategies.  The primary goal of the research was to determine which, if any, of the adverts would increase market penetration.  As part of the evaluation, the research also needed to provide direction on any changes needed to ensure the overseas execution met local needs.  A secondary goal of the project was to provide additional consumer insight to develop creative for a new product launch later that year.  This project covered the first three types of advertising research, with the focus on the concept and strategy screening.  For the communication research to achieve its objective of helping the client determine the direction for their communication strategy, the advertising research needed to tell the client which of the executions and their underlying strategies would give them the best chances of growing their business.

Advertising market research falls into five different types that reflect the different stages of campaigns development.

  • Insight for Advertising Development
  • Concept and Strategy Screening
  • Advertising Pre-Testing
  • A/B Testing
  • Campaign Evaluation


Insight for Advertising Development

The first stage of advertising market research is the broadest.  To find insights that will help marketers create their communication strategy, create a brief for the advertising agency, or research that will help spark creativity in the advertising agency, market researchers, have a wide range of options to draw upon.  There is no one right way; the right way is the way that works.  This is because different clients have different previous research and insights to draw upon in the early stages of strategy development. Compared to other stages of advertising research, this stage is purely exploratory and requires a broader understanding of how to create effective advertising.  When looking for the right insights, you need to understand that there are different types of customer insight that may provide the right for your campaign.

When undertaking advertising development market research, your first step is to conduct an audit of existing research and insights into the below areas will help reduce costs and increase your chances of finding something new.  A common mistake by marketers is to ignore past research in the hope that new eyes will find new insights.  Instead, it is more likely that those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it.

Nine Sources of Communication Strategy and Advertising Insight

  1. Product. What you are selling is your starting point. A solid product understanding helps understand all other types of insights and may provide new and motivating product claims.
  2. Business Model. Like understanding the product, business model insights help to understand why consumers buy, or not buy a product.  For some categories, how you sell and service your product is the product in the mind of the consumer.
  3. Brand Positioning. Whether or not your communication strategy is to change your brand positioning, you need to know how your brand and competitors are positioned is in the mind of the consumer.
  4. Decision Making. Understanding the factors that drive and inhibit both brand and category purchases, provides a wealth of motivating consumer insights.  Keep your focus broad.
  5. Semiotics. Understanding the symbols used in your category can provide insights into how consumers navigate options and interpret brand benefits and meaning.
  6. Competitor Intelligence. Competitors, like you, spend time trying to understand how they can beat their competition . . . you!  Look at their advertising and communication strategy for themes and patterns that you can exploit.
  7. Shopper Behaviour. If the point of purchase is where most decisions about brand choice are made, then you need to understand how shoppers find, evaluate and choose your brand.
  8. Usage Behaviour. How consumers use your product tells you about the relationship they have with your brand and category, what drives their level of engagement and future choices.
  9. Cultural and Social Trends. No brand is an island.  The culture and social environment around your brand and category can also provide insights into what is relevant and how to frame your message.

Reflecting the broad sources of insight for developing your advertising, market research at the early stages of your communication development can be sourced from qualitative and quantitative research and secondary data sources.  Traditionally, exploratory research was seen as the domain of qualitative research from focus groups, personal interviews and ethnographic research.  These approaches are excellent but also look at your quantitative research results for the types of insights you can only see at a market behaviour level.  A great source of consumer insight is from your market segmentation.

During this stage of your campaign development, you may need to test different product claims that can go into your advertising.


 Advertising Concept and Strategy Evaluation

Once you have briefed your advertising agency and they have come back with different advertising ideas, it is time for your advertising market research to move from exploratory to evaluation.  Unlike later evaluation stages, your advertising research still needs to understand if the general direction of the advertising is likely to move the brand in the intended direction.  The focus of the research at this stage is about understanding if the advertising has the right advertising idea and strategic direction.  Any analysis of the executional elements should be in reference to the advertising idea, and how it supports or undermines that ideas ability to achieve its intended strategy.

Advertising research at this stage is qualitative.  Qualitative research allows you to explore reactions in greater detail and to explore alternative ideas quickly.  Depending on your communication strategy, this research needs to include a broad range of consumers from your target market.  The consumers whose behaviour you are hoping to change.  If repeat buyers dominate your sales, then you also need to include your customers in your research.  Likewise, key influencer groups should also be included in the study design.  At this stage, be careful about heavily weighting your design towards loyal customers.  Unlike infrequent and non-buyers, loyal customers require less convincing so are more likely to accept advertising ideas that reflect past campaigns or provide no compelling reason to change.

“Your loyal customers will require less convincing so are more likely to accept advertising ideas that reflect past campaigns or provide no compelling reason to change.”   

For larger changes in your brand strategy, a good tool for testing alternative brand positionings without a large investment in creating alternative executions, is testing your strategy as brandcepts.  Brandcepts are simplified advertising ideas that let you test many ideas and ways you can express expressions them in a low-cost study design that can provide insight into what is likely to produce an engaging strategy.


Advertising Pre-Testing

Advertising Pre-Testing is synonymous with advertising market research.  For marketers working in multinational companies, advertising pre-tests are used to provide ‘go; no-go’ decision for a specific execution.  When tested in a more draft version such as a storyboard, animatic or an advertising rough, the pre-testing can give both marketing and advertising feedback on how to structurally improve an execution.  If you have not done any concept research, testing a final execution is high risk.  If you are only testing at the final stage, it should only be used when choosing between competing executions, to refine the execution, or provide input into a forecast model on the campaigns likely impact on the brand or sales.

“If you have not done any concept research, testing a final execution is high risk.”

An advert’s soundtrack can make or break a campaign.  In an advertising pre-test, we did for a multinational client on their near-final execution, we noticed consumers became disengaged and were missing the key message.  Yet, in earlier research, the same execution performed well.  Analysis of the diagnostic measures showed an issue where a change in scene coincided with a pitch change in the music right at a critical point when a voice-over gave the key product benefit.  The high cognitive load caused by these changes disengaged the audience.  A small tweak to the music and the execution went on to drive strong sales growth.

There are many types of advertising pre-testing methods. However, they all have a common design: consumers are shown an advertisement and then asked for feedback.  The type of feedback and the key measures used in different approaches reflect the type of communication model and theory used to guide the overall design, media where the adverting will run, and if the test is for just one execution or to test a broader campaign.  Listed below are three general frameworks used in advertising pre-testing.  While a pre-test approach will lean toward one particular framework for predicting advertising effectiveness, they also tend to include measures relating to other areas for diagnostic information to understand the result and provide guidance for any further development of the advert.

  • Recall. Focus is on predicting how likely an advert will be remembered long enough to have an impact on the brand.  Study design often uses a day-after recall and, or memory-oriented measures.
  • Persuasion. Advertising is seen as needing persuade (sell) the product.  Advertising pre-testing based on this approach, focus on past and predicted buying behaviour as their key measures.
  • Engagement. Creating advertising that consumers engage with increases their level of involvement, and as a result, they are more likely to integrate brand messages and imagery into their long-term memory.  Pre-testing that focuses on understanding engagement, looks at existing levels of engagement and how an execution gets and hold a consumer’s attention.  This type of advertising pre-testing focusses on both emotional and cognitive engagement.


Which framework used, generally reflects the views of the consultant that initially the study, but it should also reflect the product category and the type of campaign a client want to run.

How a pre-test measures different areas varies and can include both direct measures and indirect measures that include biometrics like facial coding that measure emotional response, and response times that measure accessibility.

Advertising pre-testing is primarily a quantitative research method.  When focus groups or other qualitative research methods are used, the approach has more in common with the advertising concept and strategy evaluation phase of advertising research.  This is because the results are not statistically generalisable or able to make


A/B Testing

A/B testing is the simplest form of advertising research and it is the oldest.  In its most basic form, A/B Testing is running two versions of the same execution with ‘only’ one difference.  When more than one thing is changed, you are unable to say what caused any differences.  Using the scientific method, one of the designs is referred to as the ‘control’ and the alternative as the ‘test’.  The audience that each version is shown to is randomised to ensure that interpretation of the results what was tested and not who a design was tested among.  In live tests, consumers only see one advert design and are unaware that there is a test.  A/B Testing can also be done within a survey framework with consumers aware that they are evaluating an advert but are only exposed to one version.

In science and market research (it is a social science!) we can conduct more elaborate experimental designs to test for the interaction of different design elements and their main effect.  One of the most elaborate forms of experimental design in market research is in experimental choice testing like conjoint and discrete choice designs.  Unlike traditional A/B Testing, in an experimental choice design, consumers are shown multiple versions on an execution.  The trade-off for increasing the observer bias is a larger number of tests conducted at the same time.  Results from experimental choice design can then be used to refine which executions go into an A/B Test.

A/B Testing is synonymous with the testing of digital copy; integrated into the day-to-day operations of businesses like Netflix for testing content covers, with tools offered by Facebook and Google for businesses to use.  As an advertising market research technique, it has been around since the early twentieth century and was the main form of testing used in direct marketing companies Reader’s Digest and print publications.

“The power in A/B Testing is in its ability to give a clear result.”

The power in A/B Testing is in its ability to give a clear result.  As an engine for insights, it is a poor choice.  You may know that blue writing does better than red, but you won’t know why.  You need other research, past or new, to tell you why it made a difference.


Campaign Evaluation

Your advertising market research should not end when you launch your campaign.  Unlike other advertising research, your campaign evaluation is less focussed in giving you feedback on your executions and more on the broader media strategy an and how your campaign is affecting your brand.  The research moves from seeing advertising as a stimulus to being part of a system.

For your campaign to provide actionable results, it needs to include all sources of information on what you did and how consumers responded.  With campaign evaluation research you are trying to determine cause and effect; what you did and what happened.  For understanding the ‘cause’ side of the equation, you need include media plans, campaign material and any environmental factors that could have affected your results.  On the ‘effect’ side, you need to include any business-related behaviour: Sales results, website impressions, click-through rates, time on site, and enquiries.  A starting point for what measures to include in your businesses brand funnel.

Brand funnel for advertising market research | Eris Strategy

Eris Strategy brand funnel for adverting market research

A key part of your campaign evaluation is your brand tracking survey.  Campaign evaluation can take the form of pre- and post-testing or continuous tracking.  For pre and post-campaign evaluation your measure your market before your campaign starts and then measure afterwards to see if there was any change.  Continuous tracking includes measurements through-out the campaign.  The choice of pre/post versus more continuous measurement reflects both your budget, campaign duration and frequency.  Short and once a year campaigns, only require pre- and post-campaign studies, while the business that run campaigns throughout the year need a more ongoing source of insight.

Your campaign evaluation provides insights for refining your communication strategy and a source of insight for your next campaign.


What Next?

Advertising market research is an essential part of creating effective advertising.  Research helps you reduce the risks and costs of developing new advertising, and help you create advertising that will achieve your objectives.

Although there are many stages and types of advertising research, you do not need to conduct stages for all campaigns.  Prior brand and communication research may negate the need to conduct extensive insight exploration and development research.  If your advertising is based on an existing communication strategy or is adopted from another country, your focus will be on refinement.  At every stage of your campaign development process, you need to ask ‘what decisions do I need to make, and what information do I need to make those decisions’.

If you want to know more about how research can help you create more effective advertising, contact us to discuss at engage@erisstrategy.com.au