C.R.E.A.T.E. better advertising with consumer insights

Kim Malcolm, Janine Klimko & Kelsey Sullivan

Let’s be honest, making advertising that really works isn’t easy. 

There are a lot of moving parts, but at its core, creating great advertising requires a mix of both art and science. It requires the ability to see the big picture, while also nailing the small details. It takes excellent project management and genuine creativity. And it can be highly stressful because a poor outcome means a lot of time and money has been wasted, and the reputation of those involved has been damaged.

Like we said, it isn’t easy. 

To this day, brands and creators alike still wrestle with how to create great advertising. John Wanamaker may have said it best: “50% of the money I spend on advertising is wasted, the trouble is I don’t know which 50%.”

While there’s no easy formula for great advertising, by looking across the work of brands who are doing it well and leveraging our decades of experience in the industry, we’ve put together a framework to help guide you on your path to using consumer insights to create advertising that works. 

The framework is aptly called C.R.E.A.T.E. — and it looks like this: 

Let’s go through each piece of the C.R.E.A.T.E. framework.  

Watch Kim and Janine talk through the whole framework in this webinar

Unsurprisingly, it all starts with the consumer.

That’s because, while you can create something that you and your team think is great, if it doesn’t grab the attention of your consumer, resonate with them or easily link to your brand, then what was the point? 

If you’re checking in regularly with your consumers throughout your creative process and optimizing as you go, you can not only feel empowered when creating an ad you know they’ll love, but also afford the opportunity to take risks and be bold! (Without the worry of whether it will land or not).

Creative excellence is about consumer centricity.

Fernando Kahane, Senior Marketing Director PepsiCo snacks

It all comes down to what Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson regularly talks about: market orientation. The reality is that while you undoubtedly have expertise, you’re too close to your product or brand to know the best path forward. You need to develop a market orientation (defined as a focus on identifying and meeting customer needs or wants) before you can truly resonate with consumers. Bringing your consumer along for the ride makes that happen.

When I speak of market orientation, I mean a swivel. So marketing isn't how we think about this customer down here, that's bullshit. It's when we properly, through Zappi and other companies, get to see how they see our brand through their eyes.

Mark Ritson

Seems like a no brainer, right? 

Let’s walk through an example:

PepsiCo was in the process of releasing a new variation of its popular Wotsits snack brand, but they were torn on which route to choose for their advertising. Should they introduce the new variation early on or delay the introduction and build anticipation instead? Traditional wisdom dictates that introducing the brand in the first few seconds is the best practice, but they thought building anticipation might be more impactful in this situation. Instead of making a gut feeling decision, they took it to their consumers. 

The result? Anticipation was the way to go. By listening to their consumers throughout the process, they were able to move forward with the right idea — resulting in massive success for the brand as well as the expansion into a new category entry point.   

💡 Main takeaways: Bring consumers into your creative process by using consumer insights the right way. Understand their reactions to your creative, then find creative solutions to make advertising that entertains, engages and works harder for your brand.


The next part of the framework is relevance — making sure you have access to a relevant audience so you can get relevant insights to drive your creative forward.

Relevant audience

It’s not enough to talk to just any consumers, you want to make sure you’re talking to the right ones who will give you the most actionable feedback. 

Many brands want to get feedback only from their existing customers or brand loyalists. And while they may have some useful insights, they alone will not help you grow your brand. 

Growth in market share comes by increasing popularity; that is, by gaining many more buyers (of all types), most of whom are light customers buying the brand only occasionally.

Byron Sharp

At Zappi, we often refer to Byron Sharp’s research-based book How Brands Grow. In it, he notes: 

These heavy buyers are comparatively easy to market to, because the category and brand are, comparatively speaking, much more important to them than to the typical buyer… These buyers are also far more receptive to the brand’s advertising: they notice it more and they find it easier to process and remember.

But your infrequent buyers or non-customers, they’re a different story. Sharp continues: 

At the other end of the buying spectrum are the typical, very infrequent buyers. These people—who are most of your customers—are a marketing challenge because it is hard to justify spending money on them individually (direct mail is usually out of the question). And yet collectively they are important for sales volume and offer great potential for growth… 

To maintain sales a brand needs to reach out to these masses of buyers. For two reasons: 

  1. There are so many of them

  2. They buy so infrequently and could easily forget about you

In other words, it’s these infrequent buyers who will be most affected by a great ad. Your regular shoppers are already paying attention to your brand. They probably need less advertising reminders to keep buying your products. 

What you need is a winning ad that gets the attention of your infrequent buyers or target audience — influencing the way they feel about your brand and driving them to purchase. To get one of those, you need to get feedback on your ad from a broad, category relevant group of consumers to make sure you’re reaching the right people, including those who have never bought your brand before.

Relevant insights

Once you have a relevant audience, what information do you need to create great ads?

Our perspective is that there is too much emphasis on using consumer research for testing — for “passing” or “failing” ads. This isn’t the right way to look at it. It should be used to help you optimize your creative, not stop your creative process dead in its tracks. It should be used as an inspiration for your team.

In order for that to happen, you need the right diagnostic data. You need data that shows you how consumers react moment-by-moment throughout the ad. You need to hear from them about what they think about the ad overall and about key moments. You need to make sure they understand the story and the role your brand plays in it. And then you need to use all of it to decide what to do next.

💡 Main takeaways: Make sure you’re listening to relevant consumers to best inform your research. If you’re asking the right questions but they're aimed at the wrong people, you aren’t going to get the answers you need to move forward effectively. And then get the right insights to help you make your creative better, rather than giving you a pass/fail grade.


Next it’s all about when you get the insights. Unfortunately, many brands today use research at the end of their process. This causes them to miss out on many optimization opportunities, because at that point there’s far less room to change direction. 

The earlier you are in your creative development process, the greater your opportunity to use consumer insights to influence the direction of the creative because fewer decisions have been made and less money has been spent. But that opportunity gets smaller and smaller as time goes on and more details are locked down. 

By getting consumer feedback early and often, you’ll have the power to guide your creative when opportunity is at its greatest.

So when you’re making big decisions on the creative direction, or when you’re trying to understand whether the creative idea works — ultimately when you’re determining which direction to go in — is where early research helps.  

Let’s walk through an example:

This year’s Popcorners Super Bowl ad was a great example of the value in testing early. They started off by translating their creative idea into several, very simple storyboards that they shared with consumers. Among these storyboards, Popcorners had three very distinct routes they could go with their ad.  

By looking at consumer feedback from the start, it was clear which was the best route and how to iterate to create the hit blockbuster Super Bowl ad we saw at this year’s big game. 

Not only did they find success in this ad, landing in the top 10 Super Bowl ads that year, their early research helped them to identify future optimization opportunities. One of the biggest learnings being that they did not need to invest a large sum of their budget on big name celebrities to have a winning ad (even for the Super Bowl). 

💡 Main takeaways: It’s not only important to keep your consumer at the heart of your creative development process, but to connect with them early and often throughout the development process while the opportunity to maximize success is greatest.


You could say this framework is like a recipe for making great advertising. And much like a cook moving about the kitchen, it's important to stop to taste and add some seasoning to what you’re creating and adjust accordingly. 

The same goes for advertising research. 

We don’t just use the tool to kill or proceed, it’s about nurturing those ideas and making them bigger and better and more resonant for consumers.

Tim McEntaggart, Director of Brand & Innovation Insights, PepsiCo

In order to create great advertising, you need to take those same moments to stop and check in with consumers regularly, iterating based on their insight. It’s all about using that rich consumer feedback throughout the development process, from start to finish and at all stages, at speed. That’s agility.     

Let’s walk through an example:

To continue with the Popcorners example, after starting their research early on in the development process, they continued iterating even in later stages. 

For example, they tested four different animated versions of the ad for any nuances in setting, references or other visual aspects before moving on to filming the ad. One iteration stemming from this research was to switch which flavor (and bag color) they were highlighting in the ad, as consumers were recalling sister brand Doritos due to the similar red colors. The blue bag (white cheddar flavor) didn’t create any confusion.

All in all, by testing early and often, Popcorners were able to bring their best vision forward once it was time to start rolling.

💡 Main takeaways: It’s important to bring your consumer in on the development process as soon as you can, but it’s equally beneficial to keep checking in with them at each stage of the development process so they can help you best iterate, try things out, learn from their reactions and adapt to land on a final ad that everyone loves.


So don’t just do all of that once ☝️ Do it again and again. 

And focus on learning from all the knowledge your company has gathered over the years. Connect those dots to raise the creative bar on future ads! 

Because why would you want to throw away what you’ve just learned your consumers are drawn to? What they dislike? And all the iterations you made to land on an ad that resonates?   

Think of research not as a way to help you create a single “better” ad — it’s about learning how to create better advertising for your brand. 

Jane Wakely, Chief Marketing and Consumer Officer at Pepsico, recently sat down for an interview with us to share her views on transforming the way we use consumer insights to create learnings over time. 

Hear what she had to say:   

💡 Main takeaways: Use insights from past campaigns to inspire and inform your new creative! Don’t throw away your learnings after each use. You can transform the way you use consumer insights to fuel a cycle of ongoing improvement.


Last but not least, Empowerment. 

Empowerment is all about making sure your organization as a whole has access to the consumer data it needs to truly act in a  consumer centric way. Because if you think about it, customer centricity is everyone’s job. 

This may sound a lot easier said than done, but the truth is, if you make it easy for marketing and other parts of the organization to access what they need to learn from the consumer, they will use and appreciate that the insights help them become more consumer centric.   

To do this, insights teams need to release the reins on the consumer data at hand and make it more readily available for everyone — with systems set up to deliver them. 

Let’s walk through an example:

Pernod Ricard has done a fantastic job of democratizing insights in this exact way —  successfully empowering marketing users to run their own creative research at the moment they need the insights. The role of the insights team is to make the system robust and easy to use and then layer strategic insights on top of all of it. 

When setting up their new ways of working initiative, they highlighted several goals, needs and outcomes necessary for this to work:

  1. Use a single platform that standardizes and automates research as much as possible. 

  2. Automate as much as possible to get insights faster and while decreasing costs.

  3. Empower marketers to run the day-to-day research they need to make decisions so ultimately insights teams can become strategic partners rather than project managers. 

After piloting and finding the right tool for the job, taking their time to train marketers on the platform, and setting up the proper guardrails, over 350 marketers were ready to run their own research projects within 10 months!  

Zappi makes it simple for non-experts to use the platform. When marketing users log in, they know exactly what they have to do. From a research standpoint, they don't have too many decisions to make by themselves so they can actually make it happen.

Jennifer Picard, Head of Centre of Excellence for Mix Optimization at Pernod Ricard

This freed up the insights team to tackle the more strategic questions and the bigger picture and gave the marketing team the confidence they needed by getting learnings straight from the consumer. A win for the organization all around. 

💡 Main takeaways: Consumer centricity is everyone’s job. And the easier, faster and more affordable it is to listen to consumers, the more people will do it. So make sure you set up the right systems to empower everyone to be able to easily get their own insights.

Wrapping up

While there's no one way to create great advertising, there are some clear steps the best advertisers have used to consistently bring consumer insights into development to result in more effective creative.

Our advice? Creating great advertising starts with being consumer-obsessed and keeping the consumer top of mind throughout the creative development process. So make sure you’re listening to relevant consumers, using consumer insights to fuel creativity, and connecting with them early and often to maximize success. And don’t forget the importance of using past campaign insights to inform and inspire new creative! 

And for the insights and marketing teams out there, be open to making consumer centricity everyone's job by setting up the right systems to empower everyone to get their own insights. 

By following these steps in the C.R.E.A.T.E. framework, you can create ads that truly resonate and drive meaningful results — also known as extraordinary advertising.

Report: State of Creative Effectiveness

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