Flop → blockbuster: The power of early ad concept testing

Kelsey Sullivan

Christmas ads are undeniably a massive deal in the UK – similar to the hype of Super Bowl ads in the US.

The department store John Lewis is credited with starting the tradition with its big budget, glossy tear-jerkers, which reap rewards in terms of reach, social sharing, and media coverage.

Nowadays, many brands set aside huge budgets in the hopes of creating an award-winning holiday ad that cuts through the competition. Until recently, Walkers Snacks hadn’t previously taken this approach to advertising, but for the holiday season of 2019, the company saw an opportunity to grow their presence.

In this article, we’ll cover the steps Walkers took to create an award-winning holiday ad and the impact early ad concept testing had on making this blockbuster a reality.

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The campaign

The goal of this advertising campaign was to build upon Walkers’ pre-existing campaign of being ‘too good to share’ and to promote their pigs in blankets crisps (a seasonal variety).

After working with the same celebrity for 20 years, the team also wanted to bring in a new celebrity to add something fresh to the campaign. And who else to bring on but the ultimate Christmas celebrity?

Making a blockbuster with the queen of Christmas

Working with a high profile celebrity meant there was a lot of pressure to get this one right!

The teams rapidly developed an idea and put together an animatic (or draft ad). They turned to the Zappi Advertising System at this early stage to test whether the idea was worth progressing and investing in.

Early ad concept testing with Zappi Amplify TV

Unfortunately, the results of the initial animatic were lackluster.

While the test results did show that the ad was distinctive and produced emotion from consumers, unfortunately, they weren’t finding it captivating enough to watch it through to the end and the ad wasn't predicted to drive either short-term sales or long-term brand equity. And for an ad this scale, mediocre was certainly not going to be good enough.

In traditional ad concept testing, a poor result at this stage would mean starting from scratch with a new concept. Fortunately, with Zappi, Walkers was able to easily dissect detailed diagnostics to hone in on the three key areas they could work on to improve the ad concept.

1. Limited watchability: Some consumers found the ad annoying and frustrating, were skipping parts, and not watching to the end.

2. Poor branding: The Walkers brand wasn’t landing.

3. Social risk: Some consumers felt that the joke in the ad, which was around selfishly taking the crisps, didn’t fit well with the spirit of the holiday.

For a long time, you’d usually see an ad test as the last part of the process. It was really about, let's see if it works. The mentality, I think, is quite different. Now it’s: Let's see how it can make it better. It's very important that you shift this mindset...I think about [this] Christmas ad. The first test was awful. The results were awful. Probably, most companies would’ve killed this idea. But we thought it was something culturally relevant for Christmas, a time for sharing.

- Fernando Kahane

🎙️ Putting the consumer at the heart of creative development

Check out our podcast episode with the team to learn more about how Walkers created an award-winning holiday ad, as well as their tips on how to make your advertising truly legendary

From a flop to an award-winning holiday ad

Based on these specific insights, the Walkers team was able to adjust the creative to deliver the blockbuster execution that they’d been hoping for.

The final ad, which had a reach of 88% of the total population, gained 18 million online views as well as 250 mentions in mainstream media — was an affirmation of just how entertaining and shareable consumers found the ad.

Check out the final award-winning version below:

Zappi provided clear and actionable recommendations with indications of why and how we could trigger better emotional response and respond to cultural sensitivity around ‘not sharing’ at Christmas. The result was astonishing; the final edit increased and improved overall scores of Creative Sales Impact (CSI) and Creative Brand Impact (CBI).

- Fernando Kahane

Final thoughts

When there’s big budgets and your brand on the line, it’s practically a given that you should test your ads before releasing them to the public. And the smartest move would be to test your ads before investing too much of your time (and budget!) so you have time to iterate.

While there are certainly many early ad concept testing tools out there to choose from, new developments such as the Zappi Advertising System bring more diagnostics to the table as well as updated approaches to help you land ads in today’s landscape.

To learn more about how Zappi can help your brand create a winning ad every time, click here.

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