How to be bold but avoid missteps by pretesting your ads

Steve Phillips

With so many messages competing for consumers’ attention every day, you have to be bold to break through the noise. But a brand can get in hot water if the ad doesn’t land right — and the ad could end up going viral for the wrong reasons.

We saw this happen this week with Transport for London (TfL)’s latest campaign, called See Their Side, which aimed to promote a message of road safety and eliminate deaths and injuries on London’s roads.

While no one can argue with that goal, the execution of the campaign caused some backlash, primarily in the London cycling community who have argued the campaign victim-blames cyclists and assigns equal blame to both cyclists and drivers. The ad has recently been pulled.

In hindsight, it might seem like that kind of thing could be easily avoided. But companies are made up of people, and we all have cultural blindspots. We can’t always accurately predict how people with different experiences will respond to our ads.

So how do you get ahead of potential missteps? It all comes down to pretesting your ads with a representative group of consumers to understand how they interpret your message. Let’s get into that in this blog post.

Pretesting can minimize risk

When pretesting your ads, you show the ad to consumers before the ad goes live so you can understand how they react to it. The value of ad testing comes in its ability to allow you to try out unconventional, bold ideas and amplify your creativity without risk.

With pretesting, you can ask consumers — not just a few consumers but a representative sample of the population — if there’s anything they find insensitive in your ad. Consumers don’t know what went on behind the scenes of the ad and they don’t know your goals or good intentions. They just see the ad on its own and can judge it with fresh eyes. And they will have experiences that are different from yours so they can tell you if there’s a cultural nuance you didn’t consider.

With this approach, rather than feeling like you need to “play it safe” to avoid any backlash, you can take risks while making sure you’re not crossing a line.

Pretesting your ads can also help you make a better one

Of course, pretesting can tell you more than just whether anyone is offended by your ad. It can help you identify whether your ad is good and whether it will help you achieve your campaign goals.

It can help you answer questions like:

  • Is my ad attention-grabbing and distinctive? Will people notice and engage with it?

  • Do my key messages or associations land?

  • Does my ad evoke an emotional response? (and does it spark the emotions I wanted?)

  • Will my ad drive sales or positively affect my brand image?

When you get answers to these types of questions, you have the opportunity to improve your ad before it goes out and maximize your budget by making sure your ad makes the impact you wanted.

Why researching ads early and often makes all the difference

Check out our blog on the costs of doing research late, why researching earlier will result in better outcomes as well as what to focus on when you get there.

But won’t pretesting slow me down?

It’s all about timing. If you wait to pretest until your ad is polished and ready to hit airwaves, and then you find out there are some big red flags that will set you back months, then yes it would slow you down.

But rather than wait to pretest until an ad is final, you can begin pretesting your ads at any stage of the development process — the sooner the better, really.

You can test the big idea of the ad, you can test your storyboard or animatic, you can test your rough cuts — or all of the above! Then you can take what you learn into the next stage of development so you’re not starting over at any point. You’re just making sure you’re headed in the right direction so your final product is sure to be a winner.

But what if I learn my ad is bad?

Marketers can sometimes feel like their insights team is only there to grade their homework. But insights is not there to gatekeep or block your ideas. Trust me — no insights professional wants to tell you your baby (or your ad) is ugly. They want to help it grow and flourish.

Ultimately, they’re there to help you think freely without constraints and make your great ideas even better, with the knowledge that you’re going to test your ideas before they make it to market so there’s little risk associated with trying something new.

And the right research can tell you more than if your ad is good or bad, it can tell you why it’s good or bad so you can improve it in the right ways and take those learnings into your future campaigns.

Flop → blockbuster: The power of early ad concept testing

Check out our article on 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.

Final thoughts

Pretesting your ads helps you be bold and break through the noise while minimizing the risk to your brand and ensuring your campaign achieves your goals. All it takes is the right partner to help you get it right.

At Zappi, risk is one piece of the 5R framework in our ad pretesting solution. With this framework, you can make sure your ad delivers:

  • Reach: Your ad fights through the clutter to get noticed

  • Resonance: Your ad makes someone feel something with its clear message

  • Response: Your ad drives someone to act or changes the way they think

  • Risk: Your ad doesn’t damage your brand’s reputation

  • Return: Your ad drives ROI for your brand

Report: State of Creative Effectiveness

Want more content on how to create better ads? Download our State of Creative effectiveness report.

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