Why researching ads early and often makes all the difference

Kim Malcolm & Kelsey Sullivan

There’s a lot of benefits to starting early. More often than not, the earlier you get on board with new technology, the better positioned you are in the long run.

The same goes for consumer insights. The earlier you check in with consumers, the better.

Unfortunately, a lot of brands still use research at the end of their creative development process and are losing out on a lot of opportunities by not realizing there's a better way. 

Maybe this is because it's the way it's always been. Maybe it's because the right solutions haven't existed. Maybe it's because creating representations of the ads at earlier stages was too great an effort. Or maybe it was because research was too slow and expensive. Whatever the reason (or combination of reasons), these barriers are disappearing and there's an opportunity to make a step change — to put consumers at the heart of development and improve ROI as a result.

In this article, we’ll walk through 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. 

The cost of doing research too late

"50% of the money I spend on advertising is wasted, the trouble is I don’t know which 50%."

- John Wanamaker

Fortunately, this is no longer the case and advertisers can discover which 50% is working and which 50% isn't. By conducting research earlier, you can not only identify the 50% that doesn’t work early on so that time, money and emotional energy isn't wasted, but you are also able to identify what does work and optimize those ideas to their fullest potential. 

If you bring in insights too late, there won’t be enough time for consumer feedback to influence the direction of your creative. And what happens if you find out too late that the ad simply doesn’t work for consumers?

You might be able to take the time to make it better, but how many steps do you have to go back? Is it the idea that doesn't resonate? Is it that there's no credible role for the brand in the idea? Is the idea great but the story doesn't draw people in and stand out? Or maybe it’s simply that the idea could be better executed in a way that engages, entertains or resonates with people and positively brings the brand to mind.

"Start at the very early concept stage. Test again to optimize at the storyboard stage. Do it again at a rough cut stage.

I think there's a perception that research takes too long and is super expensive. And it's not true, especially if we compare the cost of producing an ad that ends up being quite subpar and the media spend on top of that. So the cost of an extra round of research, it’s nothing."

- Bianca Johnston, Integrated Campaigns Lead at Shopify

Whatever you learn, you will have spent time, cost and emotional energy that you cannot get back.

Plus, when insights is brought in at the end, what else is there to do but grade the final result rather than work as partners to make the greatest impact?

In all of these situations, you’ll find yourself with a negative result for both you and the business. So the answer is simple: The cost of doing research too late is simply too great. 

The chart above illustrates just how important earlier research is to the ad development process. It’s clear the greatest opportunity lies at the start of the process, where you can use consumer insights to influence the direction of your creative before too much money, time and effort are wasted — which steadily drops the further along you are in the process.

The earlier, the better

"People who used to push back against pre-testing are now asking to use Amplify to iterate and optimize early and often rather than just validating as a final check. They can see how they get findings, steer the direction and see better in market success."

- Christian Niederauer, Global Head of Insights, Colgate-Palmolive

When you research earlier and often during your creative process, you will:   

  • Invest in better ads: Get feedback when it’s early enough to use, not at the end when it’s too late to make changes. By creating ads based on an idea you already know has potential to resonate and work for the brand, the ads are more likely to be successful and will continue to be perfected with each iteration.

  • Save time and money: Research a lot of early ideas (before big money has been spent on production) and progress with the best one — ultimately avoiding wasting time and money on a bad idea that’s hard to turn into truly great ads.

  • Elevate your insights team: Be a true partner in development, not a grader at the end; someone who gives useful, actionable insights that helps inform direction rather than just delivers bad news.

  • Launch with confidence: Be sure once you reach the execution stage that if it doesn’t land, it’s executional finessing that’s needed rather than starting from scratch. Then you can be sure to only invest in the ads that deliver the best ROI.

  • Develop learnings over time: When you’re researching a lot of ideas, your database will grow and you can learn over time what typically resonates (or doesn’t) with your consumer. This allows you to get a head start on your next idea and create better advertising over time (rather than just a better ad today)

The proof is in the performance

Let’s walk through some examples of how researching early with a research platform like Zappi Amplify will get you better outcomes.

Example 1: Multi-national CPG brand

A large multi-national CPG brand started consistently using Zappi Amplify to develop creative across their portfolio of brands, helping them develop unfinished and finished ads, resulting in improved creative effectiveness. 

However, it was the brands within the portfolio that used Amplify Storyboard to gain insights on their storylines earlier in the development process, before production, that achieved greatest creative effectiveness overall. 

As shown in the chart above, across all ads you can see on average a creative effectiveness score of 50. (A creative effectiveness score is a predictive score from Zappi Amplify that has a strong relationship to in market outcomes as measured via market mix modeling.) 

When this company started using Zappi Amplify to develop their executions, they achieved on average a creative effectiveness score of 65 compared to the average of 50. But the real win was for the subset of their brands who were early adopters of the full Amplify ad system from ideas, through storylines and finally on to executions, as they achieved an average creative effectiveness score of 81 — showcasing the direct impact of bringing insights into the fold earlier. 

Example 2: Global QSR brand

In a similar instance, a global QSR brand partnered with Zappi to develop a tailored early ad idea screening tool to understand the creative and commercial potential of advertising ideas at an early developmental stage. 

The average creative effectiveness score stands at 50. But when the brand used early-stage ad testing with Zappi Amplify, their creative effectiveness score jumped to 76, landing them in the top 25% of all QSR ads.

Bringing in insights earlier

When you’re ready to bring research into the fold early on, what are some key areas you should focus on? 

1. Developing the right stimulus

The right stimulus can be a game-changer.  

With the right stimulus, you can see how consumers react to the idea or storyline and how they understand it. If they haven’t understood the stimulus at all, then your data won’t be very helpful.

Here’s a few things that can help: 

  • Storyboards and boardomatics are great ways to tell a story in a way that can be understood easily by consumers. For early ideas, you have a bigger risk of not  clearly articulating the idea well enough for consumers to understand. Following stimulus guidelines with text and words and growing this muscle as a team is sure to help.

  • Pick a research method that allows you to see, through consumers’ open responses, how they understand the idea. It means that if consumers misunderstand the idea from the stimulus, you can immediately identify that, refine and check again.

Using a research platform that has stimulus guidelines to follow will also help you to navigate the creative terrain and hit the bullseye with your idea or storyboard.

2. Open questions and diagnostics (are your friend!)

Diagnostics, such as reactions to individual elements of an idea and scenes in a storyboard, and open questions are highly valuable at all stages of development. However, diagnostics are particularly crucial at the earlier stages of development. They serve two broad purposes:

  1. To check how consumers understand your idea and storyline in the ad.

  2. To help you make the idea better by telling you what people love in the idea, what people struggle to understand or dislike, what is distinctive in the idea, what role the brand plays and why people react as they do. 

With this information, you can improve at each step of the creative process AND know what to exploit, make clear and benefit from in the execution stage.

3. Using evaluative metrics to assess potential

While the emphasis should be more on diagnostics at this early stage of development, evaluative metrics do play an important role as well.

In the early stages, the key evaluative metrics to pay attention to are:

  • Reach - Does the idea or story have potential to be distinctive and grab attention in the cluttered market? And does it make sense for the brand? (if not, the execution is going to need to work hard to integrate brand assets and ensure the brand is a prominent part of the story)

  • Resonance - Does it make people feel something? Does it convey something of relevance to people? Do people feel they ‘get’ the idea?

  • Response - Does it have potential to make the brand more appealing or make people more likely to consider the brand?

Evaluative metrics are used to do a number of things; from providing a starting point to understanding the overall potential of the idea and its strengths and weaknesses, to enabling comparisons across ideas and perhaps most importantly to enable learning across ideas and over time to identify what lands and what doesn’t.

Final thoughts

There’s no question that bringing insights in early and often is the right decision for advertising. For those in insights, it’s a decision that not only elevates research within your organization, but also allows you to be a partner in the development process.

While it doesn’t contain every single benefit to researching early and often, hopefully this blog provided the right proof points and tips to help you and your business realize the value of hopping on the earlier train. 

How Zappi Amplify helped PepsiCo improve creative effectiveness by 30%

To hear more about the benefits of researching early and often, catch what Stephan Gans, SVP, Chief Insights and Analytics Officer at PepsiCo had to share about how Zappi Amplify helped PepsiCo improve creative effectiveness by 30%.

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter