Assessing Ad Creative

People love to discuss advertising creative.

We love some, we hate some.  We’re inspired by some, and we’re irritated by some.

As professional advertisers, we need to be able to set aside our individual tastes and preferences, and dispassionately assess whether our advertising creative will actually be effective.  While advertising is certainly part art and part science, in assessing advertising creative, it’s better to set aside our inner art critic, and apply some science.

But before we do that, let’s put the relative importance of advertising creative into perspective…

Great advertising creative is not the be-all and end-all of effective advertising.  For an ad to be effective, it needs to achieve a defined objective within an effective advertising campaign, grounded in an effective marketing strategy, which is part of an effective business strategy.  Further, the ad needs to be supported by an effective media (placement) strategy, and an effective response management strategy.

Without these other elements, it doesn’t matter how good or bad our advertising creative is… because the ad won’t deliver the necessary business results.   As marketers, we need to pay equal attention to all these upstream and downstream elements, and not be fixated on the ‘fun’ creative element.

Now, with the bigger picture in mind, let’s now move onto the actual assessment of advertising creative…

First and foremost, it’s important to test any ad with its intended audience. Marketers, the executives they work for, their friends and families, are often poor judges of advertising creative.   In many instances, they’re actually too close to the company to be able to dispassionately assess whether an ad will work with its intended external audience.  Their deep understanding of the product and the market, coupled with their personal taste in advertising, creates prejudices, filters and blind spots.

The target audience – with all of their real world ignorance of the market, disinterest in advertising, short attention spans, etc – will be the ultimate arbiters of whether an ad is effective or not.  So, let’s be sure to check the ad with a representative sample, before we invest a lot of media dollars putting that ad into the broader market!

But what exactly should we ask of our target audience sample…?

Well, it’s certainly not whether they “like” our ad.  Sure, it will be nice if they do.   But some of the most effective ads ever created actually irritated their target audience.   So, “likability” doesn’t equal effectiveness.

In my view, advertising creative is effective when it meets the following six tests:

  1. Attention: does the ad “cut through” the intense clutter of every day advertising, and seize the target audience’s attention?
  2. Comprehension: does the audience both receive and understand the intended key messages of the ad? (These key messages may range from the benefit proposition of a product, to a specific retail offer, improved perceptions on a specific characteristics of a Brand, etc.)
  3. Belief: does the audience actually believe the key message?  (Understanding what we’re told is one thing, but believing it is another matter.)
  4. Brand Recall: doers the audience correctly associate the key messages with your company?  (How many times have you remembered a “great ad”, but been unable to remember the company associated with that ad?)
  5. Next Action: does the audience know how to take the next necessary step in the marketing campaign? (This next step depends on the broader campaign.  It may be that you want the audience to find out more details about your products by browsing your website, or call a phone number, or visit a dealership, etc.)
  6. Intent: does a critical mass of the target audience actually intend to take the prescribed next action, having seen the ad?  (What constitutes a “critical mass” will be determined by the number of responders necessary to make the campaign, and business plan, a success.)

There are relatively simple ways to apply these six tests to any piece of advertising creative.   I’ll cover them in a subsequent article.

For now, let’s continue to foster the development of inspired advertising creative – the likes of which we can be proud to feature in our professional portfolios.   Let’s also be diligent in assessing that creative objectively, and ensuring that our ads achieve their defined objectives, and contribute appropriately to our businesses’ success.

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