Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Testing your Advertising

In a recent blog posting, Chuck McKay wrote the following:

Rosser Reeves Penetration TestThere's a story that C.E.O. Fred Smith hung ten sketches of color designs for Federal Express cargo planes on a wall of his office, and then asked people to come look at them. Smith reportedly sat back and watched people's reactions. He noted that one particular drawing kept attracting and holding the attention of people. This design became the image of those planes we recognize as FedEx today.

Sometimes testing of advertising, or design, or other marketing elements can be this simple. And don't we all like simple tests?

The Title Test

They don't come much simpler than Cindy Cashman's Title Test. Cindy is a prolific author of such titles as Bedtime Stories for Dogs (as Leigh Anne Jasheway), The Book of Smiles, and Life Lessons for Couples (as Cindy Francis). Her Everything Men Know About Women (as Dr. Alan Francis) has sold more than a million copies. Cashman tests book concepts by passing out lists of potential titles to people in her target market, and asking them which books they'd pay to purchase today. Any potential title which doesn't get an overwhelming response gets dumped.

The Six Year Old Test

For years I've recommended the “six-year-old” test of advertising copy. Read your ad to a six year old. Then, ask the child to explain to you what you just said. You won't be able to test the appeal of your offer this way, but if the concept comes back largely unaltered, you may safely conclude your ad is communicating well.

The Penetration Test

The late Rosser Reeves had an brilliantly simple test of the persuasive power of the ad campaigns he created for Ted Bates Advertising. He called 1,000 random people (or, more properly, had it done) and asked two questions. “Have you heard or seen our advertisements?” “Do you use our product?” Then he simply compared the penetration of the product into both the group which had been exposed to the ad and the group which had not. If the campaign was “working,” people who remembered the ads were purchasing more than those who didn't.

The Zip Code Test

Thinking of using radio to drive traffic to your web site, but you want a way to track radio's contribution to your “clicks?” Have your fulfillment people establish a baseline of shipments to the zip codes your market, then run your ads. Incremental shipments to your target zips must have come from the radio schedule.

The Keyed Ad Test

A simple test of which newspaper ad triggered the response is to use different contact information. Your ad in the Sun references "Department S," while the ad in the Daily Bugle references "Department D," for instance. If you're inviting people to phone, use different numbers, or different contact names. Requests for “Miss Jones” are leads generated by the ad in the Sun. People asking for “Miss Johnson” are obviously looking at the ad in the Daily Bugle. In addition of being a valid test of which medium is producing activity, consider that it could also become an important step in the sales process. Inviting people to call for a free report is a great way to capture contact information from potential customers.

The Imbedded Instruction Test

Giving someone the opportunity to do what they don't want to do will produce no results worth noting, but helping someone to make a measurable choice can sometimes be simple. Radio sales trainer Chris Lytle has for years told of running an ad which instructed shoppers to “wear soft soled shoes since you'll be shopping in our giant warehouse,” and then noticing the surprising number who actually followed the instructions. Is embedding a specific instruction in your advertising copy a valid test of whether people are shopping because they were exposed to your ad? Maybe. This one really depends on the action you're asking them to take. Done badly, it could also be a test of whether people are willing to risk ridicule.

The Isolated Offer Test

Using multiple media, and don't know if one of your choices is paying off? I once offered a book of coupons good at a flea market in ads for that flea market. The coupon books were available at the office, and were not mentioned in any other customer contact. (Bargain shoppers looking for extra bargains from vendors they'd have frequented anyway? Care to guess the outcome?) The number of coupon books picked up by customers was an excellent indicator of that media outlet's ability to reach customers.

Testing the Offer

Want to test your offer before investing big bucks in a television schedule? Use telemarketing to phone a couple of hundred prospects, and see what they're willing to pay for.

And finally, is testing even necessary?

Not everything needs to be tested. There's multiple test evidence going back decades that targeted advertising outperforms untargeted advertising, that outdoor ads perform better with fewer words of copy, and that people will ignore ads which don't offer things they're interested in purchasing. Instead of wasting time and effort proving these things yet again, you can safely assume nothing has changed and build upon that assumption.


Chuck McKay is a marketing consultant who helps customers discover, and choose your business. Questions about testing your advertising may be directed to ChuckMcKay@ChuckMcKayOnLine.com.

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