Will adland ever warm up to pretesting digital ads?

Checking for audience feedback before an ad goes live is common practice in mainline. But in digital, where timelines are shorter and purse strings tighter, pretesting has not been viable

e4m by Mansi Sharma
Published: Jul 2, 2021 8:22 AM  | 5 min read
digital ads

Customer insights and feedback are extremely important for any brand to create trust and loyalty among the masses. For creating products or for marketing them, knowing what the target group of users would prefer is critical for brands. As Axis My India CMD Pradeep Gupta shares, “Knowing what a consumer wants and what their needs are is extremely important for any business. It not only helps the brands develop focussed products and pieces of communication for the right TG but also plays a big role in identifying the real potential equity of any business for valuation purposes. Along with the financial indicators, consumer insights are also a great support to marketing and advertising functions of any brand.”

And that’s precisely why pretesting of ad campaigns has been an integral part of the process for marketers to check how their consumers are responding to a certain piece of communication. It opens up better avenues for connecting with people and building a long-lasting relationship with the customers and creating better value for the buck.

As Mirum India Joint CEO Sanjay Mehta explains, “Pretesting ad campaigns is not necessarily only about feedback on the creative but also measuring how effective it is. When you are working on a big campaign, you are spending a reasonably large budget on both production and media. Obviously, through the production process, the content gets reviewed and fine-tuned many times, but it can’t always be enough, considering how much we have at stake. By pretesting these campaigns, we can see how your TG is reacting to the piece, when and how they are reacting and then go towards fine-tuning our message.”

Despite that, not many digital marketers are following this procedure, which is quite a standard for traditional media campaigns and TVCs. In a recent interaction with exchange4media.com, post the release of the Creative Effectiveness Report 2020, Kantar Managing Director - Client and Quantitative, Insights Division Soumya Mohanty shared, “We have noticed this within our clients that while they often tend to take consumer feedback for their television ads quite often, digital ads don’t get tested as much. Though the process can largely help in optimising the creative content to build brand equity and persuade the customers better, the marketers are not very regularly using our services to pretest their digital campaigns.”

But why is that the case?

Mehta explains, “When we talk about advertising on television, pretesting has been an integral part of ad creation since always. Whereas, the legacy of digital has been more about generating quick content, which is also low budget. So, the practice has always been to just get a go-ahead from the client and run it. Obviously, it has been changing a lot now. The digital campaigns are getting bigger, demanding a sizable chunk of marketing monies for production, but the practice remains.”

He further states that the other reason could be the fact that digital ads could be tested on a very focussed group by the agency itself, instead of involving third-party vendors. “With digital, you can test a creative and its effectiveness by launching it in a very controlled manner within the right TG, for a very small scale of people. And you can get instant reactions to that. One can experiment by releasing several pieces of content to different groups and figure out what’s working the best and then release that campaign on a bigger scale.”

Dentsu Creative India CEO Amit Wadhwa believes that while certainly digital marketers are relying less on pretesting ad campaigns as compared to their traditional counterparts, it makes sense for the medium.

He says, “You create so much content for digital and that too very quickly that you have little time to do the testing. But certain brands, when they are spending big bucks on the campaign, they tend to test it as well. However, I feel that overtesting can kill creativity.”

He goes on to explain, “Knowing audience feedback is definitely very important; it helps the marketers understand if the campaign is working well enough to justify the money spent and if it is connecting with the right set of audience. However, the mistake people tend to make is that they want to check everything -- down to the last detail of every dialogue and the reaction graph of every second. But, if the audience knew the right dialogues, they would have been creative directors.”

The duo also mentions that the results of the pretesting can’t always be a hundred per cent accurate.

Mehta cites the example of an Idea cellular campaign, “I remember, there was an ad campaign for Idea cellular, depicting brand ambassador Abhishek Bachchan in heaven. While I am sure that the campaign would have been tested and released, it did not get much positive feedback from the audience on social media. The brand then decided to pull the plug on it.”

The ads were released in 2012 as the “Idea in Heaven” series. A total of 16 ads were created by Lowe Lintas for the campaign, around eight of which went on air in the first leg.

Wadhwa went on to add, “The important thing to understand here is that consumer insight and audience reaction are two very different things. For example, Maruti’s “Kitna Deti Hai” and Surf’s “Daag Acche Hain” are such good insights and have made for great campaigns. You don’t have to test the creative, rather you need to invest towards digging the right insights.”

Albeit, they agreed that it is extremely important, especially in the post-pandemic world, to keep a check on audience emotion and reactions before releasing the campaigns. But the bottom line being, you don’t have to test everything! 

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