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Testy, About Copy Testing

It can be a creative person’s worst nightmare. And it’s usually a major cause of migraine for any inspired strategic planner who wants to be associated with great work. Yup – that’s copy testing; and the more I think about it today, the more testy it’s making me feel.

Why so?

Well fundamentally, it’s because the underlying premise of how creative work has been traditionally copy tested is flawed – by today’s standards. I mean, think about it? Copy testing is usually based on evaluating ideas – especially TV commercials, under artificially stimulated circumstances and highly controlled lab-like conditions, based on many of the following criteria:

  • as part of a contrived advertising clutter reel
  • commercials embedded in “faux” TV content
  • respondents are recruited under false pretenses
  • evaluated in an unnatural / or highly restrictive setting
  • commercials observed under “forced exposure” circumstances
  • scored based on systematic recall and persuasion measures
  • evaluated against (sometimes really old) historical norms

The problem with all that is that the measured outcome (or derived black box score) is not usually a very good predictor of real success – and can often lead to misinformed although seemingly scientifically based decisions. But I guess what’s really making me feel aggravated – is that copy testing is usually not helping to make the work better, but is more likely to have the opposite effect. It means that being a slave to copy testing protocol can lead to good work being killed – and it can often result in unnecessary adjustments being made to otherwise good TV commercials that end up looking like “franken-mercials.”

With all this as a backdrop to many client driven-processes, the industry is sadly at a point where brand managers and agencies are motivated to develop creative work that’s engineered to beat the copy test system, but not necessarily yield great work. The end result is that the creative work produced ends-up meeting copy test expectations but falling-short of real world expectations. It then causes everyone to wonder “how did that happen?” And then guess who usually gets blamed: the brand manager and agency responsible for playing by the rules of copy testing to develop the not so great work? It makes no sense.

As a brand manager, it has to be frustrating – given that a copy test score could impact their year-end performance evaluation, next pay rise, or big promotion – or maybe not? And as an agency, it’s enough to make you go nuts. Creative people don’t understand why it has to be this way. Account directors are feeling hand-cuffed – and planners have become powerless, in their collective inability to steward the best creative outcome.

There has to be a better way?

Well thankfully, there is. Although for sure, it will take more than a wish and a prayer for a brand manager and agency with conviction to pursue the alternative paths – given how traditional copy testing is so ingrained into the institutionalized process of so many clients. But if you have the courage to go against the grain of conventional wisdom, then here are four alternative ways for you to consider – that will likely start your agency down the road to better work:

Apply best judgment, intuition and experience

Don’t ask the consumer if they or dislike your idea. Assess creative work based on the best judgment of smart agency people who have the benefit of learned experience. Follow your agency convictions and philosophy to self-assess the work through the eyes of your senior creative leaders, account directors and strategists. It keeps everyone accountable – and puts the agency to the test in making good decisions based on the potential to “live or die” by great work. Leo Burnett for example, has an internal creative process that calibrates ideas by using a 10-point GPC scale  that evaluates the potential for an idea to change the way people think, feel and act – and ultimately transform human behavior.

Dynamic, real-time, modeling and tracking

By tracking consumer perceptions, behavior and real-time transactions, it’s possible to create a sophisticated model that assesses the impact of creative work in the “real world.” Especially for retail, CPG, and in particular e-commerce brands, developing a highly sensitive and real-time statistical model gives clients the confidence of being able to assess the impact of the creative work (and media) based on their KPIs and potential to yield actual sales within the competitive realm of reality. Taking this approach provides agencies with the liberty to develop their best work without being beholden to copy testing hurdles, while also being able to apply test-and-learn consumer insight to iteratively adjust and optimize the work – and media spend levels, based on how the overall  communications strategy is actually performing.

Evaluate the power of the idea, not the creative execution

A well-executed “bad idea” doesn’t equate to success. Rather, it’s the transformational power of the idea platform that matters. And therefore, designing an evaluation technique that quantitatively measures the pre-post “lift” based on reactions and actions to a conceptual idea (that’s evaluated through a discrete self-complete online survey) can provide a fairly good measure of directional success. Using a rough-video animatic or even a concept statement as a creative stimulus – can allow the client and agency to effectively get a pre-read on the behavioral-changing power of an idea. Thereafter, assuming a successful “lift-test”, it’s down to the inventive craft of the agency to execute the idea in the best way possible.

If you have to copy test, tap into a different part of the brain

Admittedly, not every client (and even some agencies) are yet willing to totally give up on copy testing. And so, if you have to copy test, then perhaps the best way forward is a communications testing methodology that gauges emotional resonance and behavior. Companies like Brainjuicer provide an innovative approach to creative idea testing, that give clients the quantitative confidence they need – and agencies the opportunity they crave to develop great work. In short, Brainjuicer applies a progressive and emotionally-grounded approach to testing that uses a methodology called ComMotion. By evaluating the potential to spark different types of emotional reaction – and by tapping into the intuitive and instinctive behavior of the reptilian brain – this type of testing approach increases the odds for brilliant and non-conventional ideas to make it through the approval system. Just look at the Cadbury’s Gorilla work from the UK – as creative work that would have  failed on the merits of traditional copy testing but that got the client green-light based on a Brainjuicer communiations test to achieve phenomenal success.

These types of approaches are just a few of the many possible alternatives to traditional copy testing – given that most agencies have their proprietary approaches and internal evaluative processes – to make the work even better (that aren’t copy test dependent – or just quick-and-dirty focus group disaster test approaches.). Point is, that whatever the approach – even the very thought of looking at alternatives to the old-school copy testing protocol begins to free you from the shackles of restrictive creative practices.

Convince your clients that there’s a different approach to copy testing and it’ll start to make everyone feel better (including them!). Chances are – the quality of the the thinking will be better – the work will be better – and ultimately, the actual end results will be better. And then everyone will be feeling a little less testy.

As for me, I’m feeling better already. Serenity now.

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