Clients should insist on pre-testing, says effectiveness evangelist

By , agencyfaqs! | In
Last updated : March 27, 2003
Author and educator Prof John Philip Jones believes that eliminating ineffective creative ideas at an early stage can help advertising to translate into sales

Prof John Philip Jones of Syracuse University, New York, is a man on a mission. For the distinguished educator and author of advertising books such as 'How Much Is Enough? Getting the Most from Your Advertising Dollar' and 'When Ads Work: New Proof that Advertising Triggers Sales' has taken it upon himself to argue a case for effectiveness in advertising. The man behind Gillette's 'The Best A Man Can Get' slug, Prof Jones (an agency veteran who has worked on global brands such as Pepsi, Gillette, Lux, Nestle and Quaker Oats) is in India to conduct a workshop on Effective Advertising, later this week.

In an informal meeting with agencyfaqs!, Prof. Jones laid some of his arguments on effective advertising on the table. The crux of Prof. Jones' argument is that for advertising to translate into sales and increased market share - in the short-term, medium-term and long-term - the campaign has to be effective. And the only way of ensuring effectiveness and preventing waste is by pre-testing creative ideas and eliminating ineffective advertising at the earliest possible stage. At the "starting gate", as Prof. Jones puts it.

"Advertising has an effect in the short-term, the medium-term and the long-term, and can be measured by means of consumer purchase," he says. "However, the effect in each term is a gatekeeper to the next term. So if your advertising is ineffective in the short-term, it will do nothing for you in the medium and long-terms. That's why you have to weed out the weak ideas early."

The short-term effect of advertising is measured within seven days of an advertisement appearing, and is tracked using a technique called Pure Single-Source Research. The measure of an advertisement's short-term effect is market share change, and in roughly 30 per cent of cases, the effect is very large. In the remaining 70 per cent of cases, the effect of the advertising is marginal, with as much as 30 per cent of cases actually showing a fall in sales - primarily due to stronger advertising from competitors. The medium-term effect represents the repetition of short-term effects across the course of a year, and is invariably smaller than each short-term effect.

The long-term effect of advertising is measured in terms of brand strength, especially in the minds of consumers, and is shown by a gradual increase each year in the measured medium-term effect. Prof. Jones points out that the leading indicators of long-term effect are greater penetration, increase in purchase frequency, an above-average consumer price and a fall in price elasticity of demand. In pure advertising terms, a rise in advertising elasticity and a fall in advertising intensiveness also demonstrate the long-term effects of strong advertising. "Now you can see why research has such a crucial role to play," says the professor. "If only a third of campaigns have positive short-term results, only a third will have favourable medium- and long-term results."

Prof. Jones is aware that agencies loathe the idea of pre-testing. "That can't be helped. Clients should insist on pre-testing." Prof. Jones is of the view that while there are quite a few pre-testing models available, the one used by Advertising Research Systems (ARS) in the United States has the best track record. Here's how the system works, as described by Prof. Jones. "This method tests the commercial in a cinema in front of an audience of 500 people. These people see an entertainment program in which are inserted some commercials, including the one being tested. The entertainment program is preceded by a lottery, in which people are asked to allocate a sum of money among different brands (including the one being tested). After the program, there is another similar lottery. The measurement of the effectiveness of the tested commercial is determined by comparing the audience's preference for the brand after the program with their preference before the program."

"The system has been in use for the past 50 years, and scores show that there is a close fit between the test results and results in the market," says Prof. Jones. "I have no reason to disbelieve the predictive ability of the system." Interestingly, the professor also believes that the most important contributor to effective advertising is the creative product. For instance, he points out that the third of campaigns that are effective are so mainly because of the competitive quality of the creative. Conversely, in the two-thirds of campaigns that are ineffective, their ineffectiveness stems mainly from the inadequacy of the creative. "Clearly, creative is a way of going through the gate," he says. "After all, when measuring the short-term effect of advertising, factors such as money and media don't apply. It's just that one ad, so it has to be creativity that pulls it through." © 2003 agencyfaqs!

First Published : March 27, 2003
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