Copy Testing

Copy testing research seeks to evaluate alternative ways for advertisers to present their messages. This is a critically important area, since one study showed that all 60 commercials in a given test were miscomprehended and that the average amount of miscomprehension was 30 percent. Substantial miscomprehension occurred across al age, income, and education groups.

The use of the word copy is perhaps unfortunate, since it seems only to refer to print media and, more specifically, to the headline and text of the advertising message. For our discussion, copy will refer to an entire advertisement including the verbal message, pictures, colors, and dramatizations, whether the advertisement appears in print, on radio or television, or via some other medium.

Copy testing research has received considerable criticism in terms of the low validity and reliability associated with the more common copy testing measures. One major problem is that most such techniques attempt to measure the effectiveness of an advertising campaign based on a single exposure of one commercial.

Copy testing Measures and Methods:

There are many different copy testing methods. Which one to use depends upon what assumptions are made about how advertising works and its objectives. If the objective is to persuade, then a measure of purchase intent will be used. If attitude shift is what is wanted, then scales will be used to measure change. If exposure to a message over time is considered essential, then in-market controlled experiments will be used. To test advertising copy the researchers must know both what the copywriter is trying to accomplish and what assumptions are being made as to how the various copy components will contribute to his end.

Measures dealing with recognition, recall, comprehension, believability, persuasion, and attitude change are the more typical measures used to judge advertising effectiveness. All involve assumptions on how advertising works. One of the basic problems is that most research cannot measure the long term effectiveness of advertising. And yet, we know that many attitudes change very slowly.

This discussion of copy testing is divided into two major parts, those tests made before the copy is released on a full run basis (before or pretests) and those tests done after the copy is run (after or post tests). Pre-tests are designed to determine what weaknesses exist in the copy before too much money has been spent on the advertising. After or post-testing attempts to measure the combined effect of the advertising, the media used, the scheduling, the product’s distribution and competitive advertising. The distinction is not always clear since some before tests call for the advertising copy to be run in one or several media. Such tests are an attempt to simulate the real world and, thus are properly classified as pre-tests.

Before discussing these to types of copy testing, it is necessary to describe briefly the research needed to determine what creative strategy to adopt.

Creative Strategy Research:

A product’s creative strategy is concerned mainly with determining what message can best elicit the desired response from members of the target audience. Through the use of attitude and market segmentation research studies, it should be possible to specify the product’s target audience and desired response in some detail. Once this has been done, decision must be made as to what ideas the message to communicate. This, in turn requires the use of marketing research to measure the impact of the idea on which the message is based.

When it is necessary to select one or a few ideas from a large number, concept sort tests can be used. The ideas can be written in the form of one or two statements and typed on a 3×5 card. Respondents proceed to sort these cards into piles based on some evaluation criterion, such as intention to purchase, or more descriptive scales – uniqueness, importance, or believability. Typically the concepts having the highest box score are developed further. Alternatively, the responses can be factor analyzed to see if several concepts should be combined into a more general concept. It is difficult to evaluate concepts concerned with emotional appeals (e.g. the use of a brand by certain types of people) versus benefits derived from physical product features.

Focus group discussions can often provide important insights into the relative importance of various concepts. A skilled moderator may gain insights into why consumers prefer one brand to another as well as how consumers feel and think about advertising for a given product class or type. There is always, however, a question of the reliability of a focus group’s output, not only because of bias introduced by the moderator and some of the more vocal members of the group, but because of its small size and lack of representation of the target audience.