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How to review advertising : Client – agency experiences

Young man standing in Times Square at night looking up the bright media advertising billboards

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Why read this? : We look at different ways to review advertising. Learn how to have better client-agency conversations as you develop your advertising ideas. Read this to learn how to improve your advertising review process.

We’ve talked before about when client marketing and agency creative teams come together to review the agency’s response to an advertising brief. Unless you prepare, it can turn into a car crash.

But as we recently updated our marketing and creative skill guides, it had us thinking more about advertising evaluation.

And in particular how this challenging area of marketing decision-making works from both the client and agency sides. 

Car crash

When clients and agencies align on how to review advertising, it’s like a marriage made in heaven. This inspired us to use a wedding-related structure for our look at the different ways to do that.

Something old - What would Kotler do?

As the client team starts the advertising process when they brief their agencies, we’ll start with some marketing thinking.

We’ll do the marketing equivalent of, What would Jesus Do?” and ask “What would Kotler do?”.

Philip Kotler’s Marketing Management* has been a long-time mainstay for marketing students. Our copy dates back to 1988.

That was before the internet and everything else it spawned was even invented. When digital marketing, at best, was Sega and Nintendo.  

The advertising development process - a guide on how to advertise successfully

And yes, that book has been republished many times since. But it’s still a useful reference to see how “traditional” marketing would review advertising. 

And you know what? Unlike other parts of the book, the advertising review section hasn’t dated too badly. Here’s what Kotler has to say on message evaluation and selection under the section on Designing Effective Advertising Programs

“A good advertisement normally focuses on one central selling proposition without trying to give too much product information, which dilutes the ad’s impact. Messages should be rated on desirability, exclusiveness and believability based on the Twedt, 1969 Journal of Marketing model. These factors should be rated based on asking consumers to rate advertising for interest, distinctiveness and believability.” 

He then goes on, that after defining the advertising strategy and briefing an agency, creative people must now find the style, tone, words and format to execute the message.

Sounds good so far. 

But unfortunately, it doesn’t go much further than that. Only a few vague paragraphs about checking the headlines, images and copy. Little detail on how to do this though.

Something missing

So, Kotler tells us what to look out for. Great. But not how to decide if those are good. 

For example, there’s no mention of colour psychology and its impact on brand identity. No mention of typography psychology and how different font styles can impact the readability and effectiveness of your creative.

Design principles? Photography? Video? None of these get a mention here.

Blank Billboard seen from the ground against a clear cloudy sky

Yes, advertising pre-testing ultimately gives you the answer. But it doesn’t help you in that meeting when the agency first presents its idea.

What if they’ve used a “bold” colour to create impact? But you’re trying to build trust and credibility, and need a more sombre colour palette? Or, they’ve presented you with 29 different font options for the headline? And asked you to pick a favourite. Or, they’ve misspelled your brand name in the opening paragraph? And instantly killed any confidence you have in their ideas.

All scenarios we’ve experienced in the past. (All would be fails on our marketing agency evaluation checklist by the way).

Kotler’s model would be no help in these cases. 

Something new - the “Weighty” evaluation model

Maybe it’s an age thing?

It’s a bit unfair to judge thinking that’s over 30 years old. There’s been millions of client – agency advertising reviews since then. Surely, someone will have come up with a better model?

Well, maybe. But, in most cases, the answer is surprisingly, no.

Let’s look at an example advertising evaluation model used by a big agency with its big clients.

Man's hand holding a camera lens in front of a lake with mountains and blue skies in the background

No names, it could be any of them. But let’s call it the “Weighty” model. That’s not the actual name. But the actual name is something equally serious, self-important and a bit up-itself. (Unsurprising, given many types of agency are serious, self-important and a bit up themselves). 

It suggests after an advertising creative presentation by the agency, the client team have a ‘huddle’. Without the agency creative team in the room. They review what they’ve just seen against 7 criteria. 

Huddle for these 7 weighty criteria

  1. Does it highlight the Reason to Believe?
  2. Has it communicated the Unique Selling Proposition?
  3. Check the branding – is it unique and distinctive?
  4. Is it relevant to the consumer and based on an insight?
  5. Check that it’s distinctive versus anything else on the market
  6. Is it shareable on social?
  7. And finally, is it simple and clear?

The agency also get kudos as they referenced both Ehrenberg Bass and Binet and Field when they shared this model.

Both of these are interesting researchers in advertising evaluation. But, we reckon 90% of marketers haven’t heard of them. 

But here’s the thing.

In terms of ‘training’ marketers on how to review advertising and give constructive feedback to the agency, a checklist like this is better than random subjective opinions.

Question mark spray painted onto a tree trunk among a wood of trees

But it still doesn’t help with any of those questions Kotler failed to answer. And this isn’t an easy list of questions to answer with the creatives waiting out in the hallway.

Take question 5, for example. Yes, distinctiveness is a theme which comes up often. (For example, see our branding lessons and business writing that stands out articles). 

But unless you’re aware of everything else that’s out there, how do you know it’s distinctive?

And with this agency, distinctiveness was always a challenge. The creatives always shared the ‘inspiration sources’ used to come up with the idea. But, how can you be distinctive if your idea is inspired by something else? 

Red tulip in a field of yellow tulips showing the impact of standing out and looking different

So, on the one hand, we have adverts similar to the idea presented. And on the other, the clients are asked to check the idea for its distinctiveness. 

Hmmm.

Something borrowed - the Gut - brief - idea model

So, have we found anything which does help improve how you review advertising? 

Obviously, testing your advertising with actual customers is the gold standard.

Advertising tracking tests like the Ipsos test which uses persuasion and impact scores are helpful.

But before you reach that stage, the client still has to filter the ideas to decide which will go to pre-test.

Close up of a hand with thumb up

So you could try these 3 questions used by another client team we know to feedback on the advertising idea in the review meeting :- 

  • Do you understand the creative idea?
  • Are you clear on the proposed “drama”?
  • Do you know what decision the agency wants from you in this meeting?

You pause the meeting, if you can’t answer yes to all 3. It’s a warning sign the review meeting is turning into a car crash. But if you can answer yes, then you structure your next feedback around :-

  • gut reaction?
  • meets the brief?
  • clear idea and execution?

Gut

What’s your gut reaction to the advertising idea? Does it feel right to you?

Advertising has a short window of time to grab the customer’s attention. The first time they see an advert is hugely important to its longer-term effectiveness. Because the next time they see the advert, their view builds from that first impression. (See our design psychology article on entry points for more on this). 

So, the first time you see an advertising idea is the closest you get to seeing it as the customer will. If you don’t ‘get it’ or ‘like it’ right away, customers won’t either.

Brief

Does it meet the brief?

Sounds like a simple question, right?

But, we’ve sat in so many of these meetings where in the excitement of the idea, the brief’s forgotten.

Good marketers always go back to the brief. You put a lot of time and thought into writing the brief. Don’t waste that effort.

Make sure what the agency shows you meets the brief. Check the objectives and the deliverables. Does it do what you asked for?

Marketing Communication brief - blank template

Idea and execution

Once you’ve checked these, only then evaluate the idea and execution. Get specific, and ask lots of questions. Look at the images, the layout and the copywriting. How does everything fit together?

Is the benefit clear? Can you see what your target audience will think and feel about what you’re saying?

What purpose does it play for the customer? Does the brand play an active role in the concept? Will customers even understand it? Does it make an impact?

Something blue - Well that was sh*t

If there were a single way to get advertising right every time, then the world would be full of awesome advertising campaigns.

And yet, turn on your TV, browse that website, listen to your car radio, and most advertising clearly isn’t at all awesome.

At best, average. And in many cases, awful. And those are the adverts which make it.

Think how many sh*t adverts die in the board rooms and meeting rooms of agencies and clients. 

Young man standing in Times Square at night looking up the bright media advertising billboards

So if the first idea the agency pitch sucks, rest assured it happens a lot. Sh*t advertising gets everywhere. 

Conclusion - how to review advertising

With so many different opinions on how to review advertising, who’s right? 

The answer is … there is no answer.

Every brand, target audience and agency creative team brings something different to the mix. The questions and processes from Kotler and others can help. But actually, they all boil down to :-

  • The customer perspective. Does this advert make their life better or easier?
  • The brand perspective. Does this advert communicate why the brand is the right choice? 

If you can’t answer these questions, then sorry, creative team. Back to the drawing board.

Just remember to also deliver the benefit, the branding, be unique, talk to the insight and make it shareable. So we can use it on a 30-second TV ad, a 48-sheet poster, a 1080 x 1080 Instagram post and the CMO can put it on the back of their business card.

Oh, and above all, keep it simple, yeh?

Then of course, once you’ve done all those things, all you’ve got left to worry about is the advertising impact on sales and profits

Check out our advertising evaluation guide and our copywriting feedback article for more on this topic. Or email us, if we can help you build your own advertising review skills. 

* As an Amazon Affiliate, we earn from qualifying purchases

Outdoor billboard with writing that says this will drive $1m in sales - probably

Photo credit

Night time billboards : Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Outdoor billboard : Photo by Kate Trysh on Unsplash

Lens : Photo by Paul Skorupskas on Unsplash

Question Mark on Tree : Photo by Evan Dennis on Unsplash

Thumbs up (adapted) : Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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8 thoughts on “How to review advertising : Client – agency experiences”

  1. Well written and clear information. It is a must to understand the style, tone, words and format of the client before executing the message. If we go wrong with basics, then there would be so many hiccups.

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