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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? : How to review advertising is one of the most challenging questions in marketing. We share different models and checklists you can use to help you do it. Learn how academics and agencies think about evaluation. Read this to help you get better with how to review advertising. 

We’ve talked before about when client marketing and agency creative teams come together to review the agency’s response to an advertising brief.

Most times, you plan ahead to avoid making that session a car crash.

But as we’ve updated our marketing and creative skill guides recently, it’s given us an unusual view on advertising evaluation.

Because, we can see advertising evaluation from both the client and agency sides. 

Car crash

This gives us a different perspective on this challenging area of marketing decision-making

When client and agency teams agree on how to review advertising, it’s like a marriage made in heaven. So this article’s structure follows the famous rhyme about what you need for a perfect wedding.

Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. 

Something old - What would Kotler do?

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

We’ll do the marketing equivalent of what would Jesus Do?” by asking “what would Kotler do?”.

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

That’s 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, though short, 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 focusses 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. Not a lot of actual detail on how to do this though.

Something missing

So, what Kotler actually does here is tell us what to look out for. Great. But not how to decide if any of those things are any good. 

Or even why.

There’s no mention of the psychology of colour and its impact on brand identity, for example. No mention of the psychology of typography 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 will ultimately give you the answer. But it doesn’t help you in that meeting when the agency first present their 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 the rest of what they present.

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’ve been no help in any of those 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 actually in most cases, the answer is surprisingly, no.

Let’s look at an advertising evaluation model used by one of the big Australian advertising agencies with one of 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 called 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 proposes that 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 is 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 either of them. 

But here’s the thing.

In terms of ‘training’ marketers in how to review advertising and give constructive feedback to the agency, a check-list 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 too.

And this isn’t an especially 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 again and again. (For example, see our business writing that stands out article). 

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


Something borrowed - the Gut - brief - idea model

So, have we found anything that does help improve advertising reviews? 

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

Advertising tracking tests like the Ipsos test which uses persuasion and impact scores, we’ve generally seen work well.

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

Close up of a hand with thumb up

We like these 3 questions used by another client team 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 about to turn into a  car crash if you don’t stop. 

But if you can answer yes, here’s the 3 criteria they suggested you use next to review the advertising. They’re a good start to giving better feedback.


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 for more on this). 

So, the first time you see an advertising idea from the agency is the closest you get to seeing it in the same way a customer will. 

If you don’t ‘get it’ or ‘like it’ right away, customers won’t either, no matter how much you finesse it.


Does it meet the brief?

It sounds like a simple question.

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 go on to 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 provide 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 was a single way to get advertising right every time, then the world would be full of amazing advertising.

And yet, turn on your TV, browse that news website, listen to your car radio, and it’s clear most advertising isn’t amazing.

At best, average, and in many cases mediocre. 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

Conclusion - how to review advertising

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

The answer is … there is no answer.

Because every brand, every target audience, every agency creative team bring something different to the mix. The questions and processes we’ve shared from Kotler and various marketing agencies can help.

But actually, it’s all about context and going back to 2 marketing fundamentals.

  • Put yourself in the shoes of your customer. Does this advertisement make their life better or easier?
  • Understand what your brand stands for. Does this advertisement communicate that?

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

Just remember to 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 contact 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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6 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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