How to evaluate advertising : Client – agency experiences

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Snapshot : How to evaluate advertising is one of the most challenging questions in marketing. We share models and checklists from academia and agencies to show how leading business do it. But we also recognise that it really comes down to how you understand your consumer and define what your brand stands for. 

We’ve talked before about the key moment when client marketing and creative teams come together to present their first 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 how to evaluate advertising. Because, we can see advertising evaluation from both the client and agency sides. 

When client and agency teams find themselves in perfect sync when it comes to how to evaluate advertising, then it’s like a marriage made in heaven. 

And so, we’ve taken our structure for this post from the famous rhyme that defines the recipe for a perfect wedding.

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

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

Something old – What would Kotler do?

As the client marketing team are the ones who start the advertising process when they brief their agencies, let’s start there.

The marketing equivalent of “What would Jesus Do”? we start with the Grandfather of all marketing books. Philip Kotler’s Marketing Management* has been a long-time mainstay of marketing students, and our copy was published way back in 1988.

That’s before the internet and everything that came after that was even invented. And yes, that book has been obviously republished many times since, but we wanted to look back and see how “old” school marketing evaluated advertising. 

And you know what, unlike other parts of the book, this 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 to say, 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. 

And yet, that’s pretty much where it stops, other than a few paragraphs on looking out for areas like headlines, images and copy.

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 good or bad. 

Or even why.

There’s no mention of colour and it’s impact on brand identity for example. No mention 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 in this bible of marketing.

Yes, advertising pre-testing will ultimately give you the answer. But it doesn’t help you in that meeting where the agency first present their idea.

What if they’ve used a “bold” colour to create impact when your brand is trying to trust and credibility?

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 which instantly kills any confidence you have in the rest of what they are presenting.

These are all scenarios we’ve come up against in the past by the way. And Kotler’s model was really no help at all in those cases. 

Something new – the “Weighty” evaluation model

Maybe it is an age thing?

It’s a little unfair to judge someone on what they were thinking thirty years ago. Surely, there have been thousands of client – agency advertising reviews since then, and someone will have come up with a better model.

Well, maybe, but actually in most cases, the answer is likely still no.

Let’s look at an advertising evaluation model used by one of the big Australian advertising agencies with one of its big clients.

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 in what it calls itself.

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 – and evaluate what they’ve just seen against seven 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 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 should also get kudos in that they managed to reference both Ehrenberg Bass and the work of Binet and Field. Both of these are interesting researchers and thought leaders in the field of advertising evaluation. But, we reckon 95% of marketers (especially outside academic circles) will never have heard of either of them. 

But here’s the thing.

In terms of ‘training’ marketers and getting them in how to evaluate adverting and give constructive feedback to the agency, a check-list like this is better than giving random subjective opinions.

But it still doesn’t help with any of those questions that Kotler failed to answer too.

And this is also not an especially easy list of questions to answer when you have the creatives waiting out in the hallway.

Take question 5 for example. Yes distinctiveness is a theme that comes up again and again. But unless you research everything else that is out there, how do you know it is distinctive?

And with this particular agency, distinctiveness was always particularly challenging as the agency creatives openly shared their ‘inspiration sources’ that they used to put the idea together.

So, on one hand they share other adverts that are similar to what they presented to show where the idea came from. And on the other, the clients were being tasked to check for its distinctiveness and uniqueness. 

Hmmm.

Something borrowed – the Gut – brief – idea model

So, have we found anything that has worked to get to better advertising?

Obviously, testing your advertising with actual consumers 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 out the ideas down to those which will go into pre-test. We did like these three questions used by a big European agency / client as requirements for the marketing team before even giving any feedback on the advertising creative. 

  • 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?

If you can’t answer yes to those three questions, then pause the meeting. Your car crash proximity alert has just come on.

But if you can answer yes, here’s the three criteria they suggested you use next as how to evaluate advertising. We’ve used these often, and nine times out of ten, they help you give constructive feedback.

Gut

Is your gut reaction good to the advertising idea?

Advertising operates in a small window of time with consumers. And the first time a consumer sees an advert is hugely important to its longer-term effectiveness. Because the next time the consumer sees the advert, their view builds from that first impression. That can be positive or negative. 

So, the first time you see an advertising idea from the agency is likely the closest you will be to looking at an ad from the viewpoint of a consumer.

If you don’t ‘get it’ or ‘like it’ right away, the chances are your consumers won’t either, no matter how much finessing of the idea you do.

Brief

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 is forgotten.

As a marketer, you should always go back to the brief. You put a lot of time and thought into writing the brief. So, make sure that what the agency shows you meets what you put down in the brief.  

Idea and execution

Once you’ve checked these two things, only then go on to evaluate the idea and execution.

Can you point to where in the advert the benefit is communicated? Can you see where your target audience will think and feel about what you are saying?

What purpose does it actually provide for the audience? Does the brand play an active role in the concept? Will consumers even understand it? Does the advert make an impact?

Something blue – Well that was sh*t

If there was one single way to create and evaluate advertising and get it 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 you realise the vast amount of advertising is not amazing.

At best, average, and in many cases mediocre. And those are the adverts that make it. Think how many sh*t adverts die in the board rooms and meeting rooms of agencies and clients. 

So, with so many different opinions on how to evaluate advertising, who is 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 two marketing fundamentals.

Put yourself in the shoes of your consumer. 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 yes to both of those questions, then sorry, creative team. Back to the drawing board you go.

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 his or her business card.

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

Check out our full guide to advertising evaluation, if you’d like to know more about this topic. Or contact us, if we can help you build your own advertising evaluations skills. 

* As an Amazon Affiliate, we earn from qualifying purchases

Photo credit

Night time billboards : Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

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6 thoughts on “How to evaluate 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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