Advertising evaluation

In this article, we’ll look at three key areas of advertising evaluation. Firstly, how to evaluate and give feedback on advertising ideas from your agency. Then, how to evaluate the impact of advertising on performance once it goes live. And finally, we’ll cover the importance of reviewing advertising from competitors. 

Advertising evaluation

How this guide raises your game

1. Learn how to evaluate and give feedback on the advertising idea from your marketing agency.

2. Identify your options to track and measure advertising impact on your performance.

3. The importance of reviewing and learning from competitor advertising.

In our guide to how to advertise, we cover the basic advertising development process. These are the seven key steps you go through to make an advert.

But at certain stages of the process, you also need to practice the skill of advertising evaluation. This requires you to analyse, question, test and make decisions about your advertising to improve it. 

Firstly, at the agency proposal stage, you need to review the advertising idea. You need to decide whether it will meet your business, marketing and communication objectives. And give feedback before the idea can move to production.

Secondly, when your advertising goes live, you need to evaluate the advertising impact on sales and brand measures.  You need to capture data and analyse it to work out the impact of your advertising. 

And finally, from an advertising evaluation point of view, you should review competitor advertising on a regular basis. So you can learn learn what works and what doesn’t in your category. Because, this helps you improve your own advertising. 

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Advertising evaluation - The advertising idea

The advertising idea happens at Step 4 of the advertising development process, the agency proposal.

At this stage of the process, you have set your business objective and briefed the agency on the job to be done. They have had time to ask questions and seek clarification.

So the advertising idea is the creative agency’s response to your core communication challenge from a message point of view. 

This part of the process will normally be led by the strategy and planning team and the creative teams at the marketing agency

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

The strategy and planning presentation

The strategy and planning team will normally set the context for the advertising idea. This will include any new or additional information about the consumer, competitors or category that they have found. 

These insights might come from third-party data sources which the agency subscribes to. These may be too expensive for a client to purchase on their own. Or the agency will have access to advertising insights through industry associations and advertising effectiveness bodies. 

For example, the WARC, the Effies and the Institute of Practioners in Advertising all regularly post and share insights about advertising effectiveness. But most of the content is not directly accessible unless you pay, which for agencies may be cost effective, because they can spread the cost across all their clients. 

In some cases, marketing agencies will have connections with market research agencies or have had previous experience in the category. This could mean they will be able to source data that is not available elsewhere. 

In addition, the strategy and planning team may also talk you though the latest thinking about advertising effectiveness. Or around the psychology of what makes some advertising work and others not. This might include references to published books, research papers and other specialist insights from the world of advertising. 

This contextual work should focus on your target audience and explain the key changes in attitude or behaviour you need from the advertising. 

The creative presentation

With the context in mind, the creative team will then show you the advertising idea or ideas.

In fact, at this early stage, it’s very common for the creative team to show you two or three different ideas.

The ideas would normally be in very rough format rather than highly polished ideas. The aim of this first creative review is to reach a consensus on which idea to focus on. So concentrate on the idea itself rather than how it is presented.

Here’s an example with five storyboards for a short tactical ad we ran for ourselves just as the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions were starting to ease back in May.

Three-brains Unpause campaign first draft storyboard

As you can see from this first draft, the ideas is to tell a short story using some symbols. But the idea is still in very rough format. A black background, all white font, and very rough symbols and layout.

There’s no branding or real design elements applied to the idea. The shape, symbols and copy have not been applied in the original idea. And there’s no time setting or guide to the animation that we eventually used.

Example advertising idea to final advertising

As you can see from the final version, the core idea remained very similar to the original. You can see that the core elements of the original idea remain in the final version.

But we’ve applied many different creative skills to refine the message and design.

The colour palette in the final version of the advertising all uses colours from our brand identity, for example.

The copywriting is much tighter. We added more a “competitive” and “play” element in to the copy. Those ideas form part of our brand values.

We added brand elements like our logo and communication proposition to make the advertising more branded and memorable.

The style of this idea outline  obviously depends on the media channel recommendation. As per our guide on how to advertise, there’s always a message part of advertising and a media part of advertising. The ‘outline’ could include mock-ups of imagery in a magazine or billboard for example, or rough storyboards as in our example.

What the creative team expects

The creative team will look for you to give feedback on the idea or ideas. The reason the initial ideas are only sketched out at this point, is because the agency expects to make changes based on your feedback.

It takes time to produce ‘finished’ work, and the agency want to make sure you feel involved in the process by giving you the opportunity to feed back on the direction they propose. 

Sometimes this feedback goes well, but other times the creative review can be a challenging meeting

It’s important to prepare ahead of this session and think about how you’ll give your advertising evaluation feedback to the creative team. 

Re-read the brief

Well, a good place to start is to re-read the brief before you see the agency proposal. It can often be a few weeks between the briefing and the agency response. Refresh your mind on the key points before the proposal meeting. 

Have a copy of the brief to hand when the work is presented back to you. 

In our own Three-brains advertising example above, part of our internal brief was to create advertising that stood out from competitors. We see a lot of advertising in our category that pulls from the same playbook. 

We believe our positioning is distinctive and makes us stand out from competitors. The animated route, with dramatic music and much simpler language was part of the advertising idea that met our brief. 

Marketing Communication brief - blank template

It sounds obvious to re-read the brief, but it doesn’t always happen. It’s important, because as agencies look for creative ideas, sometimes the creative idea takes on a life of its own. It is not unusual for the idea to diverge from the original intent of the brief. 

Go through those key briefing sections again. Check that the advertising idea refers back to what you asked for. Don’t let the advertising idea distract you from your goal. 

Brand identity

Does the idea meet your brand identity requirements? Ask yourself how the advertising idea will help you move towards your brand vision. How does it reinforce the essence of your brand? In terms of the style and tone of voice, does the idea bring to life your brand personality and values?


Can you see how it delivers on your business and marketing objectives? If the advert needs to influence attitudes or behaviours, can you see how the advertising will deliver that? Does it have a strong call to action that links back to your marketing objective for example? 

Communication challenge and imperatives

Look back at your communication challenge and imperatives. See how well the advertising idea addresses those challenges. This can often be the hardest area in advertising evaluation, because the answer is rarely obvious.

The agency team should be able to talk through their story and thinking. Ask them to explain why their idea meets the challenges. This can often require lateral or ‘outside the box’ thinking. You shouldn’t be afraid to ask for more explanation if it’s unclear. Or ask for some time to process or reflect on the idea outside the meeting. You can give an initial response, but it’s fine to take time to refine it.  

Brand rationale and project delivery

Does the advertising idea fit with your brand rationale? If there are claims and references to the brand or product benefit, does the advertising idea back those up?

At this point, it’s unlikely the agency will cover in much detail the project deliverables part of the brief. Unless there’s some issues with the timing or the budget. These can’t be clearly defined until everyone has agreed on the advertising idea.

Consider the advertising idea from the target consumer point of view

So, if you are confident that the advertising idea meets the brief, your next step is to try to look at the idea from the target consumer point of view. 

Clear and understandable

First off, is the idea clear and understandable? 

Remember that your target audience will not have the benefit of hearing the idea introduced to them by the agency.

For them it will pop up in the middle of their favourite TV show. Or they’ll hear it on the car radio or glimpse it on a bus stop billboard. Maybe it’ll pop up as they flick through their social media feeds.

You should try to replicate that first exposure of the consumer and see if the idea is clear. Does it make sense? Would it be likely to grab your attention if you were the target consumer?

If you understand the needs of your target audience, you should have a good feeling for what they will find appealing in advertising.

Relevant, impactful and unique

Ask yourself if the advertising idea is likely to be relevant to that audience. Does it use style, tone of voice, design elements or cultural references that will capture the attention of the target audience? Will it be meaningful to them?

Is it likely to be impactful to that audience? Can you see how the target audience might be persuaded to think, feel or act differently as a result of the advertising?

And finally, is the advert unique enough that it will stand out against competitors? As we stated in our how to advertise guide, your advert needs to stand out from the thousands of adverts that consumers see every day. So if it isn’t unique and distinctive to your brand, then its just going to blend into everything else. And be ignored or forgotten.

These are the key questions you should consider when you review the advertising idea from a consumer point of view. When you combine these with the key elements reviewed against the brief, you create a checklist of questions to evaluate the advertising idea.

The final stage of the advertising idea evaluation - use your gut instinct

Re-reading the brief and checking the advertising idea meets it is a very logical way of to evaluate the advertising idea.

However, the advertising idea also often needs to appeal to emotions as well as logic. And so the ability to put yourself in the shoes of the consumer, helps build more of this empathetic view of the advertising idea.

But, you should also question how you respond to the advertising idea on a more instinctive level. Do you actually like it? What’s your gut reaction to it?

As brand owner, you’re responsible for building the brand identity with your target audience. You need to share with agency your level of confidence that the advertising idea is “right” for the brand.

You can see a great idea from a creative point of view, but if it’s not right for the brand, you need to trust your gut instinct and let the agency know. Check out our article on client : agency experiences for more on this topic.

Grafitti of a red heart, with a stick person hanging from on it on a white wall

Advertising evaluation with consumers

Once the advertising idea has developed to the point where both you and the agency team are happy with it, then move on to market research. 

However how much market research depends on the size and scale of your business and your advertising. 

If you are on a tight budget you could informally ask existing customers to look at the idea. You can ask them directly for feedback.

This would be a relatively cheap and quick way of carrying out market research. However, in most cases, advertising is aimed at bringing in new customers, so asking existing customers may not always be helpful.

Traditional advertising evaluation market research

You could also apply more traditional qualitative and quantitative market research at this point before your campaign goes live.  This is a formalised process of advertising evaluation.

Most market research agencies will offer some sort of advertising pre-testing.  This could be either focus groups to review and comment on concepts and ideas. Or panels of respondents who give immediate feedback on a couple of key advertising effectiveness measures. 

Advertising pre-testing tries to predict whether an advert is likely to be successful. It does this by comparing consumer reactions to advertising industry norms.

You will end up with a score or ranking for you advertising on criteria like “persuasion” and “recall”. This score will give you a benchmark comparison of whether your advert is better, the same or worse than other similar adverts.

It can be very helpful to spot any issues or flaws with the advertising. This research can help you finesse the final execution of the advertising idea. 

While this pre-testing can clearly give you more confidence in your advertising will be successful, it doesn’t provide absolute certainty. The testing will only be carried out with a representative sample of your target audience. Circumstances and content may change by the time the “real advert” goes live.

You should balance the cost of this research with the impact that an improved advert will deliver. 

Test it out with non-marketing people

One of the biggest challenges with marketing agencies, is that they can have a very advertising-centric view of the world. And generally, this is not the view of the world your target audience will have. So, it’s important to make sure you can test your advertising with people outside this advertising ‘bubble’.

Advertising agencies will tend to congregate around specific areas in towns and cities. Advertising staff will often move from agency to agency.

They’ll also tend to live in the same sorts of suburbs in the city. You’ll find a sameness in how they dress, how they think, how many tattoos they have. That means your advertising may work well in that trendy suburb. But not be relevant to other audiences.

And let’s face it, where brands often get most consumed isn’t in the sort of areas where you find most marketing agencies. 

We recommend you make sure you test ideas in the areas where your target audience lives. That may well be family-oriented suburbs. Or rough and ready working class neighbourhoods.

Do your market research in these types of areas too. It is always a worthwhile reality check to hear what non-marketing people think of your advertising idea.

Online testing

If your advertising will run in digital media channels, you could run small tests online before a bigger launch. Look at running different versions of the advertising to small specific audiences to test which versions get the better response. 

This is commonly referred to as A/B testing. This is where you run two versions of an advert at the same time to a similar (small) audience of say a few hundred people. And you see which one generates more clicks or responses. The version of the ad which ‘wins’ is then the one that you use on your next round of media with larger audiences and a larger budget.

Post Campaign Analysis

Obviously, once your campaign has run, you should review the objectives and KPIs you set in the brief. Check that actual performance versus the target to see how how the campaign performed.

If you run regular campaigns through the year, you may already have a weekly or monthly reporting schedule set up with your marketing agency. This will be a regular meeting to review activities and report on progress against KPIs.

But you should work with your agency to review campaigns on a more long-term basis. 

As we’ve covered in our how to advertise guide, advertising breaks into two key areas – the message and the media. You can track impact of the message through brand health and brand equity measures, but you also need to weigh this against the weight and frequency of the advertising. 

As we mention in our guide on media planning, frequency is an important part of making an advert successful. Consumers rarely ‘get’ an advertising idea on a single viewing, and so it needs to be repeated over a period of time for it to create the mental associations with consumers that will lead to changes in attitude or behaviour. 

Short and long-term advertising impact

This leads to the concept of advertising having both a short-term and long-term impact.

A short-term impact would be an immediate uplift in sales or brand equity. Such advertising can often be seen as tactical and promotional. An advert which had a key message about a Christmas sale or a summer promotion for example will generally see a short-term uplift in sales. But because the advertising message is time-bound, it will be forgotten after the offer ends.

Advertising that has longer-term impact tends to focus on building brand identity and equity. It may have less immediate impact on sales, but longer term builds up a perception in the minds of consumers that drives longer-term sales. 

Case study : Advertising evaluation post campaign analysis

Let’s look at an example.

The numbers and examples are based on an amalgamation of real-life case studies merged together so that no one brand actually sits behind these numbers.

But, this is a very realistic scenario of what might happen in advertising evaluation. We use it to show the types of thinking that sits behind this type of analysis. 

Campaign A – brand building (long-term)

At the start of this 18 month evaluation period, Brand X is number 2 in the market. It attracts most of itss audience from two segments – segment A and B.

Advertising evaluation - example post campaign chart

For the first 9 months of the year, it runs (brand building) campaign A. This is aimed at growing its share with its second biggest segment – segment A.

In this example, you can see that with some fluctuations in spend between January and April, the consideration percentage roughly follows the trend of the media investment.

However, when the brand commits to a consistently higher level of media spend between May and September, the consideration level of Segment A goes up. From 25% in May to 30% in September.

If we knew the total number of people in each segment, we could take this ‘extra’ 5% of segment A and calculate how much that segment is likely to spend on our product. We could then calculate the profit from these extra sales, we can compare it to the advertising spend. Where profit > advertising spend, then there was a positive Return On Advertising Spend

Let’s assume that in this case, this Return on Advertising Spend calculation showed the spend exceeded the profit generated. And that the campaign’s impact on the other segments was either neutral or led to a decline. This would then lead you to consider new campaigns. 

Campaign B – Seasonal tactical (short-term)

So we might then create a new tactical campaign aimed at Segment C. The objective is to generate a short-term uplift at Christmas.

Here you can see the benefit of a focussed short-term campaign. In this example, it lifted consideration rates from 16% to 26%. And even though the campaign to this specific segment ended in January, the consideration rate stayed above 20%.

This would be an example of some long-term impact of what was short-term advertising. 

Campaign C – Combination (Short- and long-term)

Finally, look at the result of the final campaign C, which targeted the biggest segment, Segment B. The brand had been in slow decline with these customers since the previous year. One of the biggest learnings when it comes to advertising evaluation is the more targeted you can make the advertising to a specific segment needs the more impactful the advertising will be. 

In this case the advertising was developed to specifically attract Segment B. It used short-term calls to action and more relevant long-term brand building messages.

In the space of three months it almost doubled the consideration level of Segment B. 

Key tips for post-campaign analysis

There are three key things to bear in mind when it comes to the post campaign analysis. You need to be objective. You need to work with the agency to capture learnings. And you need to look at the context – what are competitors doing, and what else is happening in the category? 

Objectivity is key

Compared to the advertising evaluation you carry out when the advertising idea is presented to you pre-launch, the post campaign analysis is a much more objective than subjective process. You should gather data and fact-based information about the  attitudes or behaviour changes of your target audience. This is what will tell you whether your advertising has been effective or not. 

You should obviously check against the KPIs you set in the brief. But it’s also an opportunity to check out the value and validity of other performance measures you might track. It’s worth carrying out basic statistical reviews of the numbers and trends like correlation analysis and significance testing.

Have there been any changes in your brand choice or brand equity measures where you can look for a correlation with your sales performance? It may be that you chose the wrong measure or KPI at the start of the process, and learnings from this campaign can help you set a different measure for the next campaign.

If some of those measures have changed, how significant is the change? And is it sustained over a long period of time? Because those measures are often captured on a sample basis, these can be prone to fluctuations. You should push your market research agency to identify any shifts or trends that are statistically significant.

Work with your agency to capture learnings

Advertising evaluation can be a challenge as you review the impact of what your agency has done. It can be tempting to point the finger or allocate blame when a campaign doesn’t work.

But advertising development should be a joint exercise between you and the agency. You should see the post campaign analysis as an opportunity to stop, reflect and learn.

Look for positives as well as negatives. Reflect back on what you would have done differently had you known at the beginning of the process what you know now. Make sure those learnings are captured somewhere, both on your side and at the agency. Your aim is to make the next advertising campaign more informed and more impactful. 

Advertising evaluation context - look at competitors and category

The final way to consider advertising evaluation applies both to the post campaign analysis and to your overall marketing plan.

Your advertising campaigns need to be viewed in the context of what your competitors are doing during the same period. And consider any changes which might have happened in the category or wider environment which might have had an impact on the performance of your advertising. 

Have your competitors spent a lot on media or changed their message, for example? This will have an impact on the performance of your advertising. 

Blond woman partially hidden behind a leafy bush

What competitor advertising can tell you

Your competitor’s advertising is a great piece of competitor intelligence that you should factor in to your marketing plan and your advertising brief.

Think about the key factors that go in to your communication brief. When you see competitor advertising try to work out what those might be for the competitor.

What can you tell about a competitor’s brand identity from their advertising for example? Is it consistent with advertising that you have seen from them before or does it seem to be going in a new direction? What do you think their objectives and communication challenges are? 

When you track your own brand equity or sales performance with your target audience, can you also track the impact of competitor advertising on their brand equity or sales performance?

If you can see a competitor ad that is having a large impact on the audience, what can you learn from it? How would you adapt your next advertising campaign to outperform that competitor? 

Bear in mind that a big part of your marketing success comes from how you understand your target audience. And if your competitors also go for that target audience, then your understanding improves when you look at the impact their advertising has. 

How will your advert stand out?

Part of the challenge of advertising in general and advertising evaluation in general is to work out what is it that will make your advert be the one that stands out from the rest? What is about your advertising that will persuade your target audience to do something different? To visit your website, to sign up for your service, to buy your product in-store or online.

The ultimate proof of good advertising evaluation is when you can show that consumers have thought, felt or done the thing that your advertising set out to do in the first place. 

Three-brains and marketing communications

We have worked on many marketing communications projects including advertising evaluation. We know how to connect advertising evaluation back into driving your brand marketing and growing your sales. 

If you want to know more about how we can support your marketing communications to grow your business  through our coaching and consulting services, or contact us directly to find out more.

To achieve clear and consistent marketing communications, the first step is to pull together a clear brief for everyone involved in creating your activity.

That includes key elements of your target audience understanding and brand identity as well as stating your business and project goals. 

Download our blank template with accompanying notes to get your started on the process of creating a great marketing communications brief. 

Download it here or from our resources section. 

Powerpoint and Keynote versions of this document available on request. 

Marketing Communication brief - blank template
Click to download the pdf

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