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Advertising evaluation

Why read this? : We explore 3 different areas of advertising evaluation. Learn how to give agencies feedback on their advertising ideas. How to do post-campaign analysis. And how to review competitor advertising. Read this to sharpen your advertising evaluation skills.

Advertising evaluation

How this guide raises your game :-

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

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

3. Understand the role and uses of competitor advertising reviews.

You make adverts by following the advertising development process. But at some point, you also have to evaluate them. You have to work out if your advertising’s any good, and if it’s doing what you need it to. Advertising evaluation is a key marketing decision process. 

For example, at the proposal stage, you review the advertising idea. You decide if it meets your business and marketing objectives. You give creative feedback to improve the idea.

When your advert goes live, you evaluate the advertising impact on sales and brand measures. You capture marketing data and analyse it to work out how well your advertising has done. 

And finally, you also do competitor advertising evaluation. You review their adverts and see if you need to do anything different to respond to what they’re saying. 

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Advertising evaluation - The advertising idea

The advertising idea comes at the agency proposal stage of the advertising development process.

By this stage, you’ve set your business objective. You’ve written the brief and met with creative and media teams to talk about the job to be done.

They’ve had time to ask questions. To clarify what you want, and think about what the plan should be.

The advertising idea is the creative agency’s response to your communication challenge. It focuses on the message. What is it you need to say?

The strategy, planning and creative teams at the agency lead this part of the process. 

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

Strategy and planning

The strategy and planning team set the context for the advertising idea. This includes any new or extra information about the consumer, competitors or category they’ve found. 

That information often comes from 3rd-party data suppliers the agency subscribes to. Or from advertising insights that the agency accesses through industry associations and advertising effectiveness bodies. 

For example, the WARC, the Effies and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising all regularly share advertising effectiveness insights. But you have to pay for most of the content. Agencies are usually happy to pay because they can spread the cost across multiple clients. 

In some cases, marketing agencies share information sourced from market research agencies or from previous experience in the category. 

In addition, they may also talk through the latest advertising effectiveness thinking. For example, key insights from behavioural science that show why some messages work better than others. This might include references to published books, research papers and other specialist advertising insights. 

This context setting should focus on your target audience. It should explain the key changes in attitude or behaviour the advertising must deliver. 

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 2 or 3 different ideas.

The ideas would normally be rough rather than polished.

This first creative review aims to reach a consensus on which idea to focus on. So concentrate on the idea itself, rather than how it’s presented.

Here’s an example with 6 storyboards for a short tactical advert we ran. It was just as the first wave of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions were easing back in May 2020.

Three-brains Unpause campaign first draft storyboard

As you can see from this draft, the idea tells a short story using some symbols. But the idea is still rough. A black background. All white font. Very rough symbols and layout.

There’s no branding or real design elements yet. No brand logo. No brand typography. Not even our colour palette. And there’s no time setting or guide to the animation we eventually used.

Example advertising idea to final advertising

As you can see from the final version, the core idea stayed close to the original. You can see the core elements of that original idea in the final version.

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

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

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

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

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

What the creative team expects

The creative team expect you to give creative feedback on the idea(s). They expect to make changes based on your feedback. That’s why the ideas start as rough sketches. 

It takes time and money to produce ‘finished’ work. The agency wants to make sure you buy into the idea first. They want you to partner with them in creating a great advert. 

Sometimes this feedback session goes well. But sometimes it doesn’t. So, make sure you prepare ahead of this session. Think carefully about how you’ll give your advertising evaluation feedback to the creative team. 

Re-read the brief

Re-read the brief before you see the agency proposal. A few weeks may have gone by since you briefed them.

Refresh your mind on the key points. Take a copy of the brief with you to the meeting.

In our example above, part of our internal brief was to create advertising which stood out from competitors.

We see a lot of advertising in our category which looks and sounds similar. We wanted to be different. 

It’s part of our positioning to stand out from competitors. The animation with dramatic music, and simpler language was part of the advertising idea which helped us do that. 

Marketing Communication brief - blank template

It sounds obvious to re-read the brief, but it doesn’t always happen. It’s important as sometimes the creative idea takes on a life of its own in the agency. It sometimes moves too far away from the original brief. So, check the advertising idea delivers what you asked for. Don’t get distracted from your goal. 

Brand identity

Does the idea fit your brand identity, for example? Ask yourself how it’ll help you move towards your brand vision. How it’ll reinforce your brand essence. In terms of style and tone of voice, check the idea brings your brand personality and values to life. It has to be “on brand”. 


Can you see how it delivers on your business and marketing objectives? If the advert has to change attitudes or behaviours, is it clear how it’ll do that? Does it have a strong call to action linked to your marketing objective, for example?

Communication challenge and imperatives

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

The agency team should talk through their thinking. Ask them to explain why their idea meets the challenge. This can often require ‘outside the box’ thinking. Don’t be afraid to ask for more explanation if it’s unclear. If you don’t get it, your customers won’t get it either. It’s often a good idea to ask for time to process or reflect on the idea outside the meeting. Give an initial response by all means. But give yourself time to live with the idea too.

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 the project deliverables in much detail unless there are timing or budget issues. You can’t finalise these until you sign off on the idea anyway.

The target audience point of view

Checking the idea meets the brief is a good start. Next,  you need to look at it and give feedback from the target audience‘s point of view. 

Clear and understandable

First, is the idea clear and understandable? Remember your target audience won’t have the benefit of hearing the idea being explained by the agency.

They need to “get” it instantly when they see it in the middle of their favourite TV show. When they hear it on the radio. See it on a billboard. It has to stop their thumb scrolling as they flick through social media.

Try to replicate that first exposure for the customer. Is it clear right away? Does it make sense? Would it grab your attention if you were the customer? If it isn’t clear, customers will just ignore it and move on. 

Relevant, impactful and unique

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

Is it going to be impactful on customers? Can you see how the target audience will think, feel or act differently after seeing the advert?

And finally, is the advert unique enough? Will it stand out against competitors? As per our how to advertise guide, your advert will be one of thousands of adverts customers see every day. If it isn’t distinctive, it’ll get ignored.

So. Clear? Understandable? Relevant? Impactful? Unique? These are the key questions to answer when you review the advertising idea from the customer’s point of view.  Combine these with the business questions from the brief, and you create a checklist to help you evaluate the advertising idea.

(See also our articles on reviewing copywriting and photography for more on evaluation from a customer point of view). 

Gut instinct is good too

Re-reading the brief and checking the idea meets it, gives you a logical way to evaluate the advertising idea.

Putting yourself in the customer’s shoes helps build a more emotional view of the idea.

But, the final step is to evaluate 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 tell the agency how confident you are the advertising idea is “right” for the brand. Does it sit well with you? Does it feel right? 

Sometimes you see a great creative idea, but it’s just not right for your brand. Something just doesn’t work.  

If that happens, you need to trust your gut instinct. Let the agency know. Check out our client : agency experiences article for more on this.

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

Advertising evaluation with customers

Once the advertising idea has reached the stage where you and the agency team are both happy with it, then move on to market research. How you do this depends on your business context. If budgets are tight, consider informally asking existing customers to look at the idea. Ask them for feedback.

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

Market research

You could also carry out more formal qualitative and quantitative research. These are often used in advertising evaluation. Most market research agencies offer some sort of advertising pre-testing. Focus groups to review and comment on concepts and ideas, for example. Or, group panels specially set up to give immediate feedback on adverts.

Advertising pre-testing tries to predict if an advert will work. It compares customer reactions to advertising industry norms. You want to meet or better these norms. You end up with a ranking for the advert on criteria like “persuasion” and “recall”. This lets you benchmark against other adverts. It helps you spot issues and flaws. It helps you finesse the final execution of the advertising idea. 

The pre-testing gives you confidence your advert will work, but it’s not foolproof. It only tests a sample of your audience. And they don’t see it in a real-life context. It’s generally reliable, but not always. 

Test it with non-marketing people

A big challenge with marketing agencies is their advertising-centric view of the world. Your target audience doesn’t have this worldview though. So, you have to make sure you test adverts with people outside the advertising ‘bubble’.

Advertising agencies often congregate around specific districts. Usually ones with lots of nice bars. Their staff often move between these agencies and live in similar sorts of nearby suburbs. You end up with a sameness in how they dress. How they think. How many tattoos they have. That means your advertising may work well in trendy areas. But not work on your audience who don’t live and work in these areas. 

So make sure you test ideas in the areas where your target audience lives. Whether that’s family-oriented suburbs, rough and ready working-class neighbourhoods or out in the country. It’s a good reality check to hear what non-marketing people think of your advertising idea.

Online testing

If you advertise in digital media channels, you can run small tests online before a bigger launch. Show different versions of the advert to small specific audiences to test which gets the better response. 

This is known as A/B testing. You run 2 versions of an advert at the same time to a small test audience. You see which one gets more responses. The version which ‘wins’, you then roll out to larger audiences with a larger budget.

Post-Campaign Analysis

At the end of the campaign, you review the objectives and KPIs from the brief. You check actual performance to see how the advert did against its targets.

If you run regular campaigns, you may already have a marketing data dashboard and reporting schedule set up with your agency. This will be a regular meeting to review activities and progress against KPIs. But you should also work with your agency to review campaigns on a more long-term basis. 

As per our how to advertise guide, advertising breaks into the message and the media. You can track the message’s impact through brand health and equity measures. But you also have to weigh this against the weight and frequency of the media. As per our media planning guide, frequency is key to successful advertising. Customers rarely ‘get’ advertising first time. You have to repeat it over time to create the mental associations that lead to attitude and behaviour changes.

Short and long-term advertising impact

Advertising studies suggest adverts have both a short-term and long-term impact.

A short-term impact is an immediate uplift in sales or brand equity. This type of impact is often tactical and promotional. For example, a Christmas sale or summer sales promotion will drive a short-term sales uplift. But because the advertising message is time-bound, it’s forgotten once the offer ends.

Advertising with longer-term impact builds brand identity and equity. There’s less immediate sales impact, but it builds up the customer’s perception of the brand, and 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 a mix of real-life case studies merged so no single brand sits behind these numbers.

But, this is still a realistic scenario of what happens in advertising evaluation. We use it to show the types of thinking that sit 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 its audience from 2 segments – A and B.

Advertising evaluation - example post campaign chart

For the first 9 months, it runs (brand building) campaign A. This aims to grow share with its second biggest segment – segment A. 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 media spend between May and September, consideration by Segment A goes up. From 25% in May to 30% in September.

If you knew the total size of the segment, you could work out how much this ‘extra’ 5% of segment A is likely to spend on our product. You could then calculate the profit from these extra sales, and compare it to the advertising spend. Where profit > advertising spend, then there’s a positive Return On Advertising Spend (ROAS)

In this case, the ROAS calculation showed the spend exceeded the extra profit. And the campaign’s impact on the other segments was neutral or led to a decline. That drove the decision to consider new campaigns. 

Campaign B - Seasonal tactical (short-term)

So the brand creates a new tactical campaign aimed at Segment C. The objective is to drive a short-term uplift at Christmas. Here you see the benefit of a focused short-term campaign. This campaign lifted consideration from 16% to 26%. And even though it ended in January, Segment C’s consideration rate stayed over 20%.

This would be an example of long-term impact from short-term advertising. 

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

Finally, look at the result of the final campaign C. It targeted the biggest segment, Segment B. The brand had been in slow decline with these customers since the previous year. A big learning from most advertising evaluation is the more targeted you can make the advert to a specific segment, the more impact the advert will have on them. 

In this case, the advertising was designed to specifically attract Segment B. It used short-term calls to action and more relevant long-term brand building messages. In 3 months, it almost doubled the consideration by Segment B. 

The Objectivity of the Post-Campaign Analysis

What you should pick up from this case study, is that the post-campaign analysis is different to reviewing the advertising idea. The advertising evaluation here is a more objective process. You gather data about customer attitudes and behaviour changes. This data tells you if your advertising’s worked.

You check the KPIs from the brief. But also check other performance measures. You analyse the trends using statistical techniques like correlation analysis and significance testing. For example, have there been changes in brand choice or brand equity measures which correlate with your sales numbers? How significant were they? Maybe you chose the wrong KPI at the start of the process? Lessons from this campaign help you set better measures for the next campaign.

Work with your agencies

Advertising evaluation can be a challenge as you review the impact of what your advertising and media agencies have done. It’s tempting to point the finger when a campaign doesn’t work.

But advertising evaluation should be a joint exercise between you and the agencies. You should see the post-campaign analysis as a chance to stop, reflect and learn.

Look for positives as well as negatives. Reflect on what you’d have done differently had you known at the start what you know now. Make sure those learnings are shared with all the relevant people. You aim to make the next campaign better informed and more impactful. 

Advertising evaluation context - look at competitors and category

The final area of advertising evaluation applies to post-campaign analysis and to your overall marketing plan.

Your advertising campaigns should be viewed in the context of what your competitors do during the same period. Plus, any changes in the category or wider environment which might have impacted your advertising’s performance. 

For example, did your competitors spend a lot on media or change their message? Did retailers do something different? Was there a news story which affected sales?

These sorts of external events will impact your advertising. 

Blond woman partially hidden behind a leafy bush

Competitor advertising insights

Competitor advertising gives you insights into them that you should factor into your marketing plan and advertising brief. For example, what can you tell about a competitor’s brand identity and positioning from their advertising? Is it consistent with what you’ve 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? 

As you track your own brand equity and sales performance with your target audience, you should also track the impact of competitor advertising. If you see a competitor ad having an impact, what can you learn from it? How would you adapt your next campaign to outperform that competitor?

Remember a big part of marketing success comes from how you understand your target audience. If your competitors go for the same audience, then your understanding improves when you understand how their advertising works.

Conclusion - advertising evaluation

Part of the challenge of advertising is to work out what will make your advert stand out from competitors. What will persuade your target audience to think, feel and do something different about your brand? Advertising evaluation is how you find the answers to those questions. 

That happens as you make the advert when you review the advertising idea. It also happens after you launch it, when you do the post-campaign analysis. And advertising evaluation is also part of your brand strategy planning as you work out how to outperform your competitors. That’s the ultimate proof of great advertising.

Three-Brains and marketing communications

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

Get in touch to learn more about how we can support your marketing communications to grow your business with our coaching and consulting services.

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 you 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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