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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 analyse your advertising’s impact on business performance. And finally, how to review competitor advertising. Read this to improve how you do advertising evaluation. 

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 track and measure 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 advertising. You have to work out if its 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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Ready to test your knowledge?

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Take the 2 minute, 5 question Three-Brains advertising evaluation quiz and see how much you know about advertising evaluation already.

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 the agency accesses through industry associations and advertising effectiveness bodies. 

For example, the WARC, the Effies and the Institute of Practioners 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. Key insights from behavioural science, for example, which shows 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.

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’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 want to make sure you buy into the idea first. They want you to partner 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 own 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, because 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 you 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 the 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 challenges. 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 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 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 many thousands of adverts customers see every day. So if it isn’t unique and distinctive, it’ll get lost. It’ll be 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 got to the stage where you and the agency team are both happy with it, then move on to market research. 

However, how much market research you do on it 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 bringing in new customers, so asking existing customers may not always be helpful.

Market research

You could also carry out more formal qualitative and quantitative research at this point.  These are often used in advertising evaluation.

Most market research agencies will 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 aims to predict whether an advert will succeed. It compares customer reactions to advertising industry norms. You want to meet or better these norms. 

You end up with a score or ranking for the advert on criteria like “persuasion” and “recall”. This score gives you a benchmark comparison against other adverts. 

It helps you spot issues and flaws. It helps you finesse the final execution of the advertising idea. 

While this pre-testing clearly gives you confidence your advert will succeed, it’s not fool-proof. It only tests a representative 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

One of the biggest challenges with marketing agencies is they have an advertising-centric view of the world. And generally, this isn’t the view of the world your target audience has. So, it’s important to make sure you test adverts with people outside this advertising ‘bubble’.

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

They also tend to live in the same sorts of suburbs in the city. You 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 where you find most 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’s always a good 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 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 commonly known as A/B testing. You run two versions of an advert (version A and versions B) at the same time to a similar (small) audience of say a few hundred people. You see which one generates more clicks or responses. The version of the ad which ‘wins’ is the one you use with larger audiences and a larger budget.

Post Campaign Analysis

At the end of the campaign, you review the objectives and KPIs from the brief. Check actual performance against the target to see how how the campaign performed.

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 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 media.

As per our media planning guide, frequency is a  key part of successful advertising. Customers rarely ‘get’ advertising first time. You need to repeat it over time to create the mental associations that lead to attitude and behaviour changes.

Short and long-term advertising impact

So, advertising studies suggest adverts have both a short-term and long-term impact.

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

Advertising that has longer-term impact focuses on building brand identity and equity. It has less immediate impact on sales, but longer term 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 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 3 months it almost doubled the consideration level of Segment B. 

Key tips for post-campaign analysis

There are 3 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 more objective process. You should gather data and fact-based information about the attitudes or behaviour changes of your target audience. This tells you if your advertising has been effective.

You should 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 you chose the wrong measure or KPI at the start of the process. Lessons from this campaign help you set a better 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. 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’ve 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. 

Get in touch to learn more about how we can support your marketing communications to grow your business withour 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 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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