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Using Ad Testing Best-Practices For Social Media

Using Ad Testing Best-Practices For Social Media

We all recall John Wanamaker’s predicament – “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Today’s brand marketers could be feeling similar stress in this multimedia world – “Half the elements of our marketing campaign are ineffective; the trouble is we don’t know which half. Or why!”

Big consumer brands spend millions of dollars each year creating and evaluating TV ad campaigns; not just an ad or two but the whole campaign concept and all of the ads that get created for the campaign. The attention to detail is extraordinary because each campaign is a big investment and has a tremendous impact on a company’s brand and its performance now and over time.

Now that Social Media plays an outsized role in creating and fostering brand perception, it would stand to reason that brands should evaluate their earned social media strategy and individual executions with the same rigor applied to TV ads. But do they?

Many brands regularly conduct research on ad creative that is placed on social channels, but not on the earned media they drive through social posts. And while some social ads are tested using appropriate survey methods, many are simply A/B tested which is a weak alternative to survey research. Why? Because with A/B testing, one only knows which ad tested better; not WHY it tested better, how to optimize it further, and what it means in the larger context of relevance to consumers‘ lives. Without knowing this, the better ad could simply be the best of a bad lot. Furthermore, testing ad creative through appropriate mixed method approaches can allow a brand to get to optimal faster.

But let’s get back to social posts.

Brands have significantly increased the time and money spent on Social Media posts, comments, etc. over the past five years. Occasionally, a brand strikes gold as a post goes viral for some reason. Some unknown reason. But most of the time, brands try to be part of the social zeitgeist without really having an overall campaign strategy and knowing the guidelines for their social activity that will maximize positive impact on the brand. The KPIs tend to be views and shares, not brand impact.

Recently, we worked with one of the country’s largest advertisers to evaluate not only their Paid TV ad campaign but their Paid/Earned Social strategy and specific executions too. The Magid approach to evaluating TV creative is unique – as opposed to sticking with just the standard brand lift and intent to purchase measures, our method treats ads like creative entertainment video content. And just like our work helping traditional content producers create the best content, we understand why ads work and what will make them better by digging deep to unearth consumer attitudes, opinions and emotions about the creative. These are parsed out by examining in detail the story arc, messaging and dialogue, the roles of the actors or spokespeople, use of brand elements, set or locations, and personal and cultural relevance. Only through this interrogation can a brand truly know how well an ad will work and why and the key elements that either need to be set in stone or altered to improve performance.  

It turns out that our client has created an ad campaign that is performing extremely well as measured by message clarity, competitive brand favorability scores, and emotional responses to a variety of ads in the campaign. The foundational structure of each ad, the roles of the people in the ads, the dialogue, the brand elements are very well defined yet provide for creative license. It’s the hallmark of a campaign that can run for a long time.

Next up was the social activity. Uh oh! Some obvious performance components found their way into some posts, but the Social playbook was being driven more by trying to align with Social trends or fads and wanting to be “cool”. Gone was the systematic adherence to consistent story arcs, character and collaborator or spokesperson roles, dialogue, and key brand elements. While the overall impact of the brand’s Social activity was positive, what we quickly learned is that it could be a lot better. Our approach to unearthing what worked, what didn’t work, and why helped us set clear parameters for Social creative going forward. Yes, perhaps less exciting because the brand isn’t jumping on every fad and collaborating with the hottest new influencer now. Instead, it’s being much more planful, structured and measured, about both the overall strategy and the individual creative. And that’s delivering better results in terms of clarity of brand message and favorability scores for the brand and brand elements. 

Earned Social Media activities are an increasingly important component of the brand development process today. Adding sophistication to those activities will pay huge dividends.

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