CEO, Communicus

Of all the research questions faced by today’s Insights teams, one that should be very straightforward is actually one of the hardest. The question:

“What’s our advertising doing for our brand?”

Why is this question so difficult to answer – or to answer well? Here’s why:

Figure 1: How advertising works to build brands in the System 1 brain

Okay, it’s hard. But it needs to be done. 

Here are some means by which these challenges can be overcome with strong research designs. Here’s how you can become the hero who’s providing correct, comprehensive answers to the question, “What’s our advertising doing for our brand?” and also providing actionable insights into, “Which ads?” and, “What could be done to make the advertising work harder?”

Challenge No. 1: Sorting out the changes that have been produced by advertising from the changes that are a result of other factors

A good campaign shifts attitudes and behaviors among those who’ve seen it. And if it’s a good campaign that’s well-funded and well-placed a lot of people will see it. But even the best campaign won’t be seen by everybody. And usually, the brand begins to lose mental availability and preference among those who aren’t seeing the brand’s advertising. Brand tracking that doesn’t account for what’s happening among people who haven’t seen your campaign will nearly always understate the true impact of advertising.

To solve for this requires a test/control design. But anyone who’s tried to run test/control market advertising tests has discovered that there’s usually so much noise in the data that it’s nearly impossible to determine the lift produced by advertising.

A better way is to use a longitudinal design in which the same people are interviewed before and after the advertising has appeared in-market as a kind of self-selecting test. Those who haven’t seen t...