What is ad testing? And here’s how expert market researchers do it

Ad testing is the practice of evaluating advertising effectiveness, to see if your ads are reaching their intended audience and achieving their intended goals. Ad tests can be done through various methods such as market research surveys, A/B testing, focus groups and data analysis.

Every so often you’ll see an ad, and wonder how it came to be. Like when McDonald’s replaced images of burgers and fries with smiling people.

The secret to ads like these that stand out and still convey a strong message? Ad testing.

Here you’ll learn how to make your next advertising campaign your best one yet using a creative testing survey. Ready to boost your ad success?

What is ad testing and why is it important?

Running an ad test is a great way to test the waters, especially if you’re launching something new—that might be fresh branding, a new product or unique messaging that really needs to stand out.

Creative testing is a surefire way of evaluating the effectiveness of ad concepts before they are released to the public.

You can test different aspects of an ad. You can zoom in on the copy to find the snappiest words, test media placement, images and colors to see what stands out or reflects your brand best, or simply test to see if it moves your target audience the way you want it to.

Conducting an ad testing survey with creative testing is a great way for marketers and creatives to work together to create advertisements that have the best ROI.

It helps teams back up their creative ideas with data, to launch campaigns with confidence—and reach goals faster than ever.

It’s also a great way to prevent costly mistakes or ads that miss the mark from going live, which means you’re optimizing your ad spend.

There are plenty of ways to turn test ads. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Surveys: Creative testing surveys are a great way to get qualitative and quantitative data on specific elements of your ads, a complete ad or to test multiple ads. You can use them in any stage of the development process, segment your respondents to see how different groups respond and even compare your ads to your competitors’ ads. (yes—there’s no law against running creative testing of your competitors’ assets to make sure you know how your target audience reacts). It’s definitely the most versatile way to run ad tests.
  • A/B testing: This or that? A/B testing is a classic way to test ads using market research. It’s where you test one idea, then another, and compare the results. Typically A/B testing is done when an asset is live, and the variations are displayed to equally sized audiences. But you can also do A/B testing before going live to make sure you choose the best option.
  • Focus groups: Gather ’round kids, it’s time to talk about ads. A group of people that fit your target group are gathered to provide feedback on an ad campaign, which can help identify potential issues and provide insights on how to improve the campaign. Compared to A/B testing, this provides more in-depth feedback, but it’s hard to scale, it’s time-consuming and it’s expensive. They’re great for getting flashes of inspiration from the verbatim responses to your questions, but they should always be accompanied by more statistically robust surveys to validate the qualitative insights.
  • Eye-tracking studies: like a cat following a laser, consumers will immediately look at specific ad elements. This is a more scientific approach to measuring an ad’s effectiveness, looking at where people focus their attention on an ad to identify which elements are most effective in capturing attention. It is however hard to scale because you’ll likely need research participants to be on-site.

There’s a method for every marketer out there, depending on what key metrics you choose to focus on. However, collecting data from customers on a large scale, both qualitative and quantitative and segmented into different target groups, is best done using surveys.

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How to conduct effective ad testing

Time to get to work. Here’s what the process of ad testing could look like.

1. Ideation

Time to come up with the ads to test! Start by brainstorming ad ideas and creatives that align with your marketing goals and target audience. Think about what you want to test as well.

2. Analyze data from previous ad campaigns

Meanwhile, analyzing data from previous ad campaigns can provide insights into what worked and what didn’t, helping to optimize your future ad campaigns. This will also help you formulate better questions and find what to focus on in individual ad analysis.

3. Run ad testing surveys

Now you’ve got your ads (or a single ad), it’s time to put them in a survey to find out what your target audience thinks of them. With a tool like Attest you can show respondents visuals and then ask them different types of questions.

  • What was your initial reaction to the ad?
  • What message do you think the ad was trying to convey?
  • How interested in the product/service are you after seeing this ad?
  • How likely are you to purchase the product/service after seeing the ad?
  • How credible do you find the claims made in the ad?
  • Was the length of the ad appropriate? Too short, too long, or just right?
  • What did you like/ dislike about the ad?

4. Test your initial findings with a focus group

Additionally or alternatively, you can use a focus group to dive deeper into your survey results if needed. This can be particularly beneficial if your survey is inconclusive, or if you want to gather more knowledge on responses.

5. Optional: A/B testing

If you want to keep the research going, you can create different versions of an ad and run them alongside each other, to find out which one is the perfect ad. If the survey results were clear, however, you can just go ahead and launch the ad or campaign that came out as the winner.

6. Keep an eye on social media and other metrics

Social media platforms often have built-in metrics that can help track ad performance, such as reach, engagement, and conversion rates. Also track what people are saying about your ad or brand in general, for example for instance using social listening tools.

Benefits and challenges of creative ad testing

Creating effective ads is challenging. Ad testing is there to make it easier, but it needs to be executed the right way. To do so, here are some of the advantages of ad testing methods, but also some challenges—and how to deal with them.

Pros of ad testing

  • Less guesswork: Provides data and insights into what messaging and visuals resonate with the target audience.
  • Minimize risk: Helps identify potential issues with the ad campaign before launch. From ads that are simply not funny, unintended controversial copy or plain boring designs: catch it before it goes viral.
  • Increase sales: An ad that’s spot on can lead to higher engagement and conversion rates. Ad testing helps you create ads that drive sales.
  • Better for your ad budget: Ad testing allows for optimization of ad campaigns, resulting in better ROI.

Cons of ad testing (and how to solve them)

  • Cost: Ad testing can be expensive, particularly methods such as focus groups or eye-tracking studies.
  • Time-consuming: Some forms of ad testing can take time, particularly if you are running A/B tests or analyzing data from previous campaigns. And gathering groups of people usually doesn’t happen overnight either.
  • Limited sample size: Certain methods of ad testing limit your ability to get a representative sample of the target audience, which means your results might also be blurred. This particularly applies to focus groups.
  • Creativity limitations: Ad testing can sometimes stifle creativity and lead to analysis paralysis, by focusing too heavily on data and metrics. Especially if you’re not collecting the right data—creatives need both quantitative and qualitative data to go on.

How surveys can help with ad testing challenges:

With surveys, you can tackle these challenges:

  • Surveys can be sent to a larger group of people, providing a more representative sample of your target audience.
  • Surveys can be a cost-effective method of gathering feedback from a large number of people, especially if your tool also makes analysis simple.
  • Surveys can be created, sent out and analyzed quickly and easily, saving time compared to other methods.
  • Surveys can still allow for creativity, particularly if using open-ended questions.

Best practices for creating compelling ad creative

When crafting your next ad concepts, keep these best practices in mind.

Focus on your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

Your ad creative should clearly communicate what sets your product or service apart. If you’re struggling to find a place to start, really zoom in on that in your creative testing surveys.

Consider the customer journey

Think about where and when your target audience will see your ad. How far along are they in the customer journey at that point? What is their purchase intent at that point? What information do they need to proceed?

Keep it simple

Ad creative should be easy to understand and digest, with a clear message that is easy to comprehend. If your survey focuses on whether your ad is too difficult to understand, it probably is. Take a page from Coca-Cola’s book, who hit the nail on the head with this ultra-simple campaign.

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Be consistent across channels

If you’re running ads on multiple platforms, make sure your messaging and visuals are consistent. This will help build brand recognition and create a cohesive experience for your customers.

Be authentic

Be real. No stock images. No over-used quotes or clichés. Don’t hide behind outdated messages or try to play it too safe. Authenticity builds trust, and it’s memorable.

Use humor or emotion

An industry that isn’t known for its humor in their ads? Banks, credit card companies and other financial institutions. Occasionally they do try to play into some emotion, but it will completely miss the mark with a large chunk of their audience.

That’s precisely what Yonder used in their new campaign, that is full of hilarious responses to traditional credit card companies. Humor’s a hit, always.

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Choose the right ad testing platform for you

Ready to create ad campaigns that truly resonate with your target audience? We can help you create your best ad yet. If you’re looking for a creative ad testing platform that provides you with designated research advice, look no further.

Our creative testing tools and survey templates are here to help you create a winning ad. Access to 125 million people 59 countries means you’ll be able to get the right consumers to provide feedback on your advertisement ideas, within hours.

The Complete Guide to Creative Testing

Check out our free Complete Guide to Creative Testing and discover how easy it is to start testing your creative assets before you release them into the wild.

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Nikos Nikolaidis

Senior Customer Research Manager 

Nikos joined Attest in 2019, with a strong background in psychology and market research. As part of Customer Research Team, Nikos focuses on helping brands uncover insights to achieve their objectives and open new opportunities for growth.

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