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By: Daniel Oromaner Editor's note. Daniel Oromaner is president of the Qualitative Difference, Port Washington, New York. Advertising is expensive-personnel, agency, development, and media, all add up to a sizable investment in a brand. Today, production costs for an ad can easily run $500,000. An amount that is dwarfed by media expense. Recently, Gillette launched their Sensor razor with a world-wide media budget of 100 million dollars! Was the money well spent? Does advertising work? Do most companies feel their ads are perfectly tuned to their audience and message? Are companies making the best use of their air buys? John Wanamaker said, "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, and the trouble is I don't know which half. " Similarly, most of today's corporate executives do not feel confident about their advertising. There have been some exceptional campaigns, but most ads seem to fall into a never-never land of recall, communication and effectiveness. My perspective is a narrow one. I conduct qualitative research-with a specialty in copy research. Recently, I found that many more advertisers have been using this technique; in fact, a few of my clients never used qualitative in their ad research until just a few years ago. Considering that this application is relatively new, I will address the following key questions: When should you use qualitative advertising research? What should you consider in planning such research, and what are the new qualitative techniques for exploring all types of advertising? Unique value of qualitative copy/ advertising research Media-I have used qualitative advertising research to study television, radio, print, FSI, and direct mail executions. I have found the technique to be valuable in all cases, although the production costs for television generally necessitated the testing of rougher commercials. Strategy or copy development-Focus group participants can be very creative. In discussing your product, their thoughts, ideas and consumer language may spark your creative team. Their view of the marketplace may even help determine the strategy or objectives for an ad or campaign. Copy refinement-This is the best use of qualitative advertising research. Focus groups give immediate feedback, and copy can be changes during or between groups. I have found that the addition or change of just two or three words can often make the difference between clear, likable communication and a commercial that misses the mark. And, since better than 90 % of finished TV commercials
are aired (regardless of how they scored in copy tests), the time for revision is pre-production! Below the surface exploration-Some of the most successful commercials evoke a mood, or an emotion. Professional probing and projective techniques are often needed to help the respondents verbalize feelings and associations. Quick, competitive assessments-In a category where comparative advertising proliferates, qualitative advertising research can provide a rapid reading on how consumers are reacting to a competitor's new ad or claim. It can also provide direction as to whether you need to counter with your own advertising. AT&T, for example, regularly schedules focus groups to test their ads and their competitors' ads for this purpose. "Disaster checks"-Sometimes marketplace necessities do not leave time to quantitatively test finished commercials. A quick series of focus groups can tell whether the finished spot will be an asset or a liability. Methodological considerations One-on-one's versus groups-For copy development and refinement, focus groups work well. The group can encourage creativity, and the ideas of each respondent spark associations and ideas from others. Reacting to, and building upon each other's ideas can be an effective means of creating the theme of an ad, or refining an execution. For disaster checks, or when you need to determine if subtle points or moods are being conveyed, in-depth interviews work best. This is also true for business-to-business ad research, where differences in knowledge among the group members might lead to different reactions individually versus in a group. Number of ads to test-Qualitatively, it is generally better to test more than one ad at a time. Using three executions gives the respondents a basis for comparison, helps them verbalize their thoughts and feelings, and minimizes fatigue and confusion. If you only have one execution to test, you can also include one or more of your old ads, or one or more of your competitors' ads. Unfinished commercials-According to research conducted by Harvey Magier of Consumer Outlook, Inc., 'Rough and finished commercials evoke similar patterns of consumer response...Finished commercials do not create meaningfully stronger positive attitudes toward the brand." However, 'finished commercials are significantly more emotionally involving and entertaining than rough executions," so either they should not be tested together, or this difference should be factored into the results. If the ad relies heavily on emotion or imagery, the format should approximate finished as closely as possible. Key reaction variables-My experience (which for the most part was confirmed by the findings of the Advertising Research Foundation's Copy Research Validity Project) is that you need to elicit reactions in three areas, easily remembered by the acronym "ALL."
Attention is first. According to a 1988 Roper Report, 37 % of 2,000 respondents changed channels with their remote control during commercials. Nineteen percent didn't change channels, but they muted the sound. In television, radio, or print, if the ad doesn't immediately catch the attention of the consumer, the message may never get across. The second variable is Liking. The importance of liking as a measure was one of the key findings of the Validity Project. Some researchers explain the importance of the measure by reasoning if the ad isn't funny or clever, the consumer won't pay attention over repeated exposures. Therefore much of the message will not get through. Others reason that liking the commercials of a brand or company provides an overall positive reaction toward that product or company. Whatever the reasons, if the respondent likes the ad (you can ask if it is one of the best ads they've seen recently), the ad will probably be more effective in accomplishing its objectives. Learning is the third variable. This may be thought of as a persuasion variable. Experience and research have found that effective commercials often tell what's unique about a product. Learning about a product or service is important for most strategies, and qualitative methods can easily tell you IF there was learning and WHAT was learned.