Ad Evaluation

By The Drum | Administrator

April 2, 2002 | 8 min read

Advertising campaigns are surely amongst the most frequently criticised projects in the world today. Regardless of which medium they may appear, their presentation, often to the mass public, leaves them open to debate more than any other of the marketing disciplines.

In offices, playgrounds and bars around the civilised world the topic of conversation will often turn to the latest catchy advertising campaign doing the rounds, in print or, particularly, on the television. Does it have a catchy strapline? Is it funny? Is the model gorgeous?

There's one question that will rarely be asked by consumers, however, and it's the question that client and agency alike absolutely must have the answer to before the ad runs: does it actually do its intended job?

Even with the creative talent to be found in the advertising industry, mistakes can be made. Sometimes a creative will be so wedded to an idea that it will end up taking precedence over the brief it was meant to fulfil.

For this reason, researching ads can be one of the most important stages of a campaign's development. It can also be one of the most controversial.

Upon deciding to research a creative concept, essentially testing it on a sample of the target audience, a client is hit with the decision on who will conduct the research. Can the client trust his or her advertising agency to research the concept honestly or should he/she go to an independent market research house for help?

One of the main arguments for not letting an agency research its own concepts has been the perceived internal pressure that the agency planner will receive from his or her colleagues. Pressure from the creative department and/or management level to pass the creative concept whether or not it is, in fact, the best one for the job.

"The advantage of going with a market research company is an independent perspective," says Chris Eynon, managing director of NFO System 3.

"Whilst you can respect the integrity of agency planners there will surely be some tension within an advertising agency between the creative and planning departments while an external house has no vested interest in a particular concept at all," he says.

Jim Law, managing director of Market Research UK, comments: "The difficulty is that advertising agency planners have suffered in the past due to crude research so they have taken it upon themselves. From a neutral point of view, they can have an effect on the input. As long as ad agencies are allowed to evaluate their own ideas there'll most always be a doubt about whether it's impartial."

Perhaps not surprisingly, this argument is strongly refuted by the agency planners themselves, however, who point to the long-term futility of corrupting your own research.

"It doesn't happen at all at this agency," says Ruth Lees, planning director at 1576. "And, I hope, nowhere else these days, but I have had experience of it in the past and it is a damaging and dangerous business. Clients see through it, though, they can tell the difference between a genuine piece of creative development research done with integrity and something that is rigged to get the result the agency wants. It's quite simple - if a client feels he/she has been duped into buying an idea by spurious research, they'll never let you do it again."

David Amers, planning director at The Leith Agency, admits that there can be pressure, but that a fundamental part of a planner's job is not to let themselves be influenced by it.

He says: "You'd never be a planning director if you weren't ready to stand up for what you believe in. There was a case here when an ad developed by our creatives was passed by the research house, but we thought it didn't work well enough. It was the wrong ad at the wrong time and another planner and myself actually put the brakes on it, which wasn't terribly pleasant. It can cause problems internally."

The flip side of the coin is that the advertising agency has a greater understanding of the creative concepts behind the campaign and how it, and they, can be developed. The ad agencies are, after all, the creative experts.

"I don't think a creative would do an ad that didn't meet the brief," remarks David McGloan, planning director at Faulds Advertising. "I think they will fight for their own concept, but I think that a creative concept can more often be developed by people who have a sound understanding of the creative process."

1576's Lees agrees that the agency can often provide a deeper insight into how a concept can best be developed. She says: "We do believe in doing creative development research, not as a means of 'marking our own homework' but as a means of getting to the best creative solutions for our clients. Who better to manage the sensitive issue of developing creative ideas than a qualified senior planner who understands the business objectives thoroughly and has a close relationship with both client and creatives?

"If your clients' trust you and you have a close relationship and can bring a mix of objectivity and real insight to the project, there is no reason for the agency not to do the research. The problem can come more from allowing too junior or not sufficiently experienced agency people to handle creative ideas in research and this can be very dangerous. It is possibly the hardest type of research to do really well and should be handled with great care."

One Scottish company which would seem to have the best of both worlds is McArthur Research. A sister company of advertising and PR agency CitigateSMARTS, McArthur claims to have complete impartiality, while still being able to draw on the creative strength of its sister when there's a need to.

Tristan Fulton, planning and research manager at McArthur Research, says: "We're in the unique situation of being a sister company to CitigateSMARTS, but we can be totally impartial, we don't have to answer to CitigateSMARTS. However, on the other hand, we can work closely with them on creativity and other areas which independent research houses sometimes don't understand."

Fulton also believes that the rumours of agencies influencing their own research is largely myth, stating simply: "I'm sure it's a myth because nobody would go back to people they knew to be crooks. It's in no-one's best interests, an agency's ads have to be good for the client."

Dark rumours aside, the topic seems not to be nearly as contentious as perhaps it once was. Agencies, it seems, are less and less often pushing to do their own research, instead leaving the decision to the client.

The Leith's David Amers states: "It's the client's decision, we never push it either way. If the client's happy with the creative and the research is done externally that's fine by us, and we'll work closely with the research company to develop the best ad.

"It actually makes life quite a lot easier when an external company handles the research. I can get caught between two stools in here when we do the research ourselves because there's nothing worse than bombing your own agency."

In the past, rivalry between the two types of company may have caused tension, whereas now the feeling seems to be more of alliance. Advertising agencies are accepting that market research companies are the experts and know their business when it comes to research, whilst the research companies are recognising the value of working closely with the creative experience of ad agencies.

Jo Fawcett, at George Street Research, says: "I think that when the client, research company and advertising agency work closer together it adds further comfort."

"It's very important that agencies and research houses work together," says Lees. "It should be a collaborative process even if the agency is not conducting the research. The planner again has the pivotal role in this as they help to brief the research and work with the client to get the best result - usually helping to select the research agency along the way. If this isn't happening, then the client and agency can't have a very strong relationship. If research becomes a secretive way of 'testing' the creative work and the agency is kept at arm's length, it does not lead to the best creative solutions. It's as simple as that."

Perhaps the answer to the question "Should ad agencies be allowed to conduct their own research?" should be "No", but it's an answer which applies equally to market research companies.

In Scotland, it seems, this answer has already been reached, as more and more agencies work with research companies to produce the best possible campaigns for their clients.

With both working together, clients should feel confident that their ads won't just be catchy, funny and have gorgeous models in them, but they'll actually work too. And that can't be a bad thing.


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