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Stop talking testing and start talking optimising

By Steve Looney, Research director



The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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March 8, 2021 | 5 min read

Within a generation, the entertainment industry has changed beyond recognition. From the frustrated little boy who had to miss the TV premiere of Flash Gordon because he had to go to church on Christmas Eve, to the teenagers who now expect every episode of every show ever made to be available anytime they want.


The age of appointment TV is all but dead: in 1996, 24 million people (42% of the then UK population) watched the Christmas special of Only Fools and Horses, compared to the 11.6 million (18% of today’s UK population) who watched the Gavin & Stacey Christmas special in 2019 – the most-watched show for over a decade.

Every episode ever whenever you want

Beyond sporting events, royal weddings, and Boris telling us our daily lives are going to fundamentally change overnight, we don’t watch the same stuff, at the same time, like we used to.

As the way we consume entertainment has changed, the content itself has also changed. In today’s market, Only Fools might never have reached the heights it did as it would have been axed after a bit of a shaky start. These days, in episode one, series one, you are dropped straight into the middle of the action to grab your attention, with the writers invariably using time shift to fill in the gaps and make the whole thing make sense. The humble advertisement has never had that luxury – it has always had to grab your attention from the start unless you are a brand that has deep pockets or has earned the right for consumers to be prepared to invest their time into your spots.

The desired end result is still the same: build more brand love, sell more, become famous, but how the game is played has fundamentally moved on. Enter a new challenge: for marketers, how do you create an impactful ad for the smartphone generation, and for researchers, how do help marketers do that?

The rules of the game have changed

Clearly, it is harder now for brands to reach the same number of people as they have done in the past, but they also have more platforms and formats to communicate than ever before. The proliferation of media channels has provided marketers with the platforms to be able to communicate in a longer form with consumers who actively seek them out. The digital world has allowed the two-minute Christmas epic from John Lewis to exist on YouTube or the CSR video on Facebook.

So, if the way we consume content has changed, and if the content itself has changed, then surely the way we research it has to change. I have worked in creative evaluation for 20 years and I’ve always taken issue with the term “pretesting” – as an industry, we have not done ourselves any favors. Advertising research should not be about testing, but about optimization and making the best of whatever creative form is put in front of us.

The need for content in this generation has accelerated, and the research industry has responded by offering more fast turnaround approaches, which is great but often using metrics that have been around for decades. Advertising optimization is not just about speed – the insights you generate must be relevant for reaching today’s consumer.

Research needs to change

The research that we conduct today needs to use techniques and metrics that reflect the way communication is transmitted and received in the digital world of the multi-screener. If your ad is likely to be skipped, not get the thumbs up, or end up going viral for the wrong reasons you need to know about it – ideally before it happens.

As Warren Buffett famously said, “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it”. Today, that is even more true than ever: more channels mean more chances to win but also to fail.

My call to arms for the research industry is simple: stop talking testing and start talking optimizing. As researchers, we need to work with our marketing chums and help them win as many times as possible. We are the only ones who can do it – by optimizing and keeping creative evaluation as relevant as possible in this fast-moving communication superhighway.

To find out more about Opinium’s AdVantage creative optimization tool click here.

Steve Looney, research director at Opinium.


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