Important not to lose sight of the basics

Tery PoolePresidentPoole Adamson Research Consultants, TorontoI don't think there is a general public attitude that is unique to television advertising. People respond to the world around them.Advertising is no more ahead or behind in its effectiveness with the public than it...

Tery Poole


Poole Adamson Research Consultants, Toronto

I don’t think there is a general public attitude that is unique to television advertising. People respond to the world around them.

Advertising is no more ahead or behind in its effectiveness with the public than it was 25 years ago.

We like to think and have evidence to support that the clients we work with on a continuous basis are generally ahead of the industry, their own industry, and generally ahead in the performance of their advertising, but this is because they invest in learning. That’s really the key.

Unfortunately there are a lot of side issues and animosities between advertising agencies and researchers, clients and what have you, that often get in the way.

The problem with advertising and advertising research is there is very little good stuff around and most of it is very poor. It’s not research at all. It’s amateur probing and focus groups.

I have got to sympathize with creative people who have to sit through focus groups as an evaluation of their product. That’s a travesty of research – to have to sit behind a one-way glass and have some garden variety consumer determine your fate.

Most advertising agencies and clients have yet to come to grips with the fundamental basics of advertising performance.

We’re not simply in the entertainment business in advertising. Unfortunately a lot of it ends up that way, simply because the marketing perspective doesn’t get brought to advertising research.

The fundamentals must be to obtain target market attention, sustain it through the experience of the ad, and accomplish a sense of conviction in the proposition that is being transmitted.

The fourth element is the brand of the product, the named source. The experience has to be attributed to something and that’s the advertiser’s name, or the name of his product or service.

Those are the four elements of advertising. And it distinguishes advertising from all other forms of communication.

The most recent commercial we tested was a 15-second commercial for a well-known advertiser by a well-known advertising agency. It was for a premium-priced product in a well-known category.

After the first four weeks, shipments were up 64%. After 24 weeks, total gross sales were up 42%. Share went from three to 7 1/2, in this economic climate, in a pre-election mood, for a premium-priced product.

When advertising works, it works. It usually works outside any other influence. It creates its own mood.

I can’t say this enough to advertisers. There’s a hell of a lot of potential in advertising, if you just know how to measure it.

I’ve done every kind of advertising research study you can imagine. There’s no Holy Grail. Focus groups aren’t it. Focus groups are the research equivalent of chewing gum – there’s no nutritional value in it.

Different reasons

I do focus groups, but for different reasons. They are fishing expeditions. They are ways to get some off-the-cuff dialogue with non-partisan people to the process.

Research is experimentation, comparison and proportional evaluation. You have to have a statistical component to it. Ten is just not a big enough sample for me.

If we are studying one commercial by itself, we have found a sample of 75 people is adequate. It is statistically reliable within four percentage points, 95 times out of 100. You just have to hope to God you don’t hit that 5%.


We can compare it to the media norm, the category norm and your direct competition. It’s comparable at a quantitative level and it’s very easy to read.

Recall tests are not evaluations of advertising either. They can be manipulated. I don’t know what recall tests measure. They measure recall, I guess, but they are not evaluations of advertising.

One target prospect sitting in front of one exposure of a given ad, that’s the level at which advertising needs to be evaluated to predict its effectiveness. If you haven’t got it there, you can do recall studies till the end of time, you’ll never understand why it didn’t work.

Advertising works one on one. The cumulative effect is downstream. You’ve got to get further upstream – that’s where it happens.