Bad Advertising Research

The misuse and abuse of  advertising effectiveness research is getting wearying. The latest case in point was committed by a reputable research company, compounded by a leading trade magazine under the headline, “See the Most Effective Magazine Ads of 2011”.

Bed-Bath-41According to this study, the ads pictured here were among the top ten most engaging, besting 87,000 others that appeared in national consumer magazines last year. Really. Their “engagement score” was based on the percentage of readers who said they read, or “noted,” each ad along with the percentage who took any action (visited a website, clipped a coupon, recommended the product, made a purchase, etc.) as a result of seeing the ad.

The message from this study seems to be that if you want to create engagement with your target audience, one of the best ways to do so is to plop a big, fat coupon right in the middle of your ad. That, according to this thinking, will make it most effective—with zero respect paid to work that is captivating, memorable, mind-bending, thought-provoking, awe-inspiring, perception-shifting, sales-building or effective in any other way but readers’ self-reported (a problem in and of itself) immediate response. Not to mention zero understanding or recognition of the equity-damaging effects of couponing.

This is no way to do  advertising effectiveness research. Unfortunately, too many studies are handled this way, with careless methodologies that don’t scientifically account for the variables at play and sweeping study conclusions that can be as much as 180 degrees off. While a couple of the ads in the top 10 were better representations of strategic, creative advertising (Target and Apple, not surprisingly), the fact that they share the stage with the above two calls into question any conclusions drawn from such a limited scope.

Nature-Made-82The best you can say about this research is that the ads in question outscored others in immediate, reader-reported recall and response. To claim that such a score makes them the most engaging and–worse–effective, borders on research malpractice. Buyer beware.

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Written by

Steve McKee

This smart looking guy is our agency’s president. When he’s not sitting in his not-so-oval office looking official, he’s busy writing books and winning awards for them.

Published on March 12th, 2012

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