Ken Roberts: Time to overhaul ad testing, informing creative and performance measurement

Ken Roberts has pioneered the idea that if a communication is to bring about a business outcome then it should be executed based on both implicit and explicit drivers of consumption behaviour – a departure from the thinking that has persisted in the insight that informs the big idea and measures communications efficacy.

Roberts is the CEO and founder of Forethought Research, has over 20 years of experience in marketing research based brand and communications consulting, Roberts has amassed a reputation as a thought leader and innovator in insights and customer research.

Forethought recently earned the Gold David Ogilvy international award for the application of its ‘Thoughts and Feelings’ methodology for Kmart Australia and the ‘1000 Mums’ campaign.

We quizzed Roberts on his view that advertising research needs a revolution.

Marketing: You’ve argued strongly that traditional advertising metrics are in serious need of an overhaul. Could you explain why they falter?

Ken Roberts: Brands and advertising have been using an out-dated model of communications testing that is heavily skewed towards high-attention and rational messages. What we’ve subsequently learnt is that these old metrics like ‘awareness’ and ‘recall’ only form a small part of the picture when we examine how consumers decide and how advertising messages are processed and accepted.

What we have failed to do is measure the implicit, or non-conscious, effect of communications and how this impacts on purchase behaviour. And this has arisen from a sizeable knowledge gap about how feeling and emotions do in fact have a significant contribution in how we decide. Cognitive measures and post-rationalised testing still persist; and it is this old line of thinking has failed to acknowledge the advances made in the science of decision making.

So emotion is where the focus needs to be?

Yes, but we need to be wary—the marketing fraternity has recently tuned into the importance of emotions in advertising and decision making. And that’s a positive sign. But it’s like they’ve shown up at the party and ultimately misinterpreted the dress code. The marketing pendulum, as it were, has swung too far in the direction of chasing emotion.

Have marketers leapt at the idea of activating emotions without really understanding it?

Well, it seems marketing has made a precipitated leap onto the emotions bandwagon. But just as advertising should not focus solely on the rational or explicit drivers of consumption, nor should it hoist emotions onto a higher pedestal and be dubbed the sole focus in crafting effective communications.

What implication does this have for creatives and marketers?

First of all, clients and researchers need to engage with what the creatives have believed for many years: that the old-world advertising testing metrics are an inadequate gauge of communications effectiveness. Where traditional research methods for pre-testing are used, implicit advertising is less likely to pass the pre-test measurement process. But the low-attention processing theories put forward by Robert Heath demonstrate that this is simply not the case. An ad doesn’t need to be attention grabbing or memorable in order to be effective.

The traditional metrics leave us with an absence of any real linkages to business outcomes. This is why Forethought has proposed the ‘Consumption Drivers Principle’. When the objective of the communication is to drive business outcomes such as gaining market share, the insight underpinning the creative idea and its ensuing performance measurement needs to be informed by both the buyers’ rational and emotional drivers of consumption.

Both the reason to believe and the discrete emotions need to work in tandem to frame the basis for any creative brief.

Does imposing a framework on a brief have an impact on creativity?

I would argue that setting the framework actually validates the work of creatives. The Consumption Drivers Principle is not about policing creativity. It’s about identifying the rational and emotional territory in which to leverage creative ideas that will activate purchase behaviour.

It works to guide the direction of communications onto the right path and allows meaningful tracking of performance on the quantitatively modelled consumption drivers for the category, brand or communication, and most importantly, linkage to business and marketing objectives.

What sort of change does the industry need to undergo in order to adopt more effective inputs to and testing of marketing communication?

Marketers have worked hard over the past 20 to 30 years to educate their executive and board. This education has typically been anchored to 30-year-old, and now out-dated, performance metrics. It’s this knowledge that we must urgently move forward.

Today we can model the relative performance of the consumer’s derived rational and emotive choice drivers and accurately predict changes in market share. Let me say that again: accurately predict change in market share. This offers brands a powerful new source of advantage.

These insights should not only inform the big idea, but be the basis for measuring performance due to the accuracy of data in predicting economic benefit – change in market share (ie. consumption behaviour).  We’ve seen Copernican revolutions happen before, and given this advance in research capabilities, I’d suggest we are due for the next revolution in informing creative and communications performance measurement.

Account planners and insights managers are probably best placed to lead the reformation, to educate the clients, the creatives and the wider industry about understanding the mix between the emotional and rational drivers and how they impact on purchase behaviour.