Consumers change their preferences as often as they change their clothes. So why use ad copy-testing methods that yield results on last month's opinions when what's needed is today's state of mind?
The Internet holds great promise as a tool for advertising and copy testing that yields real-time feedback. To date, this potential remains unrealized for three perceived but outdated reasons: (1) There aren't enough households with broadband Internet access; (2) The nature of advertising and copy testing requires more robust data than is typically available from self-administered questionnaires; and (3) Questions persist about the "representativeness" of Internet users.
Let's deal with this last perception first. With Internet penetration now clearly greater than 50 percent of U.S. households; with the adoption rate of Internet usage accelerating; and with the news that females now outnumber males in Web usage, it is long past time to put the "representativeness" issue to rest.
The problem of broadband access will resolve itself. Whether this resolution occurs in six or 36 months is beside the point. There is sufficient broadband access within U.S. households even now to test high production TV spots, to say nothing of testing the unique nature, formats and advantages that will be generated by fully interactive Internet advertising.
This leaves the issue of collecting robust, quantifiable data. To date, most Web-based advertising and copy-testing research has revolved around the banner ad, that questionable workhorse of Internet advertising.
Typically, banner testing is conducted as focus-group research, whether in terrestrial group facilities or in cyberspace. As in all focus-group work, such testing yields robust but unquantifiable data. Generally, we glean the why of self-reported behaviors. We just don't know how widespread those behaviors are.
What's needed is 21st-century advertising and copy-testing tools for 21st-century media. These tools will operate across the range of advertising vehicles—from the lowly banner ad to the most advanced interactive, full-motion video TV spot.
The use of these tools will enable advertisers to measure an ad's effectiveness and make midcampaign adjustments to the ad's message, and the execution of that message, based on real-time quantitative and qualitative measurements of consumer behavior during an ad's run.
The methods used to achieve these goals are based on the interactive nature of the ad experience on the Net. By intercepting consumers before, during and after they view an ad—then querying them using self-administered and interviewer-assisted techniques—we'll be able to advance the art of marketing by better understanding how and when ads and promotions work to stimulate specific consumer behaviors.
Futuristic? Not really.
Solving real business problems faster and better is what the Internet does best. We are at the dawn of a consumer feedback revolution that will improve the efficiency of every dollar spent on advertising.