Marketing: Test and Improving Your Print Ad

By Alexander Hiam

You may be wondering how you can tell whether anybody is actually reading your printed marketing materials like ads. If you run a direct-response ad (one that asks readers to take a measurable action, such as calling, faxing, or going to a store), then you should have a clear indication of that ad’s effectiveness within days of its first appearance.

Say you expect to receive a lot of inquiries and orders over the telephone or on your website’s landing page during the week the issue with your ad goes on sale. If you don’t receive those calls, you know you have a problem. Now what? The next sections tell you what you can do.

Pretest your ad for a fee

Much brand advertising is indirect, leaving it to the retailer or local office to close the sale. No phones ring, whether consumers liked the ad or not, so to know whether your ad worked, you may need to go to a market research firm and have your ad tested for effectiveness.

In fact, if you plan to spend more than $200,000 on print ads, you can probably consider the $15,000 or so needed to hire a research firm to pretest the ad money well spent. (Pretesting means exposing people to the ad in a controlled setting and measuring their reactions to it.)

Many research firms are local or regional, so inquire or consult directories in your area for vendors. For example, Q2 Insights offers pretesting in focus groups out of their locations in New Orleans and San Diego. Online panels can be less costly than face-to-face focus groups. G&R Researching and Consulting is an example of the firms that now offer web-based pretesting.

Also look at Readex Research and PreTesting Group; the PreTesting Group uses a hidden camera to track subjects’ eye movement while they read magazines with a test ad in them, which is a good way to measure the ad’s stopping power, or its ability to grab and hold reader attention.

Sometimes pretesting allows you to find a problem that can be fixed without starting from scratch. Maybe your headline and photo get high scores, but the body copy flunks. You can try rewriting and shortening the copy, and you may also try changing the layout or your choice of fonts.

Perhaps the body copy is in reverse font, which consumers find hard to read. In that case, try switching the text to dark letters on a white or light background.

Conduct your own no-cost ad analysis

Usually pretesting, post-testing, and other forms of research are commissioned by ad agencies, who are familiar with the methods and suppliers. If your campaign is on a modest budget and you don’t have an agency working with you, you may not really need to spend good money on a research service to find out whether your ad is working. Here are some free research alternatives that you can do all on your own:

  • Run three variations on the ad and see which one generates the most calls or website visits (offering a discount based on a code number tells you which responses come from which ad).

  • Conduct your own ad tests. Ask people to look at your ad for 20 seconds and then quiz them about what they remember. If they missed much of the ad, you probably need to rewrite it!

  • Assemble your own panel of customers and ask them to rate your ad and give you feedback about why they do or don’t find it appealing.

  • Run the same ad (or very similar ones) in large and small formats and see which pulls in the largest number of consumers.

Compare traditional print with online options

Maybe you need to cut back on print and do more web advertising using Google AdWords, banner ads on high traffic websites such as Facebook, and YouTube advertising. Both consumer and business purchases are swinging strongly toward online (both computer-based and handheld platforms are growing), so print — no matter how well it tests — may not pull as well as electronic placements of the same message.

Test web and traditional print side by side or in alternate months to see which has highest returns — most sales revenues for the cost — for your program.

Any experiments you can run as you do your marketing give you useful feedback about what’s working and what isn’t. Always think of ways to compare different options and see how those options perform when you advertise, giving you useful insight into ad effectiveness.