Ad Testing: More Vital Than Ever?

Online video has been one of the great success stories of digital advertising – consumers are said to prefer it as a way to consume content, and brands have invested in it massively. Its momentum is such that the news this morning that Facebook metrics have been overestimating the amount of time people spend watching videos on the platform won’t change the upward trajectory of online video or its centrality to modern marketing.

Angestellter auf Laptop eingeschlafen

But it is a useful reminder of how important it is to get the best content in place – work that genuinely does capture people’s hearts and eyes. And the best way to do that is testing.

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5 Questions To Make Your Digital Content Better

On September 26, 2006, the modern era of marketing began. Facebook – already enjoying viral growth among academic institutions – opened its accounts up to the public for the first time.

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Facebook in 2006 – opening the door to modern marketing…

A month later, in October, Google bought YouTube, making a powerful statement that the future belonged to video.

These two elements – social media, and online video – remain the fundamental building blocks of online content: the levers of all the change we’ve seen over the ten years since, across every device.

While many commentators talk about that change as the only constant worth considering, we take a different view. At the same time as staggering technological change has transformed marketing, there’s been a new and deeper understanding of the fundamentals of human decision-making – which have not changed for tens of thousands of years.

To communicate with people today, you have to understand both radical change and extreme continuity. You have to use the basic “System 1” shortcuts of human decision-making to get the most out of the myriad of new platforms, tools and features you’re confronted with on a weekly basis.

Later this month, we’ll be launching a new version of our award-winning ad testing methodology, specifically designed to test digital content. A free webinar will lay out its new capabilities and the philosophy behind it.

As a taster, here are the five questions we feel you should be asking about every piece of content you create – online and offline. Continue reading

Facebook: The Feel-Less Social Network?

Every year we ask how the British public feel about a range of brands in our Brands of British Origin survey. Some of the brands are British, but we throw in a lot of worldwide brands that British people use, too – like Coke, Pepsi, Apple or Amazon.

We collect emotional response using our FaceTrace methodology (which we’ve used to collect more than 5 million emotional responses from 3 million respondents worldwide, giving us the world’s biggest emotional database). How people feel about a brand is partly determined by category as well as the brand’s own qualities – no banks ever perform very well! But looking at the changes in a brand’s performance, its standing against its competitors, and the reasons given for the emotional response, can provide valuable insights.

One of the brands we ask about is Facebook – a brand with an enviable level of regular usage, a continuous presence in British life, and a compelling mission to keep you in constant connection with your friends. Surely people feel good about Facebook?

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Well… not really. Continue reading

People Aren’t People

When I was at school a friend of mine decided he liked a girl who was into Depeche Mode. He asked me to tell him all about Depeche Mode, and he spent a couple of days educating himself in the ways of Dave Gahan and his leather trousers. His newly acquired Depeche Mode knowledge, I’m sad to say, got him nowhere.

I was reminded of this when I read this piece about the top 20 Facebook lies, because there at 18 is “Edit things you like to have more in common with someone you like”. Other Facebook fibs include “Edit books/movies/music to look a bit cooler” and “Remove ‘ugly’ photos”.

Strictly speaking I suppose some of these are lies, in the same way that me writing a post about Facebook rather than the bow ties I’ve just been browsing is a “lie”. But most of them seem harmless, and part of the process of self-presentation and self-editing we go through every day of our lives. Is it surprising? Well, no unless you’ve been living on Mars with only back issues of Fast Company to read. Then you might think that Facebook is a haven of transparency and authenticity, the place where the authentic voice of the consumer can finally be heard. Which of course it’s not: Facebook is about presenting oneself, just like getting dressed or having a conversation is.

“You don’t look anything like your profile picture!”

Does this matter for social media research? Probably not. Like the two men running from a bear, social media research doesn’t have to be the authentic voice of the consumer, it just has to be more authentic than the competition, and if the competition is a typical survey then it might well be. And besides, how people present themselves is interesting!

In fact, maybe we’re barking up the wrong tree with all this “authenticity” business anyway. For a long time researchers – not to mention psychiatrists – have imagined that there’s a real, authentic, individual self lurking just out of sight of conventional techniques. An association of “deeper” and “truer” is baked into the psyche of researchers. But what if it’s all hokum, and authenticity is as real as a unicorn?

We know that the reasons we give for decisions are often convincing post-rationalisations, edited stories like status updates or Facebook tastes which cover up decisions based on habit, copying or unconscious response to stimulus. Maybe our sense of a ‘real self’ – our own or others’ – is simply the aggregation of all these post-rationalisations, the most convincing story about ourselves that we can tell (it has to be convincing, since we’re the ones it’s trying to convince!).

That wouldn’t make one’s sense of self any less vivid. But it would imply that the way to get at “authenticity” would be to observe, intervene and experiment – not to probe or ask. And it would suggest that worrying about ‘lying’ on Facebook isn’t really an issue!

Does Facebook Work?

Herd behaviour in action: the stampede to praise Facebook before its share offering has become a stampede to criticise it since – and there’s a timely survey to back the critics up, suggesting Americans are spending less time on Facebook and don’t pay attention to its ads in any case.

What’s their grounds for suggesting this? Well, they asked people about their behaviour, of course. For regular readers of the Brian Juicer Blog, alarm bells might be ringing. Does the self-reported data stack up? Are Facebook users good witnesses to their own behaviour?

Other sources confirm that time spent on Facebook on PCs peaked earlier this year – mobile is a different beast, and the idea that “engagement” ought to be reduced to “time spent” is fraught with issues. But I think the question “Are you spending less time doing X than you used to?” is likely to be emotionally parsed as one about enjoyment, interest and boredom, not a rational calculation about minutes spent in total across platforms. So I trust that part of the survey.

The problem is the advertising bit. Four out of five Americans have never been influenced by a Facebook ad. And we know this because… they told us they hadn’t!

It’s the old “advertising doesn’t work on ME” problem. I don’t think most advertisers would expect people to say “Yes, that advert influenced me to do something I wouldn’t otherwise have done” – on Facebook, TV, or anywhere else. People like to present themselves as autonomous decision-making agents: changing behaviour because of an advert rather goes against that. And more: to assume that people make the rational choice to change their behaviour because of an advert is to assume that adverts work by persuading people.

But there’s a body of research suggesting advertising doesn’t work like that at all. Instead, say researchers like Les Binet and Peter Feld, great advertising makes brands famous; it works by making people feel good about the brand and priming them to act on those positive feelings when it comes to making a purchase. We believe this, and think that the appeal to reason comes after the decision, as the brand supplies ready-made stories to justify the positive feelings its adverts create. Stories which don’t often include “I bought it because I saw it in an ad”.

So is the survey wrong, and do Facebook ads work? Well, we know that what people say when directly asked about ads’ influence doesn’t have much to do with their behaviour. That doesn’t mean Facebook ads are effective. Do they make people feel good about the brand? Do they make a brand famous? If not, might there be other ways they work? These are questions for another blog post – meanwhile, just be aware that a survey as broad as the Facebook one tells you more about researchers than advertisers.