Advertising & Marketing

Do you pre-test your ads?

Ask a room full of people what drives behaviour – emotion or reason, and the answer will invariably come back in unison: emotion. Therein lies one of the many reasons Consumer Neuroscience exists: it taps the decision-making sphere not accessed by traditional measures of reading response. Neuroscience measures the unspoken and unconscious reactions to advertising, and gives advertisers an insight into what is engaging or disengaging about their ads.

Consumer Neuroscience and traditional techniques are often contrasted against each other, paired as an ‘either or’ type of service. I think this is misguided; they’ll both provide answers, they’ll just be vastly different. Traditional measures can be considered the ‘voice of the consumer’ – it is what they say about the ad. Consumer Neuroscience delves into the mind toward the core motives for purchase, understanding consumer response at a very granular level. Neither is of great value if not used appropriately and, most importantly, at an appropriate time.


Advertising pre-testing is the function that people have used previously to give a ‘go/no-go’ decision before an ad is allowed to go to air. There are various ways we score ad campaigns, ways which allow advertisers to step away from their ad using science and research methods to judge the quality and effectiveness of the ad. If it doesn’t reach a certain benchmark, it doesn’t go to air.

The problem with this approach is that it’s too late in the process. The ad is made, likely sinking upwards of $300k in the process, with little left “on the editing room floor” to change and improve before it goes to air. But what is the alternative? Time, or more correctly ‘timing’. Neuroscience can’t help you, nor could traditional measures, if you don’t give the ad some time.

The best way to avoid making a bad advertisement is to test much earlier. This requires the production of storyboards and dynamic animations of the proposed ad to be tested instead of the finished ad. It’s important that the animatic has the dynamism of a finished film. The results from the neuro testing can then be used in the official production process, limiting the chances of making a poor ad in the first place.


One of the main advantages of consumer neuroscience is that it captures reactions at the moment they appear, within milliseconds. This is what we refer to as granular or moment-by-moment. This means we not only measure overall response to a given execution (compared to a large normative database validated to in-market sales) but can also tell what engages viewers most and what will be retained in memory. Knowing this before production means positive changes can be made to the creative to increase an ad’s effectiveness and influence purchase behaviour. All this takes is a readjustment of the pre-production timelines, not your on-air date.

Test your ad early, before full production has commenced. Testing on finished ads is still important – Nielsen helps to produce optimised 15-second versions (from a 30-second) that in 95% of occasions retains the effectiveness of the 30-second. However, if you are only testing once, test to make better ads in the first place and save thousands.

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