How To Rethink Copytesting for the Rise of Holistic Performance TV

Frustrated by slowing sales and conflicting digital results, performance marketers are experimenting more and more with TV advertising.  

The evidence for TV's return is clear in Connected TV's double-digit growth over the last few years. But linear TV has also gained footing in brands' marketing mixes. In 2021, more than 300 brands across 72 categories launched national TV for the first time.

DTC brands like Allbirds made up more than 40% of the new advertisers. Oat milk brand Oatly attracted buzz over their debut TV commercial during the 2021 Super Bowl. Even streaming services like Paramount+ recognized the opportunity and invested heavily in linear TV advertising. Not bad for a channel some say is “dead.”  


Performance advertisers demand accountable, cost-effective TV 

Many of these new TV advertisers are digital-native, ecommerce brands. They boast direct contact with their customers, innovative measurement models, and ambitious growth goals. By testing TV, they hope to drive the upper funnel results, like brand awareness, for which the channel is known. But they also expect tangible revenue growth through increased orders, repeat purchases and higher customer lifetime values.  

Performance marketers tend to be both more impatient and savvier about measuring TV’s success than the traditional brand marketer. Their campaigns may include in-market geo-testing, market mix modeling, cohort analysis or behavioral analysis. These and other innovative techniques measure against specific campaign objectives for short-term revenue gains and longer-term brand impacts. 

Performance marketers are likely to test their TV creative before in-market testing. Given the ubiquity of A/B testing for digital ads, it is natural these marketers pursue a similar strategy for optimizing their TV commercials, just before airing in-market. 

After all, testing multiple TV commercials in-market is far more expensive than testing multiple digital ads. It's time-consuming and it wastes media dollars on what could end up being less effective creative. Plus, the consequences of getting an ad wrong are especially severe when that ad may be seen by millions. No brand wants to appear tone-deaf with an irrelevant or potentially offensive TV commercial. The backlash against Pepsi's 2017 commercial featuring Kendall Jenner is still fresh in many marketers' minds. 


Copytesting is a long-standing solution for TV advertisers 

Looking for a solution, many brands try copytesting. Copytesting evaluates the effectiveness of various creative executions before they air. Testing often takes place during pre-production, in animatic or photomatic form.  

The practice first came into style in the 1960s and since then has evolved alongside technology, psychology and advertising best practices. Learnings from neuroscience have added both complexity and intriguing insight by introducing new metrics like attention.  

However, copytesting's growing complexity can encourage taking a prescriptive approach to optimization that can come down to frame-by-frame execution revisions. As a result, critics claim copytesting limits creativity by eliminating ideas early in the creative process and fractionalizing storytelling.  

While it's true that copytesting can be misused, by employing research best practices, brands can gain helpful insight. Copytesting is most valuable when guiding big-picture creative strategy rather than minor design edits. With the right methodology, copytesting has been proven to meaningfully inform the development of resonant, relevant creative treatments.  

Performance TV advertisers look to develop creative that's not only memorable, but effective. And here's where they face a challenge. Although digital A/B testing optimizes for short-term results, TV copytesting focuses on long-term metrics. Most available copytesting systems aren't equipped to predict sales performance. They're validated through long-term brand studies and in-market performance over years. For a campaign with both brand and sales objectives, these systems fail to provide necessary short-term insights.  


A new approach to copy-testing 

Working with a reputable research partner, Marketing Architects developed a new system to meet performance brands' specific needs for TV copytesting. The agency used its own store of performance marketing data, built over its 25-year history, to validate short-term performance alongside traditional brand metrics like awareness and brand perception. 

Perfecting the system involved some trial and error. The first major change was refining who was interviewed. Sampling the test audience should focus on individuals for whom the subject matter is relevant while also considering TV's role as a top-of-funnel channel. Performance brands expect a successful TV commercial to both capture and create demand, and the test audience should reflect both those goals. 

Next, instead of relying solely on traditional metrics like purchase intent, advertisers were provided a bank of custom diagnostics tailored to reflect three core elements: memorability, emotional relevance, and brand/product sentiments. Predictive performance was assessed based on superior results across these three buckets of diagnostic attributes. Having these separate measures ensure branding is strong and brand associations are appropriate.  

The resulting copytesting system has proven 90% predictive of short-term in-market performance while still building strong brand foundations. It is simple to administer, requires minimal labor, and, depending on a brand's specific audience, can generally produce results in days rather than months or years.  

Insights gained are used to optimize existing creative executions and inform future executions. For instance, one advertiser's commercial failed to get the desired momentum post-production. After retesting, it was discovered that some alterations in production had negatively impacted effectiveness. Products had been switched out, impacting intent to purchase.

After switching back to products with greater appeal and re-ordering the sequences of vignettes, in-market short-term performance improved by more than 10%. In addition, changes improved brand recognition by giving increased prominence to several distinctive brand assets. Since these revisions, in-market performance has been strong, and lessons learned are implemented in ongoing executions. 

Over the last three years, a business-to-consumer insurance brand tested more than 30 executions, trying to beat their existing controls. Copytesting saved them the cost of production for each of those variations, plus the significant media dollars in-market testing would have required. These savings are estimated to run into millions, but the time they saved is even more valuable. The brand saved months in the time needed to produce and run their spots had they relied solely on in-market head-to-head testing.

Their commercials have consistently delivered in-market revenue growth and awareness gains while improving conversion rates and branded search. Despite negative business effects due to the pandemic, their brand metrics and short-term return on investment has only improved over time. 

For an online learning company, TV has doubled awareness levels and their learner base over the last three years. It has simultaneously beat records for repayment, which have reached over 200%, creating a self-funded communications program, and driven significant revenue growth.

Copytesting has enabled the company to invest in only the most effective creative, making their overall campaigns more efficient. It has ensured the ads run are well-branded and differentiated in an increasingly competitive space. The unique combination of brand/product messaging diagnostics alongside brand recall metrics have helped drive both short-term revenue growth and long-term brand value. 


How to use copytesting to guide TV creative 

Despite its past of focusing on long-term metrics only, copytesting has value to offer performance marketers on TV with a slightly adjusted approach. Brands looking to get started on the channel should consider the following when pretesting their creative: 

1. Making decisions based on traditional intent-to-purchase metrics alone won't accurately predict short-term outcomes. 

2. TV is a broadcast medium designed to create future buyers. Target beyond consumers who are already in-market when copytesting.   

3. Find a system tuned to your brand's unique success metrics.  

4. Even if prioritizing short-term revenue, measure and validate against longer-term brand metrics, as well. The quick wins of the first couple of years on TV will not last forever. Start thinking long-term from the moment TV launches. 

As more performance brands add TV advertising to their marketing mixes, it's vital they set up their campaigns for success. Copytesting can help brands identify TV's true potential for their business, for both brand and sales impacts.


Learn how performance marketers are changing TV advertising.

Read our Future of TV report, which reviews how changing technology and marketer expectations are impacting TV's role in the marketing mix.