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The Most Expensive Thing About Producing a TV Commercial is Producing the WRONG TV Commercial.

What’s the most expensive thing on the set of a TV shoot? Is it the kitchen they built in a 10,000-square-foot sound stage in London − painstakingly recreated by a team of artisans to look exactly like a kitchen you could have asked your neighbor to use? Is it the $30 bottle of glacier water that’s been soaking in a lukewarm cooler since the craft service department went out for a four-hour vape break? Or perhaps it’s the day rate of the tool-belt-sporting hipster wandering the set in all directions busy doing…what is he doing again? As crazy as all these line items might be, especially when you have to explain them to your board of directors, you might be surprised that warm brownie bites served between shots aren’t the most costly parts of producing your TV commercial.

 

The real cost − the brutal, unforgiving cost − is yet to come.  

 

After all the production invoices have been paid. After your board has given you the nod on the final cut. After your agency has patted themselves on the back for selling you an idea that had to be produced in London. And now for the real toll. You air a commercial that bombs. When you air a commercial that is tone-deaf to your audience, consumers either don’t care, or they crush you. Remember what happened to Pepsi? I’m sure it was awesome being on the set with Kendall Jenner. But whatever they paid for her to show up in a commercial where she and her can of Pepsi bring humanity to the day, wasn’t nearly as expensive as the world collectively throwing up in their mouth after the spot aired. In that moment, Pepsi bought the world a Coke. And if that wasn’t expensive enough, ask the suite of people whose jobs were put on the line. TV has that kind of power. It moves sales. Up or down. It moves stock prices. Up or down. It moves careers. Up or…you get the idea.

 

Thanks Captain Obvious.

 

Okay, so I know all the above is revelation to nobody. So if your job is Chief Needle Mover, how can you see around the corner to predict if your gut, or your agency’s gut, is making the right call on your TV creative? TV, unlike social media, is really hard to test, pivot, and test some more to ensure your big idea wins the heart of your customers and rattles the needle of your metrics.

 

But wait, there’s creative pretesting, right?  

 

Focus groups! Nothing can save your campaign like 20 thoughtfully screened Midwesterners behind a plate of one-way glass. They’ll give the answers! That’s a great idea! If you’re in the year 1975. Now I’m not here to tell you qualitative research doesn't add value. On the contrary. Qualitative feedback is great when received at a volume that matters. But in today’s world, the travel, time and expense for conducting a focus group to get “directional” feedback makes about as much sense as using a fax machine to text your spouse you’re running late.

 

How about online survey testing! It’s the future!  

 

Now we’re talking! Nothing makes a room full of marketers unclench their butt cheeks more than the words “statistically significant.” That’s where online surveys shine. You can test quickly. Probe deeply. And even get meaningful, qualitative consumer insights. And there’s no shortage of online research firms offering the perfect solution. From major institutions to start-ups, everyone is promising their platform is the crystal ball predicting whether you have an idea that will boom or bust. But with methodologies varying wider than Kendall Jenner’s shades of lipstick, how do you know if “statistically significant” equals “statistically awesome?” When you dig deep into the bench-marking many of these providers use to deem one concept scientifically stronger than the other, you soon realize the real “creative” work isn’t necessarily being produced by the agency, but the data science being used to make judgment calls on your concepts.

 

First we stressed. Then we stress tested.

 

So now what!? If online is the future of concept testing, how do you know if the platform you chose is making the right calls? Two years ago, we were stressed out over this very question. As a TV-centric ad agency, Marketing Architects® is unique in that we invest 100% in the cost of productions on behalf of our clients. Since we have our skin in the game, we badly wanted to know which spots rock, and which spots not. But we had an unfair advantage when vetting a market research partner. Over the past 20 years, we’ve tested literally thousands of commercials and have a war chest of known results on which spots rang the bell in reality and which sank to the bottom of the toilet. Measuring response from TV has always been our bread and butter, so armed with this information, we came up with our own challenge.  

 

Let’s get ready to rumble!

 

Marketing Architects gave the opportunity to an exhaustive list of firms to stress test their methodology. They received a handful of commercials where we knew the outcomes and told them to tell us which spots won. It was like a celebrity death match of data gurus. And there was no shortage of blood. Either the companies predicted the wrong outcomes, or were too intimidated to get inside the cage.  

 

If you can’t find the solution, build the solution.

 

After the final bell had rung, there was nobody we were willing to call champ. So we decided to build our own pretesting platform. In partnership with a team of rock star data scientists working on the fringes of AI-driven panel testing, we created Creative ESP. For the past two years we’ve been testing and tuning our platform. Through a unique mix of methodology and technology, Creative ESP is truly predictive to actual in-market results.

 

Bottom line for your TV bottom line.

 

The moral of this TV tale is to recognize the hidden costs of producing the wrong commercial. You can try to spot and be critical of the wasted money found in production, which is something we address by finding production companies that value excellence over excess. But the REAL cost of producing the wrong message is far more painful and costly. TV is the world’s largest stage. How will your message handle the spotlight?

Rob DeMars
Rob DeMars
Chief Creative Officer

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