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.

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.

Pre-testing has had a rough ride in the digital era. A few years ago, the talk was all of testing as obsolete: why bother, when online platforms were such a great opportunity to move fast and learn as you went along? Agility was the watchword, and launch-and-learn was the strategy.

It’s certainly true that responding to this challenge helped give ad testing a necessary kick up the backside. Over the last couple of years, System1 Research and many other firms have understood the need for speed, and developed rapid-turnaround versions of ad testing solutions. The rise of self-service platforms like Zappistore (which we’re proud to sell our tools through) has helped drive this.

But it’s also true that the fundamental principle of testing content is as important now as it ever was.

The launch-and-learn strategy rested on two assumptions. Firstly, that earned media (social sharing) was a reliable and consistent way of identifying the best content in the market and getting it to an audience. This was more true a few years ago: one of the best case studies in the IPA’s #SocialWorks programme is a Cadbury’s example, in which Creme Egg optimised its content around Easter time by simply launching a lot of things, and seeing what its Facebook fans liked and shared. If the fans were into it, that’s where the brand put its money.

Unfortunately, shortly after that the organic reach for earned media on Facebook – governed by the proportion of fans who would see each piece of branded content – was drastically throttled. Now the number of fans who will see content without paid promotion is tiny. At the same time, a growing understanding of how things spread and become successful meant an increasing understanding of how much of a role sheer luck played in social media success.

The second plank of the launch-and-learn approach was transparency. If you can trust the metrics your ad networks and social platforms are giving you, they can be a big source of in-market insight. But this turns out to be a big “if”, with Facebook’s video troubles just the latest example. Viewability, ad fraud, and blocking of intrusive ads have become constant thorns in the industry’s side.

So launch-and-learn has lost viability and reliability. But it’s done its job. The next generation of digital testing tools are faster, more relevant and a better fit for purpose than testing solutions were five years ago. Our solution combines a focus on emotion to drive long-term brand-building, and predictive metrics for attention, engagement, click-through and sharing to understand activation potential. These give you what pre-testing has always promised – the knowledge of which content deserves your investment and the power to create ads that sell. That knowledge is, quite simply, more needed than ever.


At System1, we help the world’s largest advertisers make confident creative decisions that lead to transformational business results. Our powerful ad testing platform (Test Your Ad) and our concept testing platform (Test Your Idea) help brands predict the commercial potential of ads and ideas. Complementing TYA and TYI is Test Your Brand, our brand testing platform which measures the impact of ads and ideas on brand health, ensuring long-term brand growth through predictive success.
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