Every month, Steve McKee of McKee Wallwork Cleveland writes a column in Businessweek that puts in simple terms what real CEOs and marketing folks ought to know about advertising.
This month, he takes on testing:
Think about how a focus group works—people are invited in, fed a meal, and paid an incentive to offer insights and opinions that the sponsoring marketer can use. The pressure is on to contribute something of value. For someone to admit that they simply like an ad or to admit that it might influence them to buy something is rare. Instead, participants tend to understate how much they are affected by advertising and be overly critical of the ads themselves.
But the desire to contribute isn’t the only problem. Even if people in focus groups wanted to give an honest opinion, they may not be able to. People just aren’t able to articulate or even understand all the ways advertising affects them.
Marsha Lindsay, a graduate lecturer at the University of Wisconsin and a member of the executive committee of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, explains the problem this way: “Copy testing and other research based on explicit learning cannot accurately predict ads’ success because consumers can’t tell us ‘the truth’ about how ads affect them. That learning often lies buried in their subconscious.”
I’m glad BusinessWeek gives McKee a forum. I wish more general business publications would follow suit and open themselves up to valuable marketing insight.