Testing The Merits of Pretesting

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.

About Dan Goldgeier

Blogging on AdPulp since 2005, Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. In addition, he is a regular columnist for TalentZoo.com. Dan published the best of his TalentZoo.com columns in a book entitled View From The Cheap Seats: A Broader Look at Advertising, Marketing, Branding, Global Politics, Office Politics, Sexual Politics, and Getting Drunk During a Job Interview. Look for it on Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.


  1. “The consumer does behave as they say, they do not say what they think and they do not think what they feel.” -David Ogilvy
    Having spent all day Tuesday “behind the glass,” these words mean more to me now than ever. We all know advertising is at least 50% art, but few brand managers with high paying jobs on the line want to invest millions in art. Hence, the need to test. Then they can run their mostly useless “data” by the higher ups. What happens to the work means nothing. What happens to their job means everything.