Recent Experiences in Copy Research


Leland E. Ott (1975) ,"Recent Experiences in Copy Research", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 02, eds. Mary Jane Schlinger, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 589-594.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, 1975      Pages 589-594


Leland E. Ott, Grey Advertising, Incorporated

[Leland E. Ott is Vice President and Technical Director, Marketing and Research Department at Grey Advertising, Incorporated.]

One of the critical issues in copy testing is the attempt to develop a single technique that can measure all aspects of commercial effectiveness (recall, persuasion, communication, and diagnosis). Results from three testing techniques indicated inherent difficulties in designing a single test as recall ideally requires a natural type of environment while the other ones need a forced exposure type of environment for sensitive measurement. A recent innovation in rough film production called Photomatic, consisting of finished audio and still frame photographs, offers promise for making it easier to test alternative executional approaches on critical measures early in the copy development process to select the most promising ones for finished production. Evidence indicates recall results are similar for Photomatic finished executions.


In her 1972 article, Shirley Young pointed out the need to develop improved copy testing methodology tailored to the nature of the copy testing problem and degree of risk involved in the business decision. It was also indicated that the role of copy research should be limited to determining how effective an execution carries out a predetermined strategy and never should be used to evaluate alternative strategies. Her article also defined the following components of a selling message that should be considered in designing a copy test

Attention: Flagging enough of the appropriate target customers.

Communication: Transmitting a clear message about the assets of the product.

Persuasion: Overall-persuading the prospect that this brand is generally more desirable than other alternatives, and Specific-that this brand is better than others on the strategically important benefits.

No Negative Diagnosis: Not antagonizing the prospect such that he may be turned off by the message after repeat exposure.

If time or money were not issues, one would always wish to use a testing technique that evaluated all the above aspects of commercial effectiveness. But, since time and money are vital operational constraints, a partial evaluation of one or more measures of effectiveness is often sufficient. For example, one would need to use a total evaluation for a major change in executional approach but would need only a partial evaluation for a pool out or extension of an existing campaign. Through the judicious use of copy research approaches tailored to needs, it is possible to get a much better value for dollar expenditure than by using a standard copy testing procedure that often does not really apply in many situations.


During the past fourteen years, Grey has striven to develop a copy testing technique that could measure all of the selling components within a realistic viewing environment while maintaining high standards of research control. It was our belief that a testing technique measuring all aspects of the commercial could enable us to cross relate the various measures while at the same time saving money over conducting several tests in sequential stages. Up to three years ago, two basic approaches were used. They were:

In-Home TV Matic

- Consisted of a test group exposed in-home by rear view projector to a test commercial in a 20 minute film.

- Clutter limited to one distractor commercial.

- Control group not exposed to either commercial or program.

- Day after interviewing on recall, communication, and persuasion measures.

On-Air Decision

- Consisted of on-air exposure under natural viewing environment.

- Cross over experimental design used to balance out effects of program and cities.

- Control group exposed to program only without commercial.

- Day after interviewing on recall, communication and persuasion measures.

After reviewing both approaches, it was concluded that neither provided the desired degree of sensitivity or discrimination (Table 1). At the 80 percent confidence level, the TV Matic discriminated in about one half the cases while Decision did less than one-fourth of the time, or little better than chance. There were also the following additional research problems:

- Both techniques tested against an unexposed control so that the effect of the media was being measured as well as the creative content of the commercial.

- The base for recallers was inadequate to provide good communication measures or adequate diagnostic information about the executional elements.



We also felt the desirability of developing a multiple exposure testing technique since:

- The work of Grass indicated that it took at least two or three exposures to a commercial before maximum learning and attention occurred.

- Changes in the TV environment, eg. greater use of 30 second commercials and increase in number of messages and non program elements, indicated manufacturers are relying on repeated exposure to commercials.

In an attempt to overcome these research problems and provide a test more attuned to the TV environment, Multiview was developed. It consisted of:

- Multiple exposure (two for :60 commercials and three for :30 commercials) in a twenty minute film by rear view projector in home.

- Five minutes of distractor commercials with one of them exposed the same number of times as the test commercial.

- Control group exposed to a non test commercial suitable to the business decision (usually the one currently being run).

- Respondents called the next day and questioned on recall, persuasion, communications, and diagnostic measures.

Multiview was an improvement over our previous technique in that it provided:

- Increased sensitivity and discrimination as we could make a clear cut business decision in about 70 percent of the cases (Table 2). This is remarkable when one considers that we are eliminating the effect of media weight by testing against an exposed control.

- Communications and diagnostic measures were much improved over previous techniques due to the multiple exposure.



However, there was a serious problem with the recall measure. Since the level of recall was highly inflated (mean score of 73), there was no assurance that the technique would uncover a commercial that would score low in an on-air environment.

Based on the Multiview experience, it has been demonstrated that sensitive discrimination measures can be obtained when there is a sufficiently strong stimulus. This stronger stimulus also improves the communication and diagnostic measures. However, since the very act of obtaining these measures destroys the attention or recall measure, it is desirable to develop two testing approaches, one to measure recall in a natural type of on-air environment and the other to measure persuasion, communication, and diagnosis in a forced exposure environment.


One of the considerations in copy testing is the use of rough commercials in order to save the cost of producing finished commercials. It is an area that is receiving widespread attention as a way of not only saving time and cost but also permitting the development of more executional approaches for copytesting.

Since it is necessary for the rough commercial to be a reasonable facsimile of the finished version, it must be an audio-visual stimulus for TV commercials. For example, print ads or storyboards can never adequately portray a TV commercial.

While we have had experience for several years with both rough film and animatic commercials, we have recently been using a new form of rough production called Photomatic, which consists of a finished audio-track and a visual stimulus consisting of about 10-15 still frame photographs for a 60 second commercial. This executional approach is quick to produce (about 2 to 3 weeks) and the cost is roughly comparable to animatic production or about half that of rough film ranging from $3,000 - $6,000 depending upon the complexity of the execution.

Our experience with this technique has been limited to explicit types of executions featuring demonstrations and/or slice-of-life stories in the packaged goods field. For commercials that are highly implicit or require name personalities, special scenes, much movement, etc., we would not recommend Photomatic as these types of executions could not be adequately portrayed. In the final analysis, it is a creative judgment as to whether the commercial can be adequately portrayed by Photomatic or other rough form of production.

Although our experience to date is limited to ten executions for which photomatic and finished tests are available, the results indicate, that Photomatic executions are comparable to finished ones at least as far as recall is concerned (Table 3). By permitting the testing of more executions and reducing the time to produce and test, this makes it now possible to test in rough and utilize these findings to improve the finished version.




Through the use of Photomatic film production, it is possible to weed out the least promising executional approaches at an early stage in the copy development program. Each system should be tailored to the needs of the particular product situation by focusing on those aspects of commercial effectiveness that are the most crucial.

For most established products having moderate to high budget levels, persuasion, communication and diagnostic measures should receive priority in developing a copy testing technique. Since there is ample evidence that positive changes in attitudes do precede positive changes in behavior (eg. see Young, Axelrod and DuBois), it is necessary that a commercial be shown to be persuasive on an overall basis or strategic benefits before being accepted in a high risk situation. Communications and diagnosis of negative elements are also needed at an early stage so that modifications can be made.

Recall testing, however, should receive a high priority under the following situations:

- For new products since the critical needs are to create a high level of initial brand awareness and consumer interest.

- Low media budget brands since the message cannot receive a high frequency of repeat exposure.

Under these circumstances, it is critical to consider only those executional approaches capable of attracting and holding viewer attention in today's cluttered TV environment.


Axelrod, Joel N. Attitude measures that predict purchase. Journal of Advertising Research, 1968, 8(1), 3-17.

DuBois, Cornelius. Twelve brands on a seesaw. In Proceedings: 13th Annual Conference. New York: Advertising Research Foundation, 1967.

DuBois, Cornelius. Brand XL study. Paper presented at the 1959 meeting of the American Association of Public Opinion Research, New York: Foote, Cone and Belding, 1959.

Grass, Robert C. Satiation effects of TV commercials. Journal of Advertising Research, 1969, 9(3), 3-8.

Young, S. Copy testing without magic numbers. Journal of Advertising Research 1972, 12(1), 3-12.



Leland E. Ott, Grey Advertising, Incorporated


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 02 | 1975

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