Message Testing

The ultimate goal: a successful advertising campaign to gain some type of positive reaction.

But, how do you reach this goal? Advertisers must test their messages to different audiences to make sure they are going to get the best results and are sending a good message. Last year I took an advertising campaigns class at the University of Florida. It was a semester-long class where we had to create a campaign for Eastern Florida State College (formerly Brevard Community College). From the secondary research, primary research, and creative design we did it all – and we won the best creative campaign in the class. In fact, some of our concepts are being used in the current rebranding. But this definitely wasn’t easy. Once we nailed down a few of our ideas we held some focus groups to test our message. We wanted to make sure that we were accurately targeting our audience and sending the right message. While this was only a school project and our message testing was done on a much smaller scale (and probably couldn’t be generalized), we would not have won without testing our message.

The article Developing Media Interventions to Reduce Household Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption discusses the message testing the city of Philadelphia conducted to test a media campaign they launched to reduce the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. The goal of the city of Philadelphia was to help combat childhood obesity. Like my group did for our project, the city also held focus groups to decide what mediums to place their advertisements on and four potential media messages developed from this. These results were key for this campaign to be successful because otherwise it could have sent an incorrect message, targeted the wrong audience, or just be a poor campaign overall.

Culture also plays a role in advertising.

“Culture is the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group from another.” – Geert Hofstede

When I studied abroad in Italy I read one of Hofstede’s books to understand how cultures differed in different countries as well as how advertising differed as well. While I was reading “Online consumer behavior: Comparing Canadian and Chinese website visitors” I thought about what I read in Hofstede’s book and reflected back to what I learned in that class. Knowing how two cultures differ and how their advertising differs will make you produce very different advertisements for each country. I found this YouTube video that shows McDonald’s commercials in different countries – What do you think about how they altered their message for different cultures?


1. Do you think it is important to take cultural differences into considerations when designing a website or creating an advertisement? What are some examples?

2. Does you company conduct some sort of message testing before publicly displaying a message?

3. What are some different ways you can test your message?



4 thoughts on “Message Testing

  1. Different methods of message testing include A/B Split message testing where variations of a message are used to determine which works best. This is often carried out in online advertising where different versions of creatives are optimized base on the number of clicks received. There is also Cognitive Response Testing. It is a form of qualitative research where participants are asked to discuss their thoughts, provide suggestions and paraphrase shared messages.

    • Both A/B Split message testing and Cognitive Response Testing have their pros and cons. From both of these though extremely valuable results are obtained and you can really understand how your audience will perceive your message. It is important to get the correct sample though so your results can be generalized.

  2. 1. It’s definitely important to take cultural differences into consideration when designing websites and ads. You need to make sure your message communicates exactly what you want to your target audience. Different colors, body language, symbols, plants, animals, etc represent different things to different cultures, so you want to make sure you don’t use anything in your messaging that could not resonate well with your target audience due to cultural misunderstanding.

    2. I know my company does a lot of media research, but I’m not involved with that. I would assume they test messages before going public, but I can’t say for sure.

    3. I test different messages in campaigns I run by varying creative, copy, content context, ad space inventory and audience pools. It has proven to be very helpful in identifying the most effective tactics for different campaigns. It also makes clients happy to hear you do this, in my experience.

  3. Your experience is fantastic, because it is almost exactly opposite of mine. I also completed my undergraduate degree at UF, completely my studies with an PR campaign course that is almost identical to the advertising one. We were given as a client UF’s newest degree program “Media Studies.” My group spent days sifting through research, brainstorming, interviewing, writing, planning, etc… until we came up with what we thought was a fantastic campaign and tagline. The idea was that media is a completely integral part of everyone’s life, so it is a really important thing to study. The tagline was “Media is Everywhere!” Sounds great right? Wrong! We did not message testing with this tagline so we didn’t realize that media is a plural term and should be paired with “are” instead of “is.” It was pretty embarrassing to be told this by the Journalism professor who was acting as our client during our final presentation. Needless to say, our campaign did not get used. One word ruined all of our hard work and was completely preventable.

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