How Well-Crafted Research Will Leave You Shouting, “Dilly Dilly!”

I recently found myself in conversation with colleagues about the recent article by Tom Denari in which he describes copy-testing as a “usually blunt instrument that beats out the sometimes unexplainable magic of an ad or campaign.”


Sticking with the “Dilly Dilly” theme, Denari tells a story about the King and Queen of Marketing to illustrate his point – When the Duke of Advertising presents the King and Queen of Marketing with a thoroughly copy-tested campaign that eliminates all downsides of risk, the Queen bans the Duke to the Pit of Misery, lest he (or the royal spectators) forget that there’s an upside to risk.

Risk taking can lead to unforeseen opportunities and is an essential part of growth. Haphazard risk may even be sporadically successful, as seen in “Dilly Dilly.” However, what might the Queen of Marketing have said to the Duke of advertising, if, when he had rolled out his scrolls, he’d proclaimed, “Your highness, fear not the Dove soap attempt to portray diversity, nor Lady Jenner’s representation of Pepsi’s global unification efforts. I can even spare the kingdom from lady Doritos!”

I must say I agree with Tom. Anyone who advises the use of a blunt tool to deliver copy testing results deserves to be dragged away, as the subjects cheer, “Dilly Dilly.”

Be it a surgical, mechanical, or creative tool, a blunt instrument typically damages the tissue, functionality and intrinsic value of a thing. However, finely crafted tools have the ability to advance products and services.

The real question is, “What tool are you using? How and why was the tool designed?”

In a previous career, as a former school teacher, I taught in an alternative Waldorf educational system, which opposes the mainstream emphasis on constant assessment and testing, because testing can beat the joy and magic out of learning. However, had I sat in front of parents during parent-teacher conferences and said, “Your child’s happy at school, but I can’t tell you how s/he’s performing academically” I wouldn’t have survived my decade-long teaching career.

Assessment, just like risk, is necessary for growth, and it doesn’t have to beat out the magic. There’s good and bad research, crude and sophisticated assessment tools. Well researched copy testing, grounded in a proven methodology, is simply a dress rehearsal that provides clients with optimization feedback. Well researched copy testing champions the creative, collaborates with clients and forms a partnership with the brand.

Creatives and Brand Managers should be encouraged to take risks and to create something noteworthy, like “Dilly Dilly.” Risk taking also has a better chance of succeeding when guided by a research-based methodology that mitigates failure. At the end of the day, creatives and Brand Managers are free to “take it or leave it,” in terms of heeding copy testing results. However, if using a well-crafted tool, designed with the intention of optimizing brand communication, it seems that mitigating the downside to risk, while pursing the upside, might better leverage the gold coins in royal coffers.

Sarah Akerson is a Research Analyst at Ameritest.
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Collaboration as a Model for Brand Growth

The ARF’s Creative Council’s mandate is to help the advertising community define or evolve collaboration models that can guide an improved process for researchers and creatives.

While there is not one model out there for how research and creative teams can collaborate and share insights most effectively, there are characteristics that all good collaboration models possess. These attributes can serve as a kind of model for us all as we examine our own approaches to collaboration, and how to make them personally enriching, powerful and effective.

Collaboration can be defined as people, often groups, working together through ideas, deniz-altindas-38128-unsplashsharing and thinking to accomplish a common goal. It is the words common goal here that may need renewed focus, especially as we consider the two groups of research and creatives.

It’s easy for the research goal to become the delivery of a bullet proof evaluation of the advertising, sending the creative teams on the agency side to scramble for their Marine-vetted protective gear. If the agency’s goal is to get the creative out alive, and be ready to fight back, there’s clearly no collaboration in play. This combative old-school model is unfortunately still alive and well, despite the fact that today’s reality of research consultants using learning systems, and not blunt pass/fail systems, exist; every day, these are applied with both speed and creative intelligence for brands. But, beliefs can be hard not only to replace, but to even question—especially when so much is at stake.

And what’s at stake is actually the point: it’s the brand that’s at stake, not protection of the research or the creative. Every branded communication has the potential to positively evolve the brand’s story and its meaning. And that’s why both evaluation and creative exist.

With that in mind, here are five core competencies of any research and creative collaboration:

  1. Extend Trust: If these two teams working for the brand are willing to entertain the possibility that each has, with integrity, taken a kind of Hippocratic oath to “do no harm” to the brand, that openness becomes the simple yet profound “reality” that sets their unified goal and focus. Without it, rocky beginnings can lead to escalation and increased conflict, instead of brand learning for all collaborators.
  2. Respect Creativity: Creativity is not limited to the agency side, but agency creativity is different than the creativity required for innovative heuristic measurement. Respecting the discrete skills, as well as the grit required on both sides that got everyone in the room, will help check researchers’ temptation to act like filmmakers, and it will help agency creatives not ignore the substantial knowledge base of researchers who have diagnosed thousands of ads.
  3. Prioritization: Simply put, this collaboration needs to be seen as important across the entire brand team. I’m sure many advertising researchers out there have looked forward with excitement at the prospect of connecting with the brand’s agency at a presentation, only to find them absent or glued to their phones. And, undoubtedly, many agency creatives have attended those presentations in the past, only to be handed a pass or fail, without a shred of learning the “why.” The brand needs to become an outspoken advocate of collaboration, and politely insist on intelligent engagement from all.
  4. Measurement: There is no opportunity for great collaboration unless it is expected by the brand and evaluated as a key success factor, on both the research and agency side. A brand should be just as hard on a researcher that cannot address the “why” behind performance when questioned by a creative as it is on an agency that declines invitations or dismisses true participation.
  5. Face-to-Face: There’s barely a day that goes by when someone doesn’t examine the costs of technology when it comes to limiting that feeling of “belonging” that humans crave. One of the greatest predictors of effective collaboration is whether the team members actually have personally met each other. This lessens misinterpretations and it builds empathy and connection—increasing the willingness to believe that all are there to do no harm. If a brand priority is having at least an initial human-to-human meeting, effective collaboration is far more likely.

Researchers face continuing innovation with data sets and analysis; creatives stare down a changing branded communication landscape on a seemingly-daily basis. Our collaboration will only help us all learn faster and adapt with greater confidence.

Our industries need this, desperately. And so do brands. Let’s give it a go.

Amy Shea, Ameritest Senior Research Consultant and member of the ARF Creative Council
Please be sure to visit the ARF’s Creative Council,



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Two Days in Brooklyn: The Quirks Event

Last week, a couple of us traveled to Brooklyn for a few days to attend The Quirk’s Event.

With more than 70 sessions to peruse and 90 exhibitors to visit the key take-aways are many. When asked what most stood out to me, I scratched my head, because my System 2 started to cramp, and cherry-picked a quote from one of the speakers to represent the entire experience.

“If you don’t make it into my long-term memory, I can’t access you to make a decision.”

This statement came out of the mouth of a neuroscientist. And, although our practices are very different, we agree with each other completely. Across our industry, no matter the angle we come at it, we’re all driving toward the same outcome – to create the most durable brand possible. It doesn’t matter if it’s through improving the product experience or creating more engaging stories to support it, we’re all looking to create the most MEMORABLE moments that can cast a shadow across our competition’s similar activities. (At Ameritest, we have seen that the most powerful branded memories can–and will–eat the weaker ones for lunch.)

Since I don’t know if the others who attended the conference (or took the stage) would agree unanimously that this is the most important take away, I made a list of the things that also stuck out for me.

  • System 1 and System 2 understanding is still being developed across our industry and bringing us to deeper insights about the human beings we observe and how to serve up our own unique product offerings.
  • Emotions clearly reign. The fact that human beings are primarily emotional beings is now greens fees. Gone are the days where people debated this fact. As an industry, we now accept that emotion is the root of all decision-making.
  • Data visualization and narrative-driven research results are still both very hot topics. Each is being developed in order to build more visibility for ourselves and our colleagues at key decision-making points.
  • No ad formulas. There is no one formula for a good advertisement. Single score systems (especially in the DIY market) are not gone, but their utility is eroding as more intellectually-hungry leaders are asking much more strategically challenging questions than those of yesterday.
  • Do you know WHY? The WHY behind everything is important for organizations, teams and brands for many reasons. The WHY helps everyone find their centers of gravity in order to communicate authenticity. (At the risk of beating the Simon Sinek drum too much, I’m going to recommend this TED Talk.
  • Understand the power of context. Contextual placement of messages is still in its nascent stage. We haven’t begun to scratch the surface of understanding how to create the sweetest spot of all – the ability to match the emotional context of the brand, its category, the medium and the human being’s specific physical space. One corporate researcher’s sole focus within his organization is to operationalize the identification of this “emotional circumplex.”
  • Big Data vs. Big Research. Know the difference in order to continue building on your own education and our industry’s relevance.

I would love to hear from other attendees and their key take-aways. Drop me a line!


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The Lure of Free


Let’s say you had the option between a luxurious Lindt truffle and humble Hershey Kiss. We’ll go ahead and price the Lindt truffle at fifteen cents and the Hershey Kiss at one cent. Based on perceived value I imagine the majority of us would choose the more luxurious Lindt truffle priced at fifteen cents as opposed to the Hershey Kiss priced at one cent. Most would agree that the Lindt Truffle is a better deal. But what if each price was lowered by one cent? The relative price difference didn’t change so our choice of chocolate would also remain unchanged, right?

Dr. Dan Ariely, the best-selling author of “Predictably Irrational,” implemented this question in an experiment he ran on college students at MIT. As you may imagine, during the first test (fifteen cents, one cent) 73% of participants chose the Lindt truffle, which doesn’t come as much of a surprise since the expected pleasure is higher than that of a Hershey Kiss. Based on the concept of standard economics it would be appropriate to assume this result would remain unchanged as long as the relative price difference remained at fourteen cents. Contrary to what standard economic theory would suggest, when the prices were discounted by one cent, making them fourteen cents and free, the 27% that had originally gone with the Hershey Kiss grew to 63% percent.

The lure of free, Dr. Dan Ariely argues, causes us to forfeit the benefit of what we actually want. Our perception of utility for a product becomes skewed when “FREE” gets involved; our inherent ability to perform a cost benefit analysis goes out the window.

“FREE” can be an ace in a marketer’s hand, if played appropriately. “FREE” holds a great deal of power and triggers an emotional hotspot when consumers are confronted with it. Being able to keep the consumers best interest in mind while utilizing “FREE” can be a challenge but knowing when and how to implement this tool can provide positive benefits for both the marketer and the consumer. Beware, however, the use of ‘FREE” can also skew consumers perceived value of a product. Once an item is marketed as “FREE,” it is difficult to re-market that product at a cost higher than “FREE.” As stated by Byron Sharp, author of How Brands Grow, discounting a product can be satisfying in short term but it has negative impact on the long-term relationship between the product and the consumer. It is important that brands consider the long-term reputation of their product and keep customers perceived value of a product high.

~Ethan Melvin
For more information, contact

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Who were the 2018 Super Bowl Winners and Losers?

So, the game is over, the ads are played, and the money is spent. How did the advertisers fare in this year’s big game?


Pepsi: Failed to Fulfill their Pre-Game Promise
One of the risks for the brand was playing it too safe with their game day ad. Not only did Pepsi play it too safe; the brand produced a classic example of a poorly executed montage spot.

The Pepsi spot, rather than capitalizing on the buzz they created with the Cindy Crawford teaser, presented a messy mix montage moments ranging from drive-in movies, to old ad clips, to a fake moonwalk, and celebrity snippets from Cindy Crawford and Jeff Gordon. With 12 different scenes, averaging 2.5 seconds each, there was little time for a viewer to engage with any of them, making it difficult to grab attention. While the product was a common theme throughout, it has a different from in nearly every setting, failing to act as an anchor for viewers, and in all likelihood, limiting the spot’s ability to tie to the brand. Finally, there is no progression from beginning to end – not temporal, emotional, or narrative. With neither a strong product focus, nor any kind of progression to engage emotionally, motivational power was held back as well.

Unfortunately, while Pepsi’s intended to activate nostalgic memories from viewers of all ages, the result left viewers with no branded memories at all.

Amazon and Tide: Did They Buy Success?
Two of the big adverting winners were Amazon’s Alexa Loses Her Voice, and the It’s a Tide Ad series. To be sure, both advertisers executed highly entertaining spots of great stories in which the products played a pivotal role. These are great ads. But both these advertisers ponied up well over the $5 million for 30 seconds to purchase 90 seconds of airtime each.

Up through 60-second spots, doubling the length of an ad increases the spot’s attention-getting power (based on time only) by about 10%. So, the Amazon and Tide spots got a certain amount of attention by being longer and/or repetitive. This creates an interesting conundrum for future Super Bowl advertisers. As longer ads become more ubiquitous in this event, it will be harder and harder for a mere 30-second spot to break through. Advertisers will need to consider if it’s worth the additional ad-length investment to level the playing field, or if they still see enough return on 30 seconds, given how far-reaching the platform is.

Budweiser: The right role for social responsibility
Budweiser’s Stand by You was a moving ad that highlights the company’s community service, without taking undeserved credit for the actions of others. The story creates a compelling narrative by hooking viewers with the opening mystery of why the worker is being called, building engagement with the reveal that the brand is canning water, and ultimately paying off with Budweiser’s role in disaster recovery efforts. This emotional journey shows how the brand did its small part to help, without in any way saying they completely solved a problem.

This spot was in stark contrast with Ram Truck’s Built to Serve that ostensibly paid tribute to great words spoken by Martin Luther King, Jr. 50 years ago. Regardless of how well the ad was executed, the spot begs the question, is it ever right to use an important historic moment to promote a brand? Especially if the brand has no prior connection to the movement it’s referencing?

(Click here for a more in-depth look at how brands can promote social responsibility.)

Some Well-Targeted Hidden Gems
There are two ads in particular that, while not getting the same after-game buzz, in all likelihood reached and resonated with their core target.

The first is E*Trade’s This is Getting Old: a hysterical, and yet poignant, spot highlighting the emerging plight of seniors needing to work well past the age of 65. The humor of elderly workers at jobs of increasing age-inappropriateness was likely to break through to an audience starting to consider retirement. While the startling final statistic and E*Trade’s practical solution give the brand a strong pivotal role in the spot.

Second is Telemundo’s Mic Drop. A midst a sea of Winter Olympic promotions, Andrés Cantor’s climatic scoring call gives soccer fans a reason to hang on until this summer’s 2018 FIFA World Cup.

But, seriously, the Eagles actually won…
The Philadelphia Eagles won a nail-biting upset in the fourth quarter. The game was well played and exciting from beginning to end. It was a nice reminder that the Super Bowl is actually a football game!

Eldaa Daily is a Research Director at Ameritest 

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Are Pepsi and Cindy Crawford Up for the 2018 Super Bowl Challenge?


Earlier this year Pepsi announced it would recreate Cindy Crawford’s iconic 1992 Super Bowl spot for this year’s game. Twenty-six years later and Cindy is facing a new generation, a shifting social environment, and a Super Bowl that has become nearly equal parts advertising spectacle and sporting event. Are Pepsi and Cindy up for the challenge?

The format of the original ad, a salacious search for thirst-quenching satisfaction ending in ostensibly sweet comic misdirection, leveraged the supermodel zeitgeist of the early 90’s, and combined it with the old advertising adage that sex sells. However, in the new millennium, this strategy has faltered.

In 2015, Ameritest tested Charlotte McKinney’s infamous Carl’s Jr. Super Bowl Spot (an ad that takes the sex sells adage to its most extreme) and found that while attention getting, the spot failed to motivate consumers to visit the restaurant. (Read more about the findings here.) In the months following, Carl’s Jr.’s buxom bombshell burger business continued to render diminishing returns until in May of 2017, the restaurant chain announced a shift in strategy in an ad that claimed the previous campaign was the work of Carl Hardee Sr.’s immature offspring.

The business cost of the sex sells strategy, combined with the potential social costs given the current #metoo and #timesup movements, make harkening back to the 1992 spot seem like a risky endeavor. However, Cindy’s trial run on James Corden’s Late Late show in 2016, with over 15K likes and fewer than 300 dislikes, was viewed with nostalgia and admiration for Cindy’s Dorian Gray-esque foray into middle age, indicating that the reboot will be a safe bet.

But will it be too safe?

To be sure, given the huge misstep of Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner spot, their failed attempt join in a key cultural moment, the brand has a right to be cautious as it prepares to take the largest advertising stage of the year. But being too cautious could the biggest risk of all when it comes to Super Bowl advertising.

Ameritest has found that Super Bowl ads are nearly twice as attention getting as the average TV spot. One of the biggest past Super Bowl ad winners was Volkswagen’s 2011 “Little Darth,” which followed a thwarted childhood quest for control surreptitiously fulfilled by a father’s cunning use of his Jetta’s keyless ignition, enveloped by a strong Star Wars cultural reference. The great story, cute kid, and recognizable hook of the Darth Vader theme drew so much attention, and connected in such a significant way, that even today if you mention the “Little Darth” ad, most adults will know what you’re talking about.

This year, Amazon, Jack in the Box, and even Pepsi’s own Mountain Dew brand are combining star power and stories to create pre-game buzz that will hopefully convert to post-game sales. A Crawford recreation without some creative reimagining may struggle to get noticed.

Where the Volkswagen ad, and most Super Bowl ads, fell short was on branding. Often the drive to get noticed can take creative executions away from a story that makes sense for the brand, as a result Super Bowl spots typically achieve less than half the Ameritest norm on Top-of-Mind Brand Linkage. The 1992 Pepsi spot, in contrast, is a great example of brand integration. In the ad, the Pepsi clearly quenches Cindy’s thirst, playing the role of hero and tying the brand to the story. The product appears on screen through much of the second half of the ad, and the final comments from the adolescent peanut gallery, “Is that a great new Pepsi can, or what?” put viewer focus squarely on the brand. If the updated spot falls short of the attention-getting power of its rivals, it may make up for it by being well branded.

The final component of a strong ad is its ability to motivate viewers. Ameritest has found that the average Super Bowl spot struggles to motivate, though not to the same extent as the struggle for Branding. That said, recreating the 1992 Pepsi spot has the potential to engage two key memory systems to drive motivation.

The first is the procedural memory system. This system stores memories of physical reactions. In the case of Pepsi, Cindy downing an entire can creates a virtual consumption experience that could leave consumers making a mouth-watering run to the store (or the fridge). Some could even find themselves experiencing the virtual belch that in all likelihood was suppressed or cut from the original spot.

The nostalgia generated by referencing an iconic 90’s cultural moment engages the episodic memory system, which stores autobiographical memories that create one’s sense of self. Particularly for Gen X’ers, Pepsi eliciting fond memories of youth could create a relatable experience that has the audience thinking, “Maybe this is a brand for me.”

So, game day is upon us. And it’s time for Pepsi and Cindy to suit up and take the field. Will their play be too timid and get sacked by the star power of the competition? Or will their nostalgia reverse around clutter and bring the brand into the end zone? Tune in Sunday to find out!

Eldaa Daily is a Research Director at Ameritest. 

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Seeing What Others Don’t in 2018

It’s usually about this time in January where I start feeling guilty, either for not having set any New Year’s Resolutions, out of belief they would not last or feeling guilty for not keeping the Resolution I so optimistically set just three weeks ago. Each year I vacillate between these two states depending on how I felt the previous year. It’s a cycle I’ve become comfortable with, even if it means being comfortable with wearing yoga pants to the office, a direct result of eating a breakfast not unlike that perfected by Buddy in Elf.

 This year, however, I’m feeling something different. Something far more exciting, actually: the feeling of focus and challenge. Last week we had our 2018 Kick-Off Meetings for Ameritest and while that may not sound exciting, getting the company together to reset and focus together on our mission and values was really quite invigorating.

Our challenge for 2018 is to focus and build ourselves around the mission to See What Others Don’t. We defined and embraced what that means for us and for our clients.

If we challenge ourselves to see what others don’t, we can see everything in a whole new way. For me, the most exciting part of this statement is the mission it defines for our technology and innovation. I’m specifically picking these words for their buzzworthiness, because it’s something people say without truly understanding the broader meaning of these words. Our CIO, Martin Rascon, shared with us the true definition of those words and gave me a new way of seeing things.

First, technology. The word comes from Greek root words Teknē and Logia. Taking these words, Teknē, meaning art or craft, and Logia, meaning study or interest, we see that when we talk about technology we are really talking about so much than devices, computers and programs. It’s about taking our art and our craft and applying the right systems and treatments to it. It challenges us to see beyond the technology buzz of today and look at all of our systems—yes, those that drive our business and our process, but also those drive our thinking. As a consultancy, the power that drives us forward can be aided by what we think of as the true technology; the art and craft of what we do is in our people.

Next, innovation. “A new idea, method or device.” Why does this matter? It matters because innovation isn’t just about that new phone you have in your pocket today. It’s about coming up with new ideas and methods too. It is also “the process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value.”

 This means innovation is really about challenging ourselves to harness our creativity and turn it into value for our clients. This creativity can come in many forms, but for me as I spend my time working with clients and building our Client Services team, it takes shape in pushing ourselves to see what others don’t, through studying what’s often dismissed. Looking at something more closely or at something we might have previously rejected, gives us the opportunity to innovate, to find something new and establish new value. These places, found often in the outliers, are where we find some of the most impactful insights and can help cultivate true creativity in collaboration with our clients.

Just writing this makes me excited for the coming year and I hope helped you see something others don’t. Because the idea of see what others don’t is much more than a mission, it’s a challenge and I hope you will accept it as we have.

Abigail Hollister, Vice President – Client Services



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