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Copy testing & pre-testing

Pre-testing - showing an ad to selected audience members before its public launch, and adjusting accordingly - is one of the best-established, and most well-used, advertising research techniques. Traditional forms of pre-testing have been criticised as underplaying important factors in a campaign’s success, such as its emotional engagement. Pre-testing has evolved significantly over recent years, with researchers now claiming to measure emotional and implicit responses: how people feel, as well as what they say.

Key Reading

Important papers from across the Warc database

This article looks at how pre-testing techniques are evolving. It argues that, while communications should change a business outcome, such as increasing market share, strategies need to be measured on both buyers' rational and emotional drivers in the testing phase. This means pre-testing should be complemented by other techniques.
The pros and cons of using copy testing to optimise a campaign – plus some best practice guidelines.
This paper examines the relationship between TV ad pre-testing and sales at McDonald's in the US.
Illustrating the flaws in conventional pre-testing measures of persuasion, cut-through, and message receipt.
A sceptical take on the industry, arguing that both explicit and implicit memory needs to be measured.

Case Study

This case study describes how Rwandan genocide survivors' charity, SURF, drove engagement and brand awareness to promote jewellery made by genocide widows, using audience surveys and data-optimised creative units.

Case Study

This case study describes how, the online division of the British business newspaper The Financial Times, redesigned its renewals and Step Up communications, primarily through email.

Case Study

This article describes how Organ Donation Scotland created a targeted, social campaign to maintain healthy levels of registrations to the Organ Donor Register.

Case Study

This case study shows how Lidl, a supermarket brand, increased sales and beat its competition in the UK using a hidden-camera stunt that showed customers' reactions to its low prices.

Case Study

This case study shows how L'Oréal, a personal care brand, increased sales and brand awareness in the UK by using a brand ambassador to engage an undervalued consumer group.

Case Study

This case study describes how Cigna, the US health insurer, used the fictional TV Doctors of America to promote both its offering, and to encourage preventative care.
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This article discusses how the development of the Christmas advert for Boots, the high street retailer and chemist, used facial coding techniques to identify emotional reactions to verbal narratives.


This article warns against overdependence on the use of the liking of an ad as a metric of its effectiveness.


This article describes key learnings from the use of facial coding to assess ad responses to understand how advertising success is affected by emotional response, and to understand how that response can be measured.


This article outlines the steps required to create truly effective advertising, such as including a reason to purchase, brand recognition, pretesting and amending - and, not least, thinking of the long-term strategy.


This article explores the current thinking and writing on campaign and brand tracking, as the subject undergoes fundamental change due to an influx of new ideas from behavioural economics and research into low attention processing of advertising.

Research Paper

This paper explores the added value that neuroscientific methods can bring to traditional approaches of pre-testing of TV commercials, illustrated via the testing of an ad for a well-known beer brand.
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  1. Article

    This article outlines the pros and cons of using copy testing to optimise a campaign, as well as a number of best practice guidelines.

  2. Article

    This event report outlines how Unilever, the FMCG group, is transforming marketing research for the digital age.

  3. Article

    This paper details Millward Brown's AdReaction Video study, an attempt to find out what people think of video ads on different screens, how they watch videos – and for how long – and how to create ads that customers won't want to skip.

  4. Article

    This article talks about new online panel research methodologies that capture respondents and are able to become a part of a fast paced decision-making process, creating better insights at lower costs.
  5. Article

    This article discusses measuring mobile ads with a new passive measurement technique that taps into the unique emotional connection that users have with phones.

  6. Article

    This article looks at the nuts and bolts of bringing a marketing strategy to life - how to write a creative brief, and how to brief it successfully.

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