The contentious issue of whether or not to pre-test ads is often based on emotional or financial arguments, but the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute has taken scientific approach to assess the merits of the practice.

“You have to make the choice of whether you spend your limited budgets on it, or not,” Professor Rachel Kennedy, director of product development at the Institute, told the recent MSIX conference in Sydney.

“It’s often an emotional discussion, but everyone benefits if we can just look at the evidence.” (For more, read WARC’s report: Ehrenberg-Bass on the science of pre-testing campaigns.)

She reported a lack of consistent evidence that traditional pre-testing measures are able to reliably predict sales outcomes. “There are definitely some better techniques than others so you’ll need to take that into consideration,” she added.

Part of the problem is that traditional pre-testing tends to perform better when it comes to picking the best- and worst-performing campaigns.

“Some of the techniques are good at picking the losers and the winners but they don’t do a very good job with the ads in the middle, average ads,” Kennedy noted.

“And yet most ads fall there. So when you try to pick between different bits of copy, you’re often in that middle space and that’s hard.”

Non-traditional pre-testing methods offer some promise, but marketers need to do their homework here, Kennedy warned – the terminology can be difficult to navigate and there are few peer-reviewed studies.

But there is one area where she fully endorses the use of pre-testing – and that’s where humour is involved.

“If you are doing ads where you are hoping people will laugh at your joke, that’s one area where I would say pre-test it,” she said.

“Because in all of the work that we are doing, we see that marketers are notoriously bad at being able to identify [if] something is funny. They find it funny but the market doesn’t.”

Sourced from WARC