Creative Testing in Market Research: Strategies & Solutions

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Recently, HubSpot found that 68% of marketing professionals believe paid ads are important for a brand. 

This may not be a shock–of course, the popularity of ad spending is going to be high. But when so many professionals are focusing on ads, it makes you think: how many are actually effective

We’ll put it like this: your ads can always do better. 

Even if you have a stellar ad campaign that’s thriving, wouldn’t you want to find a way to have it be even more effective? Or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, wouldn’t you want to know why an ad campaign is performing poorly? 

Below, we’ll cover the ins and outs of creative testing and how it can answer these questions. 

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What is Creative Testing in Market Research?

Don’t get overwhelmed when it comes to understanding how to use market research to test advertising creative. While there are many moving parts, we’ve taken the liberty to break them down for you. 

Creative testing is used commonly by agencies and firms to test multiple factors like stim ads, the imagery that goes into those ads, or stim messaging tone.

Put simply, this checks to understand if the ad represents a brand effectively. On the flip side, if the ad is missing something, it can be improved. 

Third-party validation with creative testing is really important–it separates the creative team from the process, providing an outside point of view for the firm. 

Teams spend days, weeks, and months on different types of stim. Because of this, it’s very hard for them to view things as an outsider (or consumer) would. 

💡 The Key Takeaway: Creative testing allows ad agencies and related firms to test out multiple factors of an ad campaign. Partnering with a third party for this is essential in adding an objective point of view. 

Qualitative v. Quantitative: What to Choose? 

Spoiler: both qualitative and quantitative research can be applied to creative testing solutions

In order to make this happen, you really have to understand how both of these methods fit into the bigger picture.


With creative testing and qualitative research, it's all about exploring. You're not getting something that's statistically reliable, or that can be validated through measurements. 

Instead, you’re exploring and diving deep into the data. Ideally, this method would be used more at the front end of creative testing, as part of the design process.

Think of the qualitative stage as a guide to the right path for creative testing, depending on your business needs.

Below are examples of qualitative research that are ideal for creative testing: 

  • Focus groups
  • Bulletin boards 
  • Interviews 

Through this research, you’ll be able to pinpoint the right headlines, compelling messaging, good copy, and other key elements. 

Attitudes and emotions play a role in good ad campaigns, and qualitative research will ensure you’re targeting the right attitudes and emotions.

For instance, conducting an interview with someone will yield actionable insights on a personal level. This, in turn, allows agencies to create ads that can connect with an audience. 


The many common forms of quantitative research validate (or measure) the creative testing process. 

This method gathers: 

  • Relevant metrics
  • Audience analytics
  • Message resonance 

Think of it as slicing and dicing the audience to validate your messaging, and the final step in fine-tuning your ads. 

💡 The Key Takeaway: Creative testing in market research can be broken down into two groups: qualitative and quantitative. Both play an equally important role in the process. 

Recommended Reading: Hybrid Market Research - Combining Qualitative and Quantitative Methodologies

What Are the Benefits of Using Creative Testing Solutions?

By now you probably get our point: creative testing is key because it determines detractors and attractors for a campaign. It is a great example of data-driven marketing.

You want to be able to attract people right off that bat with what your ad offers. In fact, a recent study found that up to 90% of those searching the internet haven’t made up their mind about a specific brand when they begin their search. Meaning: people go into their internet searches open to many product and service concepts.

Make sure that your ad stands out (in a good way). 

Creative testing would pick up potential problem areas, like poor slogans and headlines, along with other factors that may unintentionally misrepresent a brand. 

It's often why our market research company recommends this methodology to brands that wonder why their PPC ads are not converting.

Thankfully, this is a very collaborative process with a market research firm. You're able to get the results you want by making adjustments early on in the process. 

Additionally, you may have five different campaign packages put together. 

Creative testing in market research can help define which one of those five is the best one to go forward with.

Conversely, if you only have one kind of campaign you're running, you can focus all your efforts on fine-tuning that campaign.

💡 The Key Takeaway: Whether they're big or small, creative testing can highlight areas of improvement for an ad campaign. It can also tell clients what campaign is best, if they have multiple to choose from. 

What Are the Pieces That Can Be Tested?

Here's the quick answer: basically everything. 

Examples of marketing creative that can be tested include:

  • Stim headlines
  • Brand slogans
  • Messaging
  • Copy 
  • Fonts 

Yes, all of this (and more!) can be tweaked with creative testing.  

The choice is yours for how you want these elements tested. For instance, you can get reactions to the whole ad package, or separate it into pieces, or undergo component testing.

Perhaps its conducting a comprehensive ad concept testing survey or something more refined like a copy testing survey.

More on ad concept testing in the video below!

💡 The Key Takeaway: Put simply, everything in your ad campaign is fair game for creative testing. Whether it's slogans, copy, messaging or anything else, all of your ad campaigns can be assisted by this method.

What Are the Metrics Used to Test Creative?

There are many techniques within each methodology to use. It all comes down to your objectives and goals. 


MaxDiff is a certain technique used in quantitative research to identify the best headline or the best slogan from the worst headline or slogan. 

For example, there may be five headlines, and the first question will be to select the one you prefer the most. The second question will be to select the one you prefer the least. 

Through the analysis, you can get a wide variance between those and understand what score provides the biggest gap in terms of preference. 

Ranking Exercises

This one's pretty simple.

Say you have a list of six slogans you're testing. This is where you would rank your most preferred slogan through to the least preferred. 

Where MaxDiff only covers the two anchors (best and worse), ranking exercises cover each slogan. This begins to develop a weighted metric, where respondents can score and understand the rankings of headlines through a basic technique. 

Likert Scales 

This metric covers general questions to ask around when testing an image or copy. 

Some examples of this: 

  • How likely are you to seek more information after seeing the ad? 
  • How compelling or interesting is the ad?
  • How likely would you be to consider the product or service after seeing the ad?

These three creative testing tools are some of the more common ones, but certainly not the only options. 

At our advertising market research firm, we always recommend at least having a benchmark or a comparison point as part of your creative testing. 

This would consist of taking a current ad and breaking that down by slogan, headline, and image. Next, testing would take place to understand whether your new ad performs better or worse than what's currently in the market. 

In some cases, weighing the competition is helpful. With this approach, a core competitor in the market is identified and put through that same process. 

💡 The Key Takeaway: There are many metrics that can help with creative testing. Understanding how your ad performs and rates next to competitors is at the core of each metric. 

What Techniques Can Be Used in Quantitative Creative Testing?

There are several different survey analysis techniques for ad concept testing.

We recap our favorites below or watch our video for a brief synopsis. 

Text Highlighters

This one's pretty self-explanatory. 

If you have some form of body copy, that can be shown to the respondent on-screen--this can be done either via a desktop or mobile tablet.

The respondent can then read that copy, and go in and highlight the words that they liked the best and least. 

The goal here is to show how much words matter in advertising. 

Heat Maps

This is ideal if you have any type of image that you're using as part of your creative testing. 

Different heat map survey questions show a picture of the image, and they allow the respondent to click on the image and leave a comment. The respondent can pick areas of the image that they like, and tell you why. 

It goes both ways. Respondents also can do those exact same actions, but for elements, they don't like. 

The goal here is to reveal the most commonly clicked pieces of ads that are liked and disliked. The context and open-ended feedback are immensely helpful in understanding what your audience needs for an effective ad campaign. 

example heat map question in creating testing market research

Text Analytics 

This is where sentiment analysis for open ends comes in.

For instance, say an ad image is shown to a respondent. Afterward, they would be asked how likely they would be to purchase that product after seeing the featured image. This is then accompanied by a follow-up open end. 

With text analytics, you can go back into those open ends, and understand specific statements, themes, and word choices of those who would be very likely to consider purchasing your product. 

Text analytics can also help you understand a deeper part of the analysis, in terms of the unprompted words that people are mentioning and their open ends. 

Wait, what’s that? A video on this exact subject? Take a look:

💡 The Key Takeaway: Text highlighters, heat maps, and text analytics are all useful tools for creative testing. They each provide unique insight behind factors that drive purchasing.

Why Is Using Creative Testing Solutions Important?

Understanding how to test creative concepts is huge--at this point, that's probably no surprise to you.

While we could write a book on the ways market research can improve your advertising, know this: it really boils down to knowing how your audience interacts with your creative outreach.

This is why working with a third-party research team is so important. They have access to an objective audience that won't hold back when it comes to your creative output. 

At the end of the day, it's the buyer's opinion that matters, even more than your team's. 

Creative testing in market research is also going to save many clients a lot of money. Ad campaigns are expensive to begin with. Having to continuously tweak and alter an ad because you find out it's a poor performer too late? Even more expensive. 

Relatively inexpensive, creative testing is a way to understand the ROI of your campaign and make sure that you're on the right track. 

And if you are on the right track (congrats!), creative testing will help you. Think of it as optimizing your campaign even more. 

Lastly, creative testing helps you understand what pieces resonate most with each audience. One of the many benefits of digital marketing is you don't have to pick just one campaign to run for audiences. 

You can single out certain campaigns for each age group, depending on what they like most about your brand. 

This gives you the opportunity to cross-tab and cross-analyze the metrics to fractionalize your stim. You can get ground-level feedback for improving factors like images, copy, slogans, headlines and more. 

💡 The Key Takeaway: Creative testing solutions are not just recommended--they’re essential. This process allows clients to optimize their ad campaigns so they become top performers within their audience.

Recommended Reading: Understanding the ROI of Market Research for Advertising

Contact Our Creative Testing Market Research Company

And there you have it. By now, we expect you to be full-on creative testing geniuses (we’re kidding, but you get the point). 

Drive Research is a market research company based in New York state. Our team is keenly aware of what goes into an effective creative testing project, and can help your ads become top-performers in whatever industry they target. 

Curious about the rest of our market research services? Talk to us via any of the ways below.

  1. Message us on our website
  2. Email us at [email protected]
  3. Call us at 888-725-DATA
  4. Text us at 315-303-2040

Author Bio George Kuhn

George Kuhn

George is the Owner & President of Drive Research. He has consulted for hundreds of regional, national, and global organizations over the past 15 years. He is a CX certified VoC professional with a focus on innovation and new product management.

Learn more about George, here.

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