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Peter Comber: If I could change one thing…

The chief creative officer at inVentiv Health Communications/Europe explains what he would improve about the industry
if I could change one thing

… I would alter the expectations and therefore the use of qualitative concept testing of advertising concepts. I don't object to concept testing per se, I find it very valuable and whenever possible I personally attend, sitting behind the mirror in a dark room, listening attentively and taking in the body language. What I struggle with are common assumptions of what testing should achieve and, consequently, how it is conducted.

Testing is a very valid tool in the process of development, refinement and selection of the most appropriate concept. But it shouldn't be the final, unquestionable verdict on which concept is chosen.

Over a quarter of a decade I've attended hundreds of hours of research and I know that the majority of people express a preference for ideas that don't challenge their opinions or views. Unless the objective is to reinforce the status quo, I find it perverse that the preferences of a focus group are used as the means to identify which concept would be most appropriate.

Advertising exists to change beliefs and consequently behaviours. By default it challenges current opinions, therefore the preferred idea tends to be the one that challenges the least and as a result is least likely to change anything. An advertising concept should convey what we can be, not what we are.

Methods concern me too. For example, nobody will ever convince me that showing the visual and the verbal part of a concept separately is a good idea. The two are conceived as a single entity – when executed properly they complement and complete each other: separately their meaning changes. By the time you've shown and discussed the two in isolation, showing them together will not elicit an honest, spontaneous emotional reaction to the overall communication. Yes, an emotional reaction.

That's what we should be looking for, that's what we really need to understand through testing, because without emotion advertising is not advertising, it is only information.

Advertising is persuasion and persuasion requires emotion. We should not let a useful tool for generating insights become a filter that regularly eliminates the ideas with the greatest potential.

Peter Comber, inVentiv
The Author
Peter Comber
, Chief Creative Officer, inVentiv Health Communications/Europe

10th August 2012

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