Research Hypotheses Before Creative Work

Martin Weigel, head of planning at Wieden+Kennedy, recently delivered the keynote address at “Nurturing Great Creative: Sowing the Seeds,” and Leah McTiernan, Ipsos ASI VP, found the message both resonant and memorable.

McTiernan  summarized her takeaway key points as:

  • “Until [an ad] is made, you are researching creative hypotheses – not creative work.”
  • “Most creative development research is strategic research done too late.”
  • “The earlier research is conducted, the more valuable it is.”
  • “Research is a means to understanding, not an insight.”

As an advertising researcher, McTiernan describes this as not only refreshing but also also empowering. It argues for strategic insight versus “go/no go” recommendations, and “one-size-fits-all” approaches.

This experience in testing early-stage strategies and advertising ideas, says the report, has demonstrated that people do not need an ad to provide input into the creative development process. When advertisers test “creative hypotheses,” their understanding of what engages people is enhanced, providing fuel for further creative inspiration. The result is that they often save time and money while delivering better creative work.

Average CEI Results (Before And After Implementing The Early Stage Testing Process)













Source: Ipsos ASI, July 2013

CEI (Consumer Effectiveness Index) was developed by Ipsos ASI to provide a relative indicator of advertising effectiveness. As a combination of response and reception, the higher the CEI, the greater the potential for an ad to create a sales impact in response to ad spending (all else being equal). Response is a measure of the ad brand resonance (sales and equity), while reception measures whether an ad leaves a branded impression on viewers. An “average” CEI is 100, while an above CEI is 130+, says the report.

Ad Testing Alone vs. Hypothesis + Ad Testing (Same Brand, Same Ad Agency, Same Research Agency)


Scenario 1 (Finished Ad 100%)

Scenario 2 (Hypothesis 83%; Finished Ad 17%)

Development time



Copy quality


Award winning

Research investment



Agency investment



Source: Ipsos ASI, July 2013

As creative development and research progresses, it is critical to determine early what idea really matters to people and to hold on to it throughout, as a primary criteria. Researching creative hypotheses and nurturing creative as it is being developed significantly improves advertisers’ chances of airing great creative, says the report. But, according to the experience of McTiernan, advertisers who embrace the strategic discipline of developing and aligning on a big idea for their brands (the credible connection between brand and insight that inspires a response) do not always get it right the first time.

More than half of the ideas tested (by Ipsos) during the past few years were unable to engage the intended audience or were not able to appropriately connect the insight and the brand. The primary reason is a lack of understanding as to what context facilitated a natural connection to the brand while still engaging the audience and provoking action. In other words, the idea did not hold on to what really mattered:

  • The tension inherent in the insight, which worked to engage the audience, was lost.
  • Or, the brand was simply dropped into the idea without thought as to its role.

When an advertiser has aligned on a big idea, there is still potential for something to be “lost in translation” while developing executions. This can happen for many reasons; some are easily controllable, others are not. What advertisers can control is the final execution so that their brands do not get overshadowed by a great storyline or tension, says the report.

But ads based on big ideas can fall into the trap of showcasing the engaging insight while relegating the brand to a “sponsoring” role. As the most important in-market factor for failure of advertising to impact the brand is the lack of connection to the brand. To prevent this, advertisers need to understand how the storyline and big idea connect intrinsically.

To ensure advertisers hold on to what matters, this method (test the concept/hypothesis before the ad) integrates measures of emotion and attachment called “connectors” into its pre-market solutions.

Supporting advertisers who seek to nurture great creative, we embrace Martin Weigel’s perspective, says McTiernan. We see the value of strategic research at the earliest stages because it provides a deeper understanding, and inspiration for, the advertising development process. Knowing what to hold on to throughout means advertisers have an even stronger chance of great creative results.

For additional information from Ipsos, please visit here.

2 comments about "Research Hypotheses Before Creative Work".
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  1. Maryanne Conlin from RedRopes Digital/4GreenPs, July 17, 2013 at 10:25 a.m.

    Great post! Much of the focus today is consumer engagement and input after the fact!

  2. Jack Loechner from Mediapost Communications, July 17, 2013 at 5:39 p.m.

    ... which is alternately called "steering by the wake," Maryanne... thanks, jack

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