Non-Inclusive Ad Testing: Real Culprit Behind Tone-Deaf Ads

“They should have done their market research before airing this ad.” This is a typical dig by market researchers on social media who lambast the creators of tone-deaf ads. While they may have a point, and their quip is entertaining, this ribbing is a trend that needs to stop in 2020. 

It’s no longer funny, nor is it helpful. Not only are brands embarrassed, but the people in the ads and the communities they represent are hurt, and that’s not okay. 

Besides, many of those tone-deaf ads we are snickering about were actually steeped in market research, pre- and post-tested, but failed in their execution. 

These common market research missteps plague many brands:

Using a DIY tool with skewed convenience sample. It’s not uncommon for a brand to be wooed by a do-it-yourself tool that supposedly solves all its ad testing problems. Drastically reduced costs, delivery in days as opposed to weeks, and the ability to test an ad on a smartphone is an attractive offer. However, an offer that sounds too good to be true, often is. 



While DIY research has been a game-changer for many organizations, it has one fatal flaw: convenience sample. 

In short, convenience sample is the term used for research in which the participants opt in versus being invited to participate because they are representative of the population being researched. While representative samples are closely approximated with research techniques such as setting up quotas on the front-end and weighting on the back end, there will be an inherent bias that is tough for researchers to avoid. 

The sample excludes multicultural audiences. Many companies use out-of-the-box ad testing services, whether copy-testing or online qualitative testing, making testing ads easier, faster, and cheaper. However, little attention is paid to the type of respondents in the test.

Beyond the issues with convenience sample outlined above, most online ad testing services on the market miss almost a quarter of the U.S. population, as little effort goes into recruiting Latino, African American, and Asian respondents in the market research world. Why? It is difficult and expensive. 

But which is more expensive, missing out on the trillions of dollars in purchasing power that these audiences represent when you infuriate them with a racially insensitive ad? Or, spending a fraction of that cost on getting your research right and avoiding a PR nightmare? 

Someone didn’t speak up. While this doesn’t fall solely into the market research bucket, many organizations pride themselves on their diversity efforts and often engage their diverse workforce for opinions on upcoming marketing campaigns. However, when you are one of the few (and sometimes only) employees of color in an organization, sharing your opinion about the cultural sensitivity of a marketing campaign can be challenging.

It’s easy to say someone should have spoken up regarding an ad once it airs, but it is a different matter entirely when you are put in a position to voice an opinion for an entire group of people, especially when you may be the only voice of dissent. 

2 comments about "Non-Inclusive Ad Testing: Real Culprit Behind Tone-Deaf Ads".
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  1. Denise Kohnke from House United, January 14, 2020 at 9:25 a.m.

    NICELY SPOKEN.  I am an old white marketer who works closely with people of culture (of which there are many, inclusive of many who are white that live below the poverty line). As soon as you truly transition to the "get" and feel what they feel as a strategist/planner, it is HORRIFYING to be assaluted with both today's rational and emotional expressions. It is in no small measure why we are divided and distant to each other as a country. Another example of simple cost containment gone chillingly bad.

  2. Ronald Kurtz from American Affluence Research Center, January 15, 2020 at 7:46 p.m.

    It has been my experience that few marketers really appreciate the value of market research and understand when research should be done, how to do it, and how to analyze the results. This applies to all types of market research and not just ad tests. Some other research vendors agree. 

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