In last week’s blog, Using Visual Language to Write Brand Strategy, we raised the idea that brands that are limiting creative research to only copy-testing were wasting a virtual goldmine of strategic information. Today we would like to take a few minutes of your valuable reading time to unpack that statement a bit.

The phrase copy-testing is still used despite the fact that today’s multi-layered world of branded communications nearly always features visuals in the starring role.

It’s an artifact from a time where ads were black and white, a minimum of 60-seconds and explained the litany of attributes of a particular product.

The proliferation of product choice, the increasing creativity of storytelling in advertising as a response, and the deepening understanding of emotion as a primary driver of purchase are all landmarks on the journey away from that rational advertising approach. Yet, the phrase copy-testing not only continues to be used, but its legacy is also linked to seeing any research of category and brand creative as only an evaluation of current ad campaigns.

Yet, as just one example, think about how powerful it would be to use creative research to illuminate the story that a brand’s advertising has created—the branded memory that consumers carry in their head and use to make decisions!


That particular creative research design allows a brand to interrogate their story: is it what the brand wanted consumers to take away? Or did something go awry, and perhaps an ultimate value not communicated—allowing competitors to find a way in? When this analysis is brought to bear on a category and brand, and the brand’s story is understood, this equips the brand to shape and evolve that story, using the most powerful imagery possible.

This is not copy-testing; it is creative research. It uses category and brand creative executions to decipher the visual language being spoken in a brand’s category. And this use of creative research doesn’t give ads a score but gives brands a context for how to speak powerfully in their advertising and content creation. Using it to study beyond the category to better understand things like humor, spokespeople and brand purpose are also all effective uses for brand strategists.

We use the phrase see what others don’t to describe our research approach. We believe, fervently, that seeing is at the heart of all great brand advertising and content…. seeing what customers really want and showing—not telling—them how the brand can deliver. To get there, brands need to expand their view of how creative research can be used to drive the most effective strategies in their history.

In short...

  • Unfortunately, when thinking about research that uses existing creative and visual diagnostics, brands often silo their thinking to campaign evaluation or "copy-testing."
  • Brands that limit their creative research to just copy-testing are missing out on interrogating visual-based memories to determine what stories and territories the brand and its competitors own in the minds of consumers.
  • It's important to dive deeper into your testing via creative research because it accesses the visual language that tells your brand's story, helping craft brand strategy.

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