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How to create change one behavior at a time.

Want Breakthrough Creative? Here's How to Test for It

Let the bad guy win every once in a while

This post isn’t just an homage to the Billy Preston classic, it’s also about a concept testing approach flexible and sensitive enough to not automatically discard creative concepts that may initially seem like the “bad” guys using traditional research measures.

Our firm is known for surprising clients with unexpected campaigns, interventions, and products that drive proven change. After all, we did promote the awareness of a possible flu pandemic by building a campaign around a guy holding a urinal.

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And then there was our work to limit fertilizer runoff into the Chesapeake Bay by appealing to the near universal love of crab cakes.

These campaigns could have easily been shot down at the concept stage by using standard testing techniques, since they would have scored low on traditional measures such as awareness. The Fifth Guy campaign scarcely mentioned the flu at all; instead, it targeted the real-life behaviors that would actually prevent the spread of the flu. And the Chesapeake Club ad sidestepped a focus on environmental damage and instead focused on the region’s love affair with seafood as a reason for local residents to stop fertilizing their lawns.

We are able discover the potential of breakthrough creative ideas like these (while also eliminating the real losers) by employing a concept testing approach that looks at the cumulative impact of three dimensions — 1) rational elements communicated by the concept, 2) the emotions the concept triggers, and 3)  how engaging the concept is overall in a positive or negative sense.  

Three concept mesasurement charts

By looking at how a concept performs across these dimensions, it enables us to not immediately discard a creative platform that audiences find very engaging or has a strong emotional hook (since these dimensions are crucial for breakthrough) just because it may not currently be delivering on rational components. This approach also provides valuable diagnostic guidance for revising the creative.

On the other hand, it also allows us to understand if a concept is generally well-received and clearly understood, but ultimately seen by audiences as lukewarm and therefore likely to go unnoticed or not spur real behavior change.

An example of this is recent work we’ve done on behalf of a national nonprofit to advocate for the inclusion of dental benefits in Medicare. This is a low salience issue generally, so the key is getting people’s attention and getting them engaged enough in the issue to act.

concept testing

Our testing method allowed us to understand the merits of a concept that is more blunt about the issue: “The Government doesn’t think you have teeth.” This scored high in both negativity and engagement.

concept testing well-liked, weaker in engagement

Similarly, our testing showed us that another concept, “Dental for all generations,” was appealing rationally but unlikely to pull in viewers and connect emotionally.

Lastly it helped shed light of the potential of a concept that focuses on paycheck deductions for Medicare: “We earned it.” This combined strong rational appeal with positive engagement measures.

clear message emotional and engaging

This kind of nuanced insight lets us identify and develop creative that gets people’s attention and engages with them in a way that spurs action.

Behavior change audience research guide

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