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What is copy testing and is it effective for present-day marketing campaigns?

**Definition:**Copy testing is a method of validating a planned advertising campaign by testing it with a small consumer audience prior to general release. Traditionally used in TV, print, and radio ads, copy testing has gone out of favor as marketing organizations — especially online businesses — see great success with unique, quickly released, outside-the-box campaigns.


The intention of copy testing determine whether copy and advertising campaigns send a clear and strong message. If not, companies may choose to edit promotions before use. Marketers may also use copy testing to shorten advertisements or find the best still frame for video features.


According to G&R, a specialty marketing research and consulting company, copy testing got its roots from TV commercial testing in the 1950s. At the time, marketing specialists used two approaches: controlled, in-theater and real-world, on-air testing.

The concept developed over the decades, and in the 1980s, marketers introduced the idea of target group testing - which many companies utilize today. The Internet and digital campaigns have since reshaped the testing landscape, however.

As detailed by Ad Age, digital marketers are looking for new ways to substantiate creative ideas. Much like how consumers crave immediacy, brands also seek real-time results when it comes to concept validation.

Criticisms of copy testing

Given that copy testing may require companies to devote a significant chunk of time to development and fine tuning, it's not always the most efficient method for digital media and other new advertising campaigns. Consequently, many marketers experts view it as an outdated concept.

Likewise, other industry leaders claim the utilization of copy testing can take away from creative efforts and lead to bland or generic advertisements - particularly with more emotional promotions as opposed to informative ones. In the boldly titled "Copy Testing: A Confident Path Toward Mediocrity," Tom Bick, named one of the top digital marketers of 2014 by Ad Age, claimed copy testing tends to penalize forward-thinking marketers. Bick's argument is the average person surveyed will default to comparing a promotion to what they've seen before - and essentially err in favor of changing out unique elements in an otherwise creative campaign.

Consequently, marketers must ask themselves if they're able to provide enough context to ensure a successful copy testing environment. Are they able to clearly convey the goals, both apparent and underlying, of the campaign and provide enough background on how it should fit - or not fit - into the market space? Similarly, as Bick recommended, it's imperative for marketers to understand the bias of the test and use that when making final decisions for a given promotion.

Tips for testing

Despite its criticisms, copy testing can be done well and provide helpful insight given the right circumstances and promotion. Within an ecommerce market, testing is vital as featured content and advertising campaigns will likely have a large effect on conversion rates.

For optimal success, digital marketers might consider pairing traditional copy testing with additional, more modern testing options, such as behavioral and biometric data on online users. Furthermore, marketers can choose to incorporate an internal testing process. Such procedures might include:

  • Simply reading copy aloud to ensure it flows well.

  • Having a peer read copy or review content.

  • Putting a system in place for rating headlines.

  • Asking if the story is being told in the best way for a particular medium. Marketers can often adapt campaigns so they tell a different story or evoke a different emotion or use across platforms.

  • Verifying the use of an effective call to action.

Above all, those creating and testing promotions should ask themselves the following: "What does my product do for the consumer? How does it make their life easier?" Once those questions have been answered, marketers can ensure they're effectively conveying that message within a given piece of content.

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