Brand Creative Testing Using Mind Clouds

All moderators have asked themselves whether to introduce advertising creative early in the focus group to minimize bias or later in the group to better understand context.  Emiel Van Wegen offers the following specific advice on how to conduct a focus group on new advertising creative.  Emiel writes a blog, Research Reinvented, that can be found at:

7 April 2009

Mind Cloud to clarify the picture in qualitative research

This time a qualitatively focused post – pinpointing at a new approach for creative concept testing. How can we get a more systematic and objective way of delivering this insight? Let’s explore…:
The use of qualitative research for creative evaluation was developed in the 1960s. To better understand the reactions to advertising ideas companies needed a clear “read” on the ads. Almost 50 years later and the standard way of researching creatives the qualitative way still stands unchanged; warm-up, show the creative, ask questions and close.

So having shown the ad during the qualitative session, moderators ask about how the ad fits with, or changes the brand. the “ad first” method causes two problems: Without prior measure, we cannot know what the effect of the creative is, because we need a benchmark from which to base our findings about what has changed. The other problem is the false presumption of the communication that affects the brand in the mind, but the reality is that the brands affects perception of the ad far more than the ad affects perception of the brand!
Deep interpretation of an execution arises for the chemistry between the pre-existing relationship with the brand and the content of the communication.

Basically the “ad first” approach is too much about the creative and not enough about how the creative will effect the associations around the brand. In Synovate, these associations around the brand is defined as “Brand Mind Cloud”. The Brand Mind Cloud is the chaotic clutter of images, sounds, associations and colours that constitute the brand in the mind. For communication to succeed it must influence this set of associations. So the evaluation of the creative should involve:
  1. what is in the mind prior to the exposure of the material
  2. the degree to which the elements of the create have the ability to change these pre-existing associations.
Above: a brand (in this example McDonald’s) exists in the consumer’s mind as a network of emotionally-charged associations. This is a Mind Cloud. In this example the consumers’ associations with the brand span a spectrum from the BigMac, to acids, to kid’s parties, the golden arches…
The associations may reflect what the brand does, what it looks like, how it’s packaged, when it’s consumed, by who, with whom, and so on.
So what could be the better approach:
To start, ask respondents to write down all things that come to mind when they think of the brand, get their personal perceptions. After that, and using the descriptions they just wrote down, let all respondents explain to the group how they see the brand. With this process we will get the personal top-of-mind view of the brand – their Mind Cloud. All of these views can be analysed to get a more collective view of the brand.
Figure 1 below is the output derived from a recent exercise looking at the beer brand Stella Artois. Figure 2 makes the observation that Stella Artois is quite a polarising brand, pointing in two different directions. On one hand there is Stella – the “hooligan soup”; and then there is “Stella Artois” the holy water for continental farmers and priests.
Having downloaded the brand’s Mind Cloud, we then expose the ad. Let people write down their personal reactions again, let them share those reactions and talk about the ad. What they choose to say tells you as much as what they don’t choose to say. They don’t talk about the offer? That’s a finding!
As people download their views, it becomes very clear how the communication sits against the brand, whether it is more of the same or something new and exciting. Based on these findings the “Ad Cloud” can now be made.
At the next stage we need to find out what connections people make with the creative: what is it they connect with most strongly? This identifies the “active ingredients” within an ad. In the case of the Stella Artois example, some of the active ingredients were: confusing, warm hearted, goes back generations, boring, well shot, charming, not moved on…
Interplaying the active ingredients with the Mind Cloud will than enable the understanding the likely impact of the communication on the brand. So at this stage it is possible to build up a systematised and objective assessment of what the impact of a communication execution is likely to be.
To summarise a better approach in qualitative creative testing follow these steps:
  1. warm-up
  2. understand the Brand Mind Cloud
  3. Expose the creative
  4. Download the Ad Cloud
  5. Identify active ingredients of the Ad Cloud
  6. Identiy the impact of the active ingredients.
The essential purpose of communication research is to understand the possible or potential impact of an execution on the Brand Mind Cloud. Breaking with the “ad first” method and creating a group method that conserves individual response makes it possible to create a more systematic and objective way of delivering this insight.



This post is an abreviated version of the article as published in the World Adverstising Research Magazine of March 2009.
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