Copy Test Questionnaire Design

January 1, 2005

Open-Ended Questions

A copy test begins with a series of open-ended questions concerning:

Commercial Breakthrough

Generally, the first issue addressed by a copy test is the salience of the tested execution - the degree to which it "broke through" the clutter environment. While the relative importance of the breakthrough scores will vary as a function of the strategy behind a spot, you will tend to put a large measure of emphasis on breakthrough in situations where you are operating with a limited media budget.

Generally, the first question asked to a respondent is "Do you remember seeing a [target category] ad?"

  • If they answer in the affirmative, the target commercial is considered to be recalled on an unaided basis. This serves as a Breakthrough score that you can compare to category norms.
  • If the brand is also correctly recalled, respondents are asked if they can recall the main message of the commercial. This serves as an initial Main Message Recall measure.
  • Respondents are asked if they can recall any aspects of the commercial. If they are able to do so, this will count as Detailed Recall.

Brand Awareness--Unaided and Aided

It is clearly important to learn if respondents recall the brand of the commercial, so make sure to ask everyone in the sample if they can correctly attribute the brand to the execution.

As was previously mentioned, right after the initial breakthrough question, respondents are asked (on an unaided basis) to identify the featured brand of the commercial. The result is the Unaided brand recall level.

After they see the execution again (by itself, without other commercials), respondents are again asked if they remember the brand of the commercial. The result is a second Unaided brand recall measure.

Respondents who do not correctly recall the brand on an unaided basis are then asked if the advertised brand was (the name of the advertised brand). Those who answer in the affirmative are said to recall the brand on an Aided basis.

Most research Vendors will provide both total and category norms for you to compare with your test results. Total norms entail all the commercials tested, and category norms entail all commercials they have tested in the target category or categories.

Main Message Recall

One of the most important issues to be determined is the degree to which key messages are communicated. Questions about Main Message Recall are asked on an open-ended basis. Most copy testing vendors have category norms for Main Message Recall.

Respondents are asked to recall the Main Message of the tested commercial at least twice - for those who recall the commercial in the clutter environment and again after seeing the commercial a second time by itself. The first Main Message Recall result will give the product group a good idea of the degree to which the key message comes across in a single viewing.

After viewing the execution for a second time, respondents again will be asked to recall the Main Message of the commercial. The responses to this question will help the product group understand the degree to which all messages - primary and secondary - register with respondents. These measures are especially important in situations where it is expected that viewers will see the tested execution more than once.

After they have viewed the execution a second time, respondents are asked additional questions concerning:

Executional Recall

A key copy test issue is respondents' recall of various executional elements of the tested spot. In this way, a product group will be able to gauge the degree to which respondents appreciate creative aspects of the execution. Executional Recall is asked on an open-ended basis.

Likes and Dislikes

The essence of evaluating consumer reactions to a spot is to understand what they do and don't like about a commercial. The respondents are asked to give their evaluations on an open-ended basis.


You need to know if anything about the tested commercial is confusing. Knowledge of a specific point of confusion will allow the product group to "fix" the spot before it goes on the air. Therefore, all reactions to the spot will not be dragged down by negativity.

In my experience, the times in which copy tests had the most beneficial effect on the advertising process were those times when they identified a single point of confusion. In these situations, creatives were able to go back and confidently revise an ad - even finished ads--before sending it out to the networks. I remember one time when a copy test of a spot for which we had done a lot of background work was very uneven. When we looked at respondent comments about confusion, we realized that some people did not realize that the action in the commercial took place on a road. The creatives simply reedited the spot so that a shot of the yellow lines was a bit extended, and the spot turned out to be quite successful.

Scalar Items

In addition, you will want to evaluate an execution in terms of its performance on a number of dimensions which are addressed by scalar items.

Tone and Manner Evaluation

A commercial execution is not simply a slogan sitting on a blank placard. Each spot employs a particular executional perspective - a creative style that defines a campaign - commonly referred to as the "tone and manner." A successful advertising endeavor is one that visually and/or aurally appeals to respondents. The definition of this kind of appeal can vary - some people like a "loud" or "startling" aesthetic approach, while others like "soothing" imagery and sound. The trick is for the tone of your advertising to match the preferences of the target audience. As such, a copy test needs to explore consumer evaluations of the tone and manner of the tested advertising.

Brand Presentation

A key aspect of executional success is the degree to which the tested spot is able to positively present the overall brand of the product or service being offered in the commercial. Of course this would be a primary consideration in a situation in which the tested spot is specifically focused on promoting a brand per se. In any case, it is important to understand what an execution says about a brand.

Persuasive Power

Perhaps the most obviously vital element of a copy test is judging whether or not it has the capability to persuade category consumers to make a purchase. In a perfect world, this could be addressed by including a single Purchase Intent (PI) measure (e.g., "Will you purchase the advertised product?"). Unfortunately, directly asking this question is perhaps the worst way of finding out whether the spot has generated any interest in the advertised brand. Some people reflexively say they are not interested, while others will say that they will purchase something out of a sense of politeness. In any case, there is no one single sure-fire PI question that you can ask and confidently use as your dependent variable in analysis.

The best way to address the degree to which the tested commercial will promote brand sales is to ask at a range of purchase or evaluative dimensions and look for trends. For example, you may want to know whether respondents:

  • Intend to purchase the advertised product
  • Would recommend it to a friend
  • Regard it as a high quality product
  • Would want it as a gift

And so on. In your analysis, look for patterns and trends in these kinds of questions. These patterns will tell you a great deal about the tested executions effectiveness.


All of you are probably acquainted with the celebrated Advertising Research Foundation study that identified "Likability" as the key aspect in the potential success of any given commercial. This is not surprising when you think about it. For people to feel comfortable about accepting any information from a commercial, they have to be willing to watch and listen to it.


One of the other key variables identified in the Advertising Research Foundation study that I have always emphasized is "Relevance." One can enjoy an ad, but if the information carried in it is of no relevance to the viewer, the suggestions of the presentation are unlikely to be acted upon.

Relevance should be looked at both personally (e.g., "Is this relevant to you?") and in terms of referent friends (e.g., "Would this be something that most of your friend would like?"). If a product is relevant to the rating respondent, but not to his or her friends, the advertised brand better be for personal hygiene products. If a product has a social component - where different brands mean different things to defined social segments--you want the advertising to convey the product's social acceptability.

News Value

Many campaigns are designed to present some sort of news to their target audience. It is therefore essential that a copy test be able to capture the degree to which a message registers as news. Some of questions one might expect to find are, "Did the commercial tell you anything new?" or "Was there anything in the commercial that surprised you?


"How It's Done: A Research and Planning Handbook for Marketing Communications Professionals." Seth Ginsburg. New York: ANA, 2005.