"Bolder Than Bold" is the tagline for Butterfinger's new campaign, and the Nestlé brand announced its return to the Super Bowl this year by having a skydiver plunge 12,000 feet. But when it came to developing the ad, the marketer wasn't willing to work without a safety net.
Nestlé turned to an out-of-the-ordinary research method to develop its Super Bowl ad-a combination of qualitative and quantitative research known as "qual-quant," from Cincinnati-based AcuPOLL research, in which groups of 30 to 50 people watch ads, vote on what they like using iPads, then delve into possible improvements.
The idea is to avoid longstanding industry gripes about much-maligned focus groups and add the security of quantitative copy testing that many marketers want. Nestlé, under pressure from a relatively late decision to run an ad during this year's Super Bowl, turned to AcuPOLL to speed the process along, and was happy with the results, said Brand Manager Kristen Mandel.
"We had two creative concepts," Ms. Mandel said. The company typically has done a combination of qualitative (focus groups) and quantitative (copy testing). "But given our tight timeline and the situation we were in with the two concepts, this seemed like the best way to get the deepest, most actionable insights in the time allowed."
She's not ruling out focus groups in the future. And while she declined to comment on exactly what kind of additional testing Butterfinger did after AcuPOLL, she indicated the brand did some.
"We test a lot," Ms. Mandel said. "We want to make sure we're set to win."
Butterfinger's agency, Santo, participated in the AcuPOLL sessions, and Ms. Mandel said, "we aligned on the insights." But Nestlé policy is to not allow agencies to comment on work for its brands.
The AcuPOLL sessions, each with 45 people who were identified as candy bar purchasers, helped Butterfinger decide between two concepts, as well as make improvements to the concept it chose. The sessions were held in the Los Angeles area near Butterfinger's headquarters. "Really what AcuPOLL helped us do was understand this really had legs to win in the big game," Ms. Mandel said. "Consumers really fed back to us that it's fun, entertaining, distinctive and breakthrough."
AcuPOLL was launched nearly a quarter century ago by Doug Hall, a former Procter & Gamble brand manager who became an innovation consultant, forming Eureka Ranch, to test creative concepts. It uses an 11-point scale that differs from the five-point scale used for most concept tests, where zero is "definitely won't buy" and 10 is "definitely will."
AcuPOLL believes the 11-point system provides more precision. Plus, its studies show consumers find it easier and more intuitive, and answer questions 15% faster than five-point-scale surveys, said CEO Jeff Goldstein, who bought the company in 2012. He's a former P&G brand manager himself, and son of the company's legendary former VP-Advertising Robert Goldstein.
Besides a variety of TV, digital, print ads and in-store displays, the "qual-quant" sessions have been used to test a Major League Baseball team's new uniform. Quantitative concept tests, generally done online, remain the bulk of AcuPOLL's business. But the "qual-quant" portion of the business-where people use the 11-point scale on iPads to evaluate ads, are generally face-to-face with each other and moderators, and answer a wide array of questions-has been growing faster in recent years, he said.
Such sessions primarily replace focus groups, but could replace copy testing for some marketers, given the quantitative safety-in-numbers element, he said.
"Focus groups can be really destructive to creative," Mr. Goldstein said. "They can be really biased toward the loudest voice in the room. Creative agencies often hate them."
But they can also be cheaper. Mr. Goldstein said an AcuPOLL session with 30 to 50 people, paid $100 to $150 for around two hours of testing, costs about the same as seven or eight focus groups. It also compresses the timeframe-compared with running all those groups back-to-back after a series of ad tweaks-and provides marketers with nearly instant feedback.
AcuPOLL, after getting the initial responses about ads based on such things as likeability, how distinctive they are, how likely they are to prod purchase or other factors, asks people a series of follow-up questions about what they'd improve. And it can test alternative visuals, messages or other elements. Like focus groups, sessions include dialogue with the participants. But AcuPOLL participants then use iPads to privately rate how much they agree with others' statements, which Mr. Goldstein said helps eliminate bias toward "the loudmouth in the corner."