In my last article, I shared some R&D conducted by Ipsos on how consumers consume concepts. The results indicated that consumers typically do not consume traditional concepts in a linear fashion: they almost always start with the image and then the headline, moving to the insight and then price (typically at the bottom of the concept) and then moving on to the body of the concept.

This result was striking, but also not very surprising. After all, as an industry we typically expose consumers to the entire concept all at once – essentially letting them consume the concept in any order they wish.  However, given that concepts are a proxy for later advertising and ads are always presented in a linear fashion – consumers do not get to pick and choose which parts of an advertisement they want to watch first —  this is very much a disconnect with one of our key mantras of concept testing: Reflect Reality.

In this article, I’m very excited to share the results of a major R&D initiative undertaken by Ipsos to develop a new approach to concept exposure that better reflects this reality – and the reality of how consumers consumer information in general.

The World is Different

As all of us know, the digital revolution has dramatically transformed both the amount and way in which consumers can access and consume information. One of the most dramatic, yet mundane examples I can think of is when I take the train during my commute. Even just five years ago, there might only be a handful of people looking at their cell phones or tablets. Today, literally almost everyone is absorbed in the small screen in front of them, grabbing bite-sized chunks of information.

Individuals also leverage a variety of devices to get information and expect their experience to be seamless.  Consumers switch between smart phones, tablets, laptops and desktops – and want that information to be tailored to the device they are currently using. And in many developing countries (as well as amongst the youth in developed countries), consumers are skipping the desktop computer revolution altogether – mobile will become the interface in this new world.CA_school-LG

As researchers, this means that we need to evolve our approach to surveys in general and concept testing in particular to incorporate this new reality. Have you ever seen a full concept board on a smart phone screen? It looks horrible.

I know researchers tend to be change-averse, and sometimes for good reasons. But this is just another example of how we have to adapt our methods over time to reflect reality. We’ve done this before – remember door-to-door surveys, or home phone surveys?  Try getting a nationally representative sample with one of those approaches now. The writing is on the wall – or better yet, the writing is on the mobile device – we must change to what’s next.

What’s Next

At significant cost, Ipsos has invested in the critical R&D to move concept testing into this new reality. First, we developed a number of new types of concepts that would fit on a mobile device: a video concept, a highly abbreviated concept, a concept that mirrored online shopping sites, and what I’ll call the “Swipe” concept, then we exposed them to consumers.  Interestingly, the results indicated that 1) consumers preferred any of the new stimuli over a standard concept board, even when taking the survey on a desktop and 2) the Swipe concept was the most preferred by consumers.

The Swipe concept is simple and requires no change of behavior from Marketers – you can still develop concepts as you do today. What changes is how a concept is presented. In order to reflect the reality of the increasingly mobile world and how we interface with it, the Swipe concept divides a concept board into 3-4 screens that consumers scroll through using the common everyday swipe motion (on a laptop or desktop they click a ‘next’ button’). Note that this also ensures that consumers see the entire concept in a linear fashion – better replicating the reality of advertising exposure.

As researchers, we alPicture1so needed to ensure that the preferred Swipe concept would not negatively impact our database comparisons.  So we conducted a massive 96-cell test across four categories and four countries (US, France, China, and Brazil) comparing the Swipe concept to a standard concept board on both desktop and mobile devices

What we saw was that regardless of device on which the stimulus was seen, both the traditional concept and the Swipe Stimulus performed comparably on two of Ipsos’ three key measures, Relevance and Expensiveness. Where they differed was that while the Swipe concept results were comparable for Differentiation regardless of the device on which they were viewed, Differentiation for the standard concept was perceived as lower on a mobile device.

What this means is that if you are using a standard concept on a mobile device, you are inadvertently lowering your Differentiation scores compared to if you only allowed people to respond on a desktop/laptop.  And if you are restricting your sample to desktop users only, you are not reflecting the reality of today – and you are looking at non-representative samples to make your decisions.

Finally, we also found that consumers spend over 50% longer reading the Swipe Stimulus than a traditional concept (68 seconds vs. 42 seconds).  With the Swipe concept, respondents are actually reading the entire concept in the intended order. With the standard concept, we are failing to hold their attention, allowing them to read it in any order and, especially on a mobile device, making it too difficult to read.


The world has changed and concept testing needs to change with it – or risk many perils. Through this extensive R&D, we have developed and delivered a new approach to delivering concept stimuli that:

  • Requires no change from Marketers in terms of concept format
  • Provides a true linear exposure, better mirroring exposure to advertising
  • Works seamlessly across all devices
  • Delivers comparable database comparisons across all devices
  • Engages the consumer better than standard concept boards
  • Ensures representative samples in an increasingly-mobile world

What excites me about this R&D is that it means Ipsos’ concept testing approach is ready for the future – because we are reflecting the emerging realities of today’s world: consumers using multiple devices, the need to tailor format in order to work across devices, and the fact that more and more consumers are interfacing through mobile devices only.

I’ve heard dark rumblings in the MR industry that concept testing was dying. Rest assured that it is not — at least not as long as companies want to mitigate financial risk and maximize opportunities. Concept testing was just a bit antiquated. And now it is ready for the future.


On Concept Writing is an occasional blog that waxes about all things concept writing. Armed with a state-of-the-industry database that allows unprecedented analysis, these articles are intended to highlight issues and opportunities in concept writing – exploring and challenging established truisms and rules-of-thumb. Have a topic that you are interested in? Let me know…

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