If You Work in Advertising, Your Opinion About Advertising Means Squat

(Even if You’re Really Good at Advertising)

Caveat: I’m approaching this from the “creative” arm of advertising. If you’re a strategy-minded individual, your opinion could also mean squat, but we’re not covering that here.

Anyway …

Nobody wants to hear that their opinion and tastes are worthless. Especially not advertising creatives. But, the further we get into technology and the literal quantum aspects of testing and surveying that it provides, the more this is becoming an angle to consider.

That’s a Stupid Shirt. I Don’t Like it.

I once worked for a very controversial, but quite intelligent figure in the world of advertising. One of the things he said in a pitch meeting cracked me up more than any other. The (massive American sports league) client questioned whether the creative we were showing was good. In his opinion, it wasn’t. “I don’t like it.” he said.

My boss countered with “Well, I think your shirt is stupid. I don’t like it.”

He went on to make the point that individual opinions about creative concepts are kind of worthless as opposed to what the actual audience (those people who actually buy the products and services) think. If you want to make money, you make them happy, not yourself.

The client laughed and agreed. We finished the pitch and by the end, they were DTA (down to advertise).

Something clicked in my head that day. Even though I’d been previously successful as an “arbiter of taste” throughout my career as an advertising creative, not every idea I came up with landed with the public as solidly as I would have liked. Maybe there was a way to increase my success percentage regarding creative ideas?

Maybe I should spend less time working in a vacuum and more time listening?

The Audience Rules

We don’t have to guess about what the audience (any audience) will like or respond to anymore. They’re already telling us on message boards, via social media, practically every place you can access with a screen.

All we have to do is listen.

There are a million ways to find out what your audience responds to. I get so much free research off of Reddit, I feel like I should be paying them a monthly fee.

There are specialized, highly active message boards for many products and services out there on the world wide web, and even if you can’t find something that works for your purposes, just apply a cross-section breakdown of other interests your audience has and research those topics. This is called “social listening,” and it works like gangbusters.

Every bit of information you need about what your audience cares about, loves, hates, thinks matters, finds funny, finds repulsive, etc., is right there for the taking. And that will inform what your creative should be in a much more accurate way than simply sending two creatives in a room and telling them to come out with three ideas.

Testing will Save You from Embarrassment

These days? The question of “how do we connect with our audience?” is crazy simple.

Here’s the one most brilliant thing that social media has brought to advertisers: The ability to test everything.

With a small amounts of paid media, you can test your creative ideas before they go out at scale. It’s a sneaky good way to see what your audience likes. The best method is to test two or three different creative executions across a platform, sit back, and wait to see what gains more steam. Now? You can launch your best possible campaign.

These tests don’t have to be complex (just art and copy) and if you’re worried this will make you pay more for creative, don’t. This is the same amount of effort that creatives would put into a typical pitch, where none of the creative would traditionally have been used. Replace pitches with testing with a company you trust, and you’re faster, more efficient, and spending less money.

The Takeaway

Look, I don’t REALLY think all advertising creatives’ opinions mean squat. That was just click bait. However, there’s no longer any reason to guess what creative your audience will like, they’ll tell you. Research, then come up with your best take on their interests, then test those ideas. The results will tell you which concept(s) to go with. That way, you won’t waste your budget on creative concepts that don’t resonate.


Ross Morrison is a social media brand, personality, and advertising consultant, and has a lot more to say about how social listening and testing can get you the most from your advertising budget. You can reach him at rossmorrison@gmail.com.