Testimonial Commercials: Making them work for you

Testimonial Commercials: Making them work for you

Testimonial Commercials:  Many package goods advertisers use them successfully.  Are they for you?  Can you make them work for your brand?

“Real Person” Commercials are a highly specialized form of advertising message.  They can be tremendously effective when they are:

  • Set up correctly to achieve the desired result
  • “De-bugged” to prevent costly disasters
  • Conducted unerringly by thoroughly coached, competent people

Why are testimonial commercials so effective?

3 solid reasons:

  1. Testimonials make visible the invisible. Let’s say your brand has a taste advantage.  Great!  But who can see taste?  It’s invisible.  Or, let’s say you have a cleaning advantage that’s too slight for the TV system to pick up.  Again great!  But you’re precluded from presenting a convincing demonstration by the inability of the TV screen to show your advantage. The testimonial commercial enables viewers to “see” what they really can’t see.  They can’t perceive your advantage directly with their own eyes; but, via testimonial, they can see someone else perceiving it.  If viewers also see someone expressing a strong preference in favor of your flavor or your cleaning advantage, they’re inclined to believe it, and give your brand a try.
  2. Testimonial commercials can show conversion. Right in front of the audience’s eyes, an honest-to-Nielsen consumer goes from disbelief to skepticism to growing conviction to a purchase decision.  Obviously that’s what you want out of your consumers.  You want them to try your brand.  Testimonial commercials show people trying a new product or experience – and becoming convinced by it – doing exactly what you ultimately want them to do relative to your product.
  3. Testimonial commercials provide perfect audience identification. You can pre-select and show your prospective buyers.  Identification is strong medicine in television commercials.  On the other hand, instead of accurately depicting your consumers, you may want to “upscale” them about 10% so you have emulation working for you as well as “identification”.  In any case, if your home viewer winds up thinking “that lady in the commercial is just like me (or like someone I’d like to be)”, you’re in.  You’ve pushed the right button.

All right, how do you go about all this?  Watch it, because testimonial commercials are costly!  You can spend anything from $50K to $200K a day, and unless you’ve pre-planned with exquisite care, you can wind up with miles of ineffective or unusable footage.

Thoughtful Pre-Production

Thoughtful pre-production is more important on testimonial commercials than any other production because the copy and the action and the visualization and the result are in the hands of someone over whom you have no control: your unsuspecting interviewee.  Therefore, it behooves you to:

  • Think through your premise and dramaturgy.  Let’s say you want to show a lady discovering that something she thinks tastes reasonably bad actually tastes great.  You can have her make the discovery fairly straight-forwardly: she says “well, yes, by Glories, that isn’t so bad after all”.  (Yawn)

What was needed was a meeting in which careful thought was given to the premise.  Before rolling the cameras, have your interviewer set up the respondent for a bad taste: get her swearing on a stack of bibles that such-and-such tastes awful; she wouldn’t touch it; never uses it; can’t stand it.

Then, without telling her the interviewer gives her your product.  The very vehemence of her previous position is now working for you.  He withholds the reveal until he has milked her positive reactions.  And then he tells her what she’s been tasting.  And works both sides of the reaction: “but you said you hated it?”  “So, what do you think now that you’ve tried it?” etc.

  • Be sure of your legal ground.  It will do you no good to come back from location with stunning, effective commercials which no one will let you run.  Claims and support in testimonial advertising are unusually tricky.  It’s likely, too, that the lawyers will have a point of view about the people you select for your respondents, as well as your rights and the proper legal releases.  Better check out early what you can do and what you can’t.  (Some agencies even take experienced legal counsel to the shoot.  Makes sense.)
  • Triple-check your questionnaire.  Knowing exactly what answers you ultimately want out of the respondent helps frame what questions you initially ask.  Try out your questionnaire in a dry run or focus group.  See if it’s producing the results.  If not, revise it until you get what you’re paying for.

Also, consider the advantages of keeping one of your areas or districts “clean” (i.e., not running testimonial advertising).  Nothing kills an interview so quickly as having the respondent know what the joke is.

  • Pre-test with an audio test.  When you’re actually in production, and film or tape is running by the mile – that’s a terrible time to discover a weakness in your questionnaire or your interviewer’s technique.  Test out your production plans on a small scale, with only an audio recorder going.  You’ll be able to spot problems and fix them at leisure – perhaps even retest – before you start unloading money by the ton.

Pick your suppliers with great care

You may very well end up paying between $100K to $400K or more for your shoot, so it’s a big cash investment.  On the other hand, if you get 12 commercials and three years’ effective advertising out of it – and you should expect that, if your planning is right – it’s a fine payout.  So be terribly careful in selecting the people who are going to spend your money.

  1. The production house is paramount.  There are a handful of directors in the business who “do” testimonial commercials, and they’re worth every cent they earn.  Ask to see samples of their work.  Look at the pictures: is the action clear, the camera close-up enough?  How’s the sound: is it clean, can you hear the testimonial clearly?  Ask the agency to have a director in for you to meet and question; get an idea of how he sees your job and wants to handle it.
  2. The interviewer can make or break you.  But don’t just settle for a high-priced announcer who’s all over the dial and likely to be recognized by your respondents in the field.  You might consider developing your own interviewer: a psychologist; a paralegal, trained in taking depositions; a researcher.  Audition two or three if necessary.  Don’t hire an actor!  Actors are trained to talk; they have skimpy experience in getting the other person to talk.
  3. Watch research costs.  Firms have driven up the costs of recruiting respondents, but you may not need those firms.  Check, as a second bet, the Psychology or Economics Departments at your local university.  They’re used to recruiting statistically valid panels, and academic cost levels are attractively low.
  4. Hire a production advisor.  Specifically, MRA, Inc.  We’ve had over 35 years experience with this kind of commercial, can watch your dollars and improve the odds in your favor.  The advice you got herewith is general and free; there are no warranties, express or implied.  Instead, what we’d welcome is a chance to tailor a testimonial shoot for you – or for your agency.  Write or call, we’d like to work for you.