Rating for Apple ad taken “out of context,” firm says

Peter Daboll insists his company wasn’t trying to knock Apple.

Citing data from Daboll’s company, Ace Metrix, Bloomberg on Thursday reported that Apple’s latest television ad, which attempts to explain its “Designed By Apple in California” slogan,  is a “flop” with consumers. The Bloomberg story noted that Apple’s latest ad scored lower in Ace Metrix rating system not only than its own previous ads but also than a recent ad from Samsung, which has become one of the iPhone maker’s chief rivals.

But it wasn’t Daboll’s intention to target or disparage Apple. The firm didn’t put out a press release or a statement about the new ad, Daboll noted. Instead, Ace Metrix was simply responding to the Bloomberg reporter’s question about how Apple’s commercial had fared with its survey audience.

The slant the reporter took — that Apple’s ad was a failure — was his own, not Ace Metrix’s, Daboll insisted. It would have been better to look at the ad as part of a body of work by Apple or as compared with, say, the top 10 ads in a particular  category, he said.

“I think people are taking this individual ad unit out of context,” he said, noting that according to Ace Metrix’s ratings system, Apple was the top creative advertiser in the mobile industry.

Bloomberg’s report has taken on something of a life of its own, being reprinted or followed in numerous publications. It’s also drawn a good deal of scrutiny from online commentators, including yours truly in a blog post earlier today. As I noted, neither the Bloomberg report nor Ace Metrix adequately explains how the consulting firm comes up with its scores for particular ads. Bloomberg also declined to note that Samsung was a customer last year of Ace Metrix. And the wire service article didn’t mention that Ace Metrix sells services to the very companies whose ads it rates.

 In an interview after I published my blog post, Daboll addressed or dismissed many such concerns and provided more details about the company’s business and methodology.

 Samsung, he said, is not a current customer of Ace Metrix, although it was last year. Apple has never been a customer Ace Metrix.

While Ace Metrix does rate its clients’ ads, it attempts to rate all ads that are aired, including those of non-clients. Although Ace Metrix is a consulting firm, its intent is to offer customers a standardized rating system and show how their ads stack up.

Ace Metrix clients can test out their commercials before they are aired with the firm’s survey audience. Clients can then use those scores to pick the ad they think will best achieve their goals or will play best with viewers — or they can tweak the test ads before they air to improve their scores. But Ace Metrix doesn’t offer companies specific advice on how they can improve their ads to get a better score, Daboll said.

“We are much more of a data-as-a-service company. We’re not really a consulting shop,” said Daboll of Ace Metrix, which is based in Mountain View and has about 50 employees. “We will review (the score) with them and make sure they interpret it correctly … but we’re not saying, ‘You should use this idea.'”

Founded in 2010 and backed by venture firms including Hummer Winblad and Palomar Ventures, Ace Metrix represents an effort to improve on previous ways of rating the effectiveness of ads. The firm eschews focus groups and dismisses the importance of viewers being able to recall ads long after they’ve aired.

Instead, the firm focuses on assessing the immediate impact of ads and how well they do such things as stimulating emotions or persuading consumers to buy a certain product. Every ad the firm rates is evaluated by a audience of 500 consumers. Those consumers are selected to be representative of the overall U.S. audience in terms of age, gender and income. Ace Metrix is constantly selecting new groups of viewers to evaluate ads; each group rates four to five ads in succession. After viewing each ad, group members are asked seven to nine questions about it.

The overall rating an ad receives is actually a combination of the scores it receives on various different criteria.

An ad that focuses on promoting a particular product may score highly on the “desire” index, which attempts to measure how much an ad persuaded a consumer to buy something. Meanwhile, an ad that is designed to promote a corporations’ image or brand may score poorly on the “desire” index, but highly on the “likeability” one.

Daboll said the overall rating scores should be comparable across ads, no matter what type they are, because the variability in scores among the indices balances out. Ads of various types — corporate messaging, product promotion, etc., have each scored highly in Ace Metrix’s ratings system.

But he acknowledged that the direct comparison for the rating of a particular type of ad are those of other ads of the same type.

The “Designed by Apple” ad is a corporate image ad. The company’s previous ads — and one from Samsung that Bloomberg noted had fared well — were largely product promotion ones.

“I w0uld encourage people to compare (Apple’s ad) to (other) corporate presence ads,” Daboll said.

But even then, Ace Metrix’s ratings scheme may not fairly evaluate the intent of the ad. While many corporate image ads are looking to stir viewers’ emotions, the “Designed by Apple” ad fared poorly on Ace Metrix’s emotional index, Daboll said. But Apple may not, in fact, have been trying to tug on viewers’ heart strings, he acknowledged.

“I don’t know what Apple was trying to go for in this ad,” he said. “I’m just looking at results. I’m not looking at what (companies) are trying to do.

Some pundits have suggested that Apple’s new ads are more about inspiring Apple employees than they are about impressing consumers.

Image courtesy of Apple.


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