Civis Launches Creative Focus As Brands Bring Data To Pre-Campaign Strategy

The analytics startup Civis was founded in 2013 with roots in political data and targeting and has since transitioned to commercial business, where advertisers are less familiar with testing messages to sway public opinion.

Most big brands rely on panels or focus groups, which “have a lot of contamination” because more people self-select into groups and increasingly live in places where others share their opinions, said Dan Wagner, founder and CEO and previously the chief analytics officer of former President Obama’s re-election campaign.

In politics, creative content and messaging are tested much more aggressively before any media is purchased, Wagner said, and it’s a strategy that could work for more brands as well. And on Thursday, Civis introduced Creative Focus, a pre-campaign tool to helps brands measure and plan creative, bookending the company’s post-campaign attribution product.

“Everybody is in this kind of tournament online to bid up a fixed amount of inventory,” Wagner said. “The next place you can have an effect is to move up the funnel and make those insights ahead of the campaign.”

McDonald’s is working with Civis to understand attitudinal shifts across different audience groups after people have seen the brand’s ads, said Emma Higgins, the brand’s media sciences manager. (It doesn’t hurt that McDonald’s chief communication officer, Robert Gibbs, was the PR chief for Obama and his re-election campaign.)

McDonald’s uses surveys to track people’s perceptions and conversion data, including first-party transactions and proxy metrics like location data or credit card partner data, to tie brand perception to business results. Higgins said McDonald’s is still evaluating which proxy metrics it prefers for modeling. But once it irons out the details, the results will be a stronger data-driven connection between macro, subjective brand perceptions – questions like “Is McDonald’s a brand like me?” – and the nitty-gritty of real-time media optimization and measurement.

McDonald’s is large enough to have its own surveys and a relatively small portion of its spend is social and programmatic, but smaller direct-to-consumer companies are adding creative data to improve ad tech performance.

The DTC wedding dress company Anomalie tried Civis's pre-campaign creative tool to measure broader brand perception, not just the direct media-and-data loop typical of social and programmatic customer acquisition campaigns, said Calley Means, co-founder and president.

A traditional firm for focus groups and national surveys would have been a costly addition, but Means said bringing in Civis’ pre-campaign survey data on its creative and broad brand appeal was surprisingly applicable to the real-time media plans.

Previously, Anomalie had dynamically targeted specific messages, like focusing on price, body inclusivity or customization, to certain audience segments. But Civis’ pre-campaign data showed that ads packing in all of the messaging improved acquisition costs by 30%, Means said. Anomalie also saw its ads were conveying the message well – people were more interested in a customized, ecommerce-based dressmaker after seeing ads – but weren’t lifting brand name recall.

Direct brand engagement like the CEO addressing the camera and shots of the brand operations did more to root the company’s identity in people’s minds, he said, which is why Anomalie currently has camera crews at workshops in China to film dresses being made.

“If we’re planning to spend millions on acquisition marketing, even a small change in ROI in the early stages can be a big difference,” he said.

 

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