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product testing: what is ABC testing?

How to test a Light bulb - ABC testing

Have you ever been drawn to some fancy-looking packaging or heard about a jazzy new concept, but then found that the sensory experience is a total let down?

Read on to find out how a holistic approach to product testing, might well be your new best friend.

Getting the whole picture.

Let’s bring in eager-and-innovative ‘Brand A’ to demonstrate what I mean…

Brand A runs a concept test for a new soft drink flavour – fizzy pomegranate and elderflower infused banana juice elixir – and people love the idea… It’s exciting, exotic and sounds healthy (and that’s what people want, right?).

Brand A invest lots of their precious dollars in a dramatic, sparkling launch for the new ‘it’ health drink.

People (especially hipster Bondi types) get realy excited and head straight out to buy a bottle.

Then they taste it. 

Unfortunately, it tastes like someone emptied the compost bin into a blender. Word gets around and the product completely flops. Ouch.

However, all of this could have been avoided, had the sensory experience been tested in conjunction with the pack and concept.

The lesson.

The often-forgotten lesson here, is that in many circumstances, it can be dangerous to test things in a silo.

You may have already heard the market research horror story: ‘New Coke’. It is a prime example of a huge brand making a huge (and expensive) research mistake in this way.

If you scroll down to the bottom of the post, we’ve put together the case study highlights for you – but for now we’ll get straight back to the good stuff, in case you already know the story.

Holistic, contextual insights born from integrated market research methods, can provide you with a much more bullet-proof direction to follow (and some peace of mind)...

ABC product testing juice

Introducing a holistic approach.

ABC testing is PLAY’s holistic approach to product testing. It was born out of a need – the need to incorporate the complete consumer experience.

The approach covers:

  • Concept
  • Packaging
  • Product

ABC product testing is as flexible as it is all encompassing. It can be conducted as quantitative or qualitative research, and the method is designed to meet each business’ specific needs (for example, if sensory is the most important to test, we’ll do that blind first and follow it up with branded pack).

Instead of testing elements individually, this method makes sure that your whole offering comes together beautifully.

Some scenarios where ABC product testing shines:

  • You’ve got lots of prototype products – which one will work best?
  • You’ve got ideas from global with multiple concepts or marketing strategies – which of these will work for the Australian market?
  • You’ve got an innovative product that the market wasn’t ready for when you first developed it – is now the right time? (Think antibacterial wipes – used to seem OTT clinical and weird, now we all love ‘em).

How can this help you?

Apart from ensuring you set your glossy packaged product up for repeat purchase… 

  • It’s more cost-efficient than doing each test individually
  • Delivers an understanding of how the three elements work together
  • Provides key metrics and vital insights from each bucket
  • Avoids poor investment decisions and reduces risk – you won’t miss fundamental errors. For example, using (in-home or face-to-face) qual to get a real read on usability (overcoming any internal bias towards the idea)

Testing different products ABC approach

Here's the 'New Coke' case study.

In the 80's, Coke needed to pull something out of the bag to claw back market share from Pepsi, who had leveraged ‘The Pepsi Challenge’ to convince the world that super-sweet Pepsi was, in fact, everyone’s favourite fizzy drink.

So, Coca-Cola created ‘New Coke’. This recipe was intended to trump both ‘Old Coke’ and Pepsi, and was found to be the clear favourite in taste tests conducted with 200,000 people.

However, when it was brought to market and Old Coke was taken off the shelves, New Coke was hated by consumers and caused outrage amongst loyal Coke drinkers who’d had their go-to drink taken away.

After a few months of protests from consumers, Coca-Cola had no choice but to take New Coke off the shelves and bring back the original.

The mistake here, was Coca-Cola choosing to rely on blind taste tests alone, and neglecting to capture people’s feelings and attitudes towards the brand.

After all, purchase decisions aren’t made on taste preference alone, they’re made based on loyalty, habit and in Coca-Cola’s case, nostalgia and symbolic significance.

Holistic, well-designed research can help prevent your brand from having a Coca-Cola Catastrophe.

Over to you. 

To find out more on our range of methodology options for ABC product testing, give us a call on
02 8097 0200
or email

We’ll be happy to shoot over the top-level info on a slide deck or talk you through what’s possible (and what we’d recommend for your specific needs).


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