How one brand tackled an enduring marketing challenge: measuring a campaign’s bottom-line impact

If you run a great advertising campaign, but can’t prove it had any real business impact — a boost in sales, for example, or a flurry of new subscriptions — is it still a great campaign? Any decent marketer would answer in the negative. After all, as important as our work is, it’s a means to an end, not an end in itself. 

But measuring the bottom-line impact of a marketing campaign is hard, especially for consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands. Their products are sold through multiple channels and distributors, which makes it tough to know who exactly is buying their products and why.

That was the challenge facing skin care brand Neutrogena, which wanted to measure the incremental sales lift of a recent online video campaign for its makeup remover wipes. Here’s how it tackled this enduring marketing challenge.

The video campaign

As a legacy brand, Neutrogena knew it needed to think outside the box to resonate with existing customers and reach new ones. Based on Google Insights and trending searches that helped to identify the top-performing affinities outside the beauty space, Neutrogena expanded its campaign beyond beauty mavens. 

For example, it tapped into events like the World Cup, when people typically paint their faces to show support for their national team, or holidays like Halloween, when people use makeup as part of their costumes. The team, along with agency partners J3 and Velocity, developed a flexible, creative campaign structure that worked across each of these affinities without compromising the integrity of the insight.

They then used Director Mix — a tool that enables mass customisation of a single creative asset — to build 21 different pre-roll ads, each layered with a message tailored to a specific audience and context, followed by the same closing line across all versions of the video.

The team then went one step further, personalising the ads based on factors like the time of day, the location, and even the weather, to serve the most relevant creative, to the most relevant person, at the most relevant time. For example, if it was getting close to bedtime, someone might see an ad reminding them what would happen if they fell asleep without removing their makeup.

This customised, relevant approach led to a campaign that reached 13 million households and had 68 million impressions. But what about the impact on the bottom line?

Measuring the video campaign’s impact on offline sales

“We had a hypothesis that increased relevance would lead to increased sales, so it was important for us to define what we wanted to learn and have the data to prove it”, said Christine Potter, senior vice president, group partner at J3. 

To test this hypothesis, the team partnered with Nielsen Catalina Solutions (NCS) to measure incremental sales, sales lift, and return on ad spend. NCS is powered by Nielsen’s consumer analytics and data, as well as by Catalina, the largest provider of loyalty card purchase data.

To measure incremental sales, NCS uses a test and control method: It creates a control group of households not exposed to the ad and a test group of similar households that saw the ad. Beyond traditional demographics like age and gender, similar households are matched based on factors like geography, spending habits, and family composition. NCS then compares the purchase behaviour of these similar households and uses a series of statistical models to analyse and isolate the impact of the YouTube campaign on national sales.

“We use our purchase data to categorise all consumers of a brand, from the heavy to the light, from the loyal to the switcher. We then connect this purchase data to the ad exposure so we can measure the results, finding what works and exactly how much it works by measuring incremental sales lift”, said Leslie Wood, chief research officer at NCS. 

By leaning into creative best practices, optimising for the top-performing creative in real time, and partnering with NCS, Neutrogena was able to prove full-funnel results: best-in-class lift across ad recall and consideration, which outperformed CPG benchmarks by as much as 4X and drove close to a 14% lift in sales. The vast majority of the incremental sales (73%) came from buyers new to the brand. Half of those were people new to the skin care category. 

“We’re better connected in this digital age than ever before”, said Kerry Sullivan, the vice president of marketing for Johnson & Johnson Consumer’s skin health business. “Today’s personalised digital marketing solutions provide the ability to engage consumers in a highly relevant and organic way with a message that matters to them”.

It’s a strategy her team will now look to implement across the board. “We’ve proven this model works”, said Sullivan. “The results reinforce the need for us to maximise our possibilities in pursuit of authentic consumer connectivity. We’re just scratching the surface of what it can do for us”.

Google’s Unskippable Labs has run over 250 video ad experiments. Learn their approach