6th June 2022

Research creative testing to inform a marketing campaign: clarity can still be creative


Transport for West Midlands asked Big Cat to create a marketing campaign that encouraged people from deprived communities, ethnic minorities, and vulnerable groups in the West Midlands to take up cycling (or return to it).

Instinct in action

At Big Cat, we wanted to show that cycling can be an inclusive activity. In partnership with Samantha Ford, a Doctoral Researcher at the University of Birmingham, we created and tested two concepts using research and our understanding of behavioural science: ‘Yes I Wheel’ (YIW) and ‘It’s for Everyone (IFE). 

Both concepts presented models with bicycles that were representative of the diverse regional population. Harnessing the cocktail party effect, we ensured that familiarity and relevance resonated with a local audience. 

The cycling models were accompanied by questions and statements that used some degree of figurative language and humour. The play on words was an example use of the Von Restorff effect, where tweaking something familiar to become something new is more distinctive, appealing, and persuasive. ‘Yes I Wheel’ conveys a message advocating positive action and behaviour change through simple steps. The ‘It’s For Everyone’ campaign communicated the idea that cycling is not just about professional competition but can actually be something that is a casual, fun hobby and is accessible to everyone.  

We also conducted market research into people’s cycling habits and preferences as an insight into cycling behaviour in the West Midlands. A total of 254 and 245 people responded to the concepts through the crowdsourcing platform Prolific.ac.


Our research about cycling habits revealed 62% do not have access to a bicycle. After seeing the campaign (Yes I Wheel, YIW), 77% said would take up cycling, or do more. 

They say a smile is contagious. Participants really loved the fact that the ad models were smiling and happy. This draws on the positive mood bias, where a happier audience is more likely to notice and remember the ad.

The ‘Yes I Wheel’ campaign was the preferred and was considered to be more shareable than the ‘It’s for Everyone’ (IFE) campaign. These results indicate the presence of the generation effect; the figurative language in the IFE campaign, being more complex, contained a larger cognitive load for viewers to decipher the message, meaning that it was much more demanding to figure out and therefore less appealing. The YIW campaign still carried a figurative message that needed to be interpreted, but it was simple enough for participants to glean the message quicker at first glance and enjoy deciphering the campaign’s call to action. 

The creative testing revealed the right balance to be struck regarding the complexity of the message conveyed. In this case, the testing showed that while simple was best, clarity can still be creative.

Marketing Health 1


“The testing of the campaign concepts with people from the West Midlands across different demographics, and insights from Big Cat’s behavioural science framework, raised some really interesting points and was definitely worth doing. We were able to better understand our target audience and it helped us get our message across about the benefits of cycling and where people can go to get more information and access to a bicycle.” Lauren Hoyle, Community Engagement Lead at West Midlands Cycle and Walk.


Informed by the findings, we selected images from the shortlist of effective ads across a range of formats. We clarified the call to action, making it bigger and bolder to draw the audience’s attention from the positive message to the models’ smiles to the services provided by West Midlands Cycle.

For this campaign, the creative testing highlighted that audience representation and the simplicity of information delivery coupled with a humorous pun was crucial to its effectiveness.

Marketing Health 2

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