Monday, 1 December 2008

Not recall

I got rung up by a market research agency last week, which is not unusual. But I decided to take part in the survey, which is. Usually I mumble something about not being able to speak German or hope that they'll ask if I work in Marketing or Advertising. They didn't, this time, so something made me plunge in and answer their questions.

Unfortunately, I didn't answer them very well. Although the questionnaire was well-structured enough and the interviewer perfectly understandable and polite, the questions themselves were nigh-on impossible to answer if one took them seriously.

It was an advertising tracking study for banks , insurance and other financial institutions and most of the questions were asking me to recall not only which financial organisations I'd seen advertising (defined as TV, radio, poster, print, personal direct mail and flyers) for in the last week but also the content of the advertising.

Put on the spot, nothing, but nothing, surfaced except a few logos and snatches of jingles. But I could not honestly say that I had seen or heard these in the context of a piece of advertising in the last week. Yet I know, with almost complete certainty that I have indeed seen communication for banks and the like in the last week: driving along the Hanauer Landstrasse, flicking through the Stern or out of the corner of my eye in a commercial break. It's just that I have long internalised these impressions and added them to my overall inner picture of that brand...and it's something I did not do consciously.

Sixteen years ago, I wrote a long and rather academic paper questioning "Do ads need to be recalled to be effective?". The answer was a resounding No! And yet, I still sit in tracking study presentations and get as excited as the next person when we get a good Awareness Index. I don't like to admit it, but it's true. Sixteen years ago, I wrote that the tide was turning as far as research methodologies go. It's a slow tide. There are some super new methodologies around today which embrace new technology to pick up real-time response to brand communication.

But unfortunately we fall back only too often on measuring what we can and assuming that, because we can measure something, it must be important. And it only took a ten minute interview to remind me that, in doing this, we are only kidding ourselves and probably wasting a lot of money into the bargain.


Josquin said...

Hi Sue, I too have been a long-time proponent that advertising messages do not need to be recalled to have an effect on brand perception. At the same time, I can't help but admit wondering, even so -- isn't better if my message connects so well, through the right insight, or just simply a great idea, that it rises to the surface of consciousness? Especially today, when communities, product rating sites, blogs, viral videos, mash-ups and consumer-generated brand messaging, etc., are upping the ante on brand impressions?

Sue said...

To sit on my favourite fence, I think the answer is that it depends. No, nothing needs to be dragged back into consciousness in order for it to have an effect (the is an excellent book/paper by Robert Heath which as good as proves this) but there is some communication that works better via making a huge impact at the conscious level and staying there.

I suppose what I object to is the assumption on the part of many market researchers that "memories of advertising" can be accessed in a second or two when the respondent's brain is switched onto a completely different context to that that it was when the "stimulus" went in...