Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Are tracking studies still a waste of time?

More years ago than I care to remember I wrote a paper entitled Do Ads need to be recalled to be effective? My conclusion back then was a resounding NO. I wonder why, nearly a quarter of a century later, advertising awareness is still being tracked and used as a measure of effectiveness. The research agencies doing the tracking may call it "brand communication awareness" these days, but it's the same old measure, collected in the same old way.

I know this, because I'm often rung up or grabbed via a pop-up on my computer to take part in surveys. Very few of these surveys bother to ask any more whether I work in marketing or advertising, so of course I take part. The questions are exactly as they were decades ago: "which brands in Category X have you seen or heard advertising or communications for recently?". And "you said you saw or heard advertising for Y recently. Where did you see or hear that..."

It's as meaningless now as it was then. In fact, it would be more meaningless, if there were such a thing. These days, the boundary between where a brand stops and its communication begins is even more blurred than it was. We've gone from units like a poster, or a 30" TV spot, or a 15" radio ad to far more complex and integrated stories and branded content and earned media and experiential whatsits and all the rest. 

I've nothing against tracking the brand in its entirety. How famous is it? What does it mean to people? What do people associate with it? That's all fine. I'm also OK with real-time monitoring via mobile devices of people coming in contact with a brand, touchpoints if you like.

But this persistence of a memory test on an epic scale, expecting people to regurgitate ads and other assorted titbits of brand communication in an unprocessed form, complete with the accompanying media schedule - no.

Now, as then, people are measuring advertising awareness and recall because they can, or they think they can. Now, as then, I conclude that in determining advertising effectiveness, we should spend more time on measuring effect and less on 'measuring' the detail of the advertising input. 

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