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The testing process for advertising effectiveness is often complex, expensive and absolutely vital, but if your process doesn't measure ad recognition, it can be absolutely wrong.

This is because the most common techniques don't always give the whole picture about how an ad performs. An ad may score well on research metrics such as brand awareness, advertising awareness, media choice and message, but falter on recognition and lose out in the fierce battle for agribusiness mind-share.

The ad recognition question is easy. Simply show the advertisement without the brand and logo and ask, "Do you remember the brand this ad represents?" Unfortunately, the question is often overlooked due to budget constraints and logistics. It can be difficult to get physical copies of the ads in front of an audience large enough to be statistically significant.


Posting the brand-blinded ads on the Web makes all the difference, allowing cost-effective presentation at the right moment in the survey.

One market research firm that has had good results measuring ad recognition for its clients is AllPoints Research in Winston-Salem, N.C. "We recently conducted a Web-based study that compared four different ads within the context of their full campaigns to identify the reasons why otherwise strong, competent advertising was ineffective in the field," explains Tara Olson, co-owner. "Our study demonstrates how including ad recognition in the process can help in making fundamental decisions about a campaign: stay the course or make changes."


The basic method of determining audience awareness, recollection and association of ads with their products has traditionally been through a specific set of metrics:

  • Unaided and total brand awareness -- Are consumers familiar with the product or service name and value proposition?
  • Unaided and total advertising awareness -- Do consumers think they've seen ads for the product before?
  • Form of media where the ad was seen or heard (print, radio, TV, Internet, etc.) -- In what media should the advertisement be run? Is it being seen by the right people?
  • Message communication -- Does the ad say what it should say? Do consumers respond to what is being said?

There are a number of ways to gather these data, both quantitatively and qualitatively, and they are the foundation of a good marketing research study. Most often, though, the information is gathered in an environment where the respondents aren't able to look at the ads in question. The usual studies simply ask them to recall if they've seen ads for the brands and products (i.e., unaided advertising and brand awareness), and then to make statements based on that recollection.

"What happens if the respondent is thinking of the wrong ad?" asks Sherrie Aycock, co-owner. "What if respondents are simply mistaken or confused, which in itself could be a red flag for the effectiveness of the ad?" The abstract nature of that recollection leaves the marketer uncertain as to whether or not the target audience actually viewed the brand's advertisement and whether the audience associates the advertisement with the brand.


The agribusiness audience is one of the most challenging to undergo study. It's sophisticated, discerning and maybe a little jaded, so agrimarketers have to continually hone their messages to gain a razor-thin competitive advantage with their advertising. Including ad recognition in a study is an incremental investment that can pay off exponentially in performance.

Ad recognition in small face-to-face focus groups is nothing new. It has simply been skipped in larger telephone or mail studies. The logistics of blanking out the names, color reproduction and printing would add significant time and cost to that portion of a study, sometimes looming larger than the cost of the campaign itself.

Since Web-based tools can ensure that the respondents are, in fact, responding to the ads agrimarketers are interested in -- not a recollection of what may not even be the right campaign or brand -- there's no reason to omit ad recognition.


AllPoints Research recently completed a marketing study for a Fortune 500 agribusiness client to show how adding an ad recognition component to its research could help the product team make better decisions in the long run.

The study objectives were to evaluate brand awareness and advertising message, and to assess campaign recognition and association of the brand with the campaign. The client needed to make decisions about frequency and reach, or whether a new campaign should be developed to replace an underperforming campaign.

Aycock explains, "We presented a Web-based survey to 200 respondents who had been qualified and recruited via telephone. The respondents were eventually allowed to view four print ads from which brand names, corporate names and logos had been removed. All of the ads were judged to be creatively competent, and each promoted a different product."

The ads' relevant attributes are shown in the top portion of the table below. Note the differences and similarities between message focus, campaign length, message consistency and message impact of each product.

Before the research team showed the respondents the actual ads, data were compiled from the questions that asked about brand and campaign awareness.

Aycock continues, "It was apparent that total brand awareness for all products was high. Results for unaided brand awareness indicated that significantly more target customers perceived the products represented by Ads One and Three to be "top-of-mind" than they did Ads Two and Four."

It was also inferred that there was a strong awareness of print advertising for all products. In many cases, this measure alone has been used to verify recognition of advertising.

"This is the pitfall," says Olson. "While we might have assumed that we were ready to make some decisions about the campaigns at this point, we still had some uncertainty about the accuracy of the recollection. Had the respondents truly associated the correct ad with the correct product or brand?" Without visual cues, the respondents must rely on their memories and recollections of the ads.

It was determined that this measure of awareness needed to be validated and confirmed by the final ad recognition step. A link to the ads posted online was sent via e-mail.


Upon seeing the ads, respondents indicated that Ad One was recognized by a majority of participants. Nearly two-thirds associated it with the correct product. This correlated with the previous "top-of-mind" metric.

Ad Two didn't fare so well. For it, ad recognition and association were nearly nonexistent. The overwhelming majority didn't remember seeing the ad. Those that did recall the ad didn't associate it with the right products or any of the other products in the product line. Still, this correlated with previous findings. So far, so good.

Results for Ad Three were barely higher, with low recognition and association of the ad with the product. The positive awareness measured in the first portion of the study was powerfully contradicted by the poor ad recognition. An otherwise strong perception from multiple metrics was eroded by this one question.

Ad One had strong ad recognition and strong brand-name association - good for a campaign in the market for two years. In addition, the clarity of the message communicated indicated this ad had not yet reached burnout status; hence the recommendation to stay the course and run for another year.

In comparison, Ad Four had medium ad recognition and weak brand name association; however, this ad had been on the market for only one year. The medium level of ad recognition reveals this new ad campaign is penetrating - an indication that repetition for another year may achieve the desired results.


By aligning the advertising characteristics with the study results, the researchers made some striking observations. The conclusion changed the course of the advertising strategy for the better.

Although unaided and total brand awareness and source of advertising data were comparable for all four products, the results of the ad recognition were varied. The added measure of ad recognition differentiates the campaigns of Ads One and Four from those of Ads Two and Three.

These additional data gave the product teams insight for decisions on whether to continue or discontinue their existing campaigns. The researchers report that they were able to confidently recommend that campaigns for Ads One and Four should continue to allow them time to penetrate the market consciousness. They recommended that Ads Two and Three be reworked to refocus the product message and update the ad for a long-term benefit.

In addition, the recognition measures reinforced the benefit of keeping a consistent message, as long as the message has an impact on the target audience. AM

Tamara McLendon is a freelance contributing writer.

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