Brand recall in commercials: VIDEO

By Tom Dougherty

Brand recall rarely comes from ads

The definition of brand recall is just what it says. Recalling a brand.

But few brands are actually recalled in any meaningful manner. A disturbing trend has emerged recently in TV advertising and it, as much as anything, explains why so much of it fails to increase market share for its brands. The brand barely makes an appearance. How are you to measure brand recall when the brand’s not even there? And, when it does, it’s only at the end.

As a test case, let’s view a smattering of recent Super Bowl ads.

Now, go do something else for 10 minutes. Come back and tell us whom the ads were for. What you saw are six of the 11 spots with the brand only making an appearance at the end. They are comedy skits with a logo tacked at the end. (The Cheetos ad falls into this category, even though Chester Cheetah makes a cameo appearance early.)

Why is this a problem? Simple. There is no memory of the brand itself. Is this effective branding? Does that help brand recall?

A test in brand recall

Try this little experiment: The next time you are watching TV with friends or family, notice any ad where the brand is only at the end.

Brand recallWait 10 minutes afterward, then remind those around you of the ad and ask who it was for. (Don’t let them know ahead of time. Just listen to them laugh. Then wait. Ask.)

You will discover that most will not remember. It’s like asking who was the advertiser in the “herding cats” spot years ago. Who knows?

So much advertising has become the equivalent of watching an SNL skit, with a company logo slapped to the end of it. It’s about the comedy, not the brand. It’s marketing as entertainment.

And millions of dollars are wasted on bad brand advertising. No wonder few have meaningful brand recall from a specific ad.

Within the above examples, you saw a horror show with Cheetos,, Teleflora, Pedigree and Pepsi Max. You’d have to be paying attention with the intensity of Bobby Fischer to notice Castrol.

Recalled brands

But let’s consider the Bud Light ads. (Read our study of the beer category here.) This really gets to the heart of the problem because it doesn’t just lie with the failure of mentioning the product or brand early. (Although, most can’t even get that right.) A unique tone and attitude permeating the ads from start to finish is just as important as the message.

Apple is, of course, the best at this. You recognize right away this is an Apple spot – whether it’s the PC/Mac or iPhone app spot – just by the imagery and tone. The Bud Light spots feature that inane “drinkability” theme. But the brand is frequently mentioned, so you’d think there’d be no problem with it.

But it reminds you that Bud’s competitors completely copy the same exact tone and attitude and messaging as Bud does. In the above test (watching with friends, secretly judging them while they laugh at an ad, then asking them who it was for 10 minutes later), try it with any beer ad. You’ll get the same answer: Bud. (Coors and its Silver Bullet might be an exception.) In the absence of the brand, brand recall goes to the market leader.

Brand recall is ALWAYS the goal

That’s because when you copy the market leader, people immediately think it’s about the market leader. Even though there are thousands of beer brands (when you include microbrews), Budweiser remains the market leader with nearly 50% of the market share. So, when a Miller ad adopts the same tone and attitude as the Bud spots, you mistake it for Bud.

(That brings up another side note: So many marketers never realize that to be different and better than your competition, you also need to be different and better in tone, not just in the words you say.)

There was one spot from our sample that is reminiscent of one that got it exactly right. The famous Mean Joe Greene-Coke ad. (Read more about Coke here.) Right from the start, that one had the tone, message and Coke brand (America, nostalgic, good harmony) to the very end. You never once forget it’s a Coke spot. The emotional connection to the brand is established early, which is why it worked so spectacularly well.

No short shrift to eTrade or Doritos – although eTrade is much better at being different than its competition than the throw-away Doritos spot – but the lack of a Mean Joe Greene demonstrates how far over the cliff we’ve gone.

Brand recallTV advertising, and marketing in general, has become too clever. The spot is a perfect example. It is meant to be annoying – to stick with you like lint – but it comes off as just wink-wink. Your ribs hurt after having its elbows in your side so often.

Better to keep your eye on what’s important. Getting the brand message across from beginning to end is important in brand recall. Don’t justify it by only slapping the logo at the end.