Low confidence = low recall.

People pay less attention to TV spots in a recession. Here's how to get them to notice yours.

Ad spending is down, agencies are cutting staff, revenues for most media are shrinking. And ad recall is also down.

One especially noteworthy example comes from a Gallup & Robinson study of Super Bowl ads over the last twelve years. The study found these extra-pricy ads had day-after commercial recall 11% lower than normal when consumer confidence is weak. And right now consumer confidence, though rising, is still down (the index was 49.5 in November). The January 2009 Consumer Confidence Index was 37.7, an all-time low.

Great. So not only are times tough, but now it's tougher than ever to get target audiences to remember our paeans to the brands we're advertising.

What should an advertiser do?

Does this mean marketers should abandon TV when times get tough? Emphatically: No! See our white paper "Good Marketing for Bad Times" for more on the perils of cutting media presence during a recession. And take some of these common-sense steps to reinforce your commercials' recall and effectiveness:

First, don't panic.

Recall is just part of the process of turning someone watching your commercial into a customer buying your product. The sequence is still: awareness, persuasion, recall, purchase intent. It's important to balance the sometimes conflicting factors which influence each of those four parts of the process to get an optimum overall outcome.

Remember that the drop in recall is across the board. It's not just impacting your brand, but all the brands that compete with it, too. So although it's not good news, at least it's just as bad for everyone. Which means the playing field is level.

Next step is to tilt the playing field in your brand's favor. You can do that by avoiding things that reduce recall and doing the things that increase it.

Avoid reducing recall:

Don't get stuck in the middle. According to a Burke study more than 20 years ago, and a great deal of confirming data since, spots in the middle of a commercial cluster have 14% less recall than those in the first position.

Stay away from sex and violence. Commercials on programs with sexual or violent content get 19% less recall than those on mainstream shows according to a University of Michigan study.

Don't be bland. Nancy Fritz's article in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Sciences notes that bland, neutral commercials get lower recall than either irritating or pleasant ones.

Don't be obtuse. A clearly stated functional benefit and brand association increases recall from 1% to 8% (depending on the category of benefit) according to a Journal of Advertising study on the effects of executional elements on TV recall.

Don't be shy. Reinforce the brand name in audio and video. The previously quoted Journal of Advertising study found that audio brand name and video brand identification increased recall 8%.

Don't hit the mute button on your own spot. Media multitasking is the norm today. A Peanut Labs survey of Gen Y media use found that 57% use the internet while watching TV, and 10% read while the set is on. So if you run tastefully minimalist soundtrack and limit the product identification to a silent logo, you're losing a big slice of your potential audience and recall.

Don't multitask. David Stewart and Scott Koslow's "Executional Factors in Advertising Effectiveness" study, adding another brand (such as a corporate brand, like Tide, from Procter & Gamble) to a spot reduces recall 2%. (We think the number is way low. We've seen data indicating the loss may be ten times that amount or more.)

Increase recall:

Advertise on captivating shows. A Millward Brown study found that shows which engage viewers tend to hold the audience – and audience interest – through commercial clusters. Predictably, commercial recall is increased.

Use Mnemonics. Mnemonics are, literally, "devices used to aid recall." Five of the most familiar types include:

1. Music: Most people can think of a song from long in their past and replay the music and lyrics in their heads. Jingles have fallen into creative disrepute, but they ditties stick in people's heads like Crazy Glue.

2. Rhyme: "Takes a licking and keeps on ticking." has been recalled for more than half a century.

3. Poetic Foot: This is the spoken equivalent of music's beat, the sequence of syllables which are accented and unaccented. (The number of feet per line is the meter. Phrases with regular accent schemes are significantly more memorable than those which are randomly-accented. You may vaguely remember the primary types of poetic foot from tenth-grade English:

• Iambic (unaccented/accented), as in: "We bring good things to life."
• Trochaic (accented/unaccented), as in: "Have it your way."
• Anapestic (unaccented/unaccented/accented), as in: "Have a Coke and a Smile."
• Dactylic (accented/unaccented/unaccented), as in: "Reach out and touch someone."

4. Alliteration: A series of words beginning with the same sound (not necessarily the same letter). It worked for years with "Greyhound going great." Sometimes the alliteration can be on alternate words, as it is on the country song that also features the bus line, "Thank God and Greyhound She's Gone."

5. Repetition: Repetition is one of the most important tools in marketing communications. Repetition is one of the most important tools in marketing communications. Repetition is one of the most important tools in marketing communications.

For more on mnemonics see our earlier article "Don't forget the mnemonic."

Build recall into your spots. Some production techniques increase recall.

Sylvia White's paper presented to the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Media highlights four:

1. Normal (eye level) or extremely high camera angles generate greater recall than other shots.

2. Medium shots have better recall than long shots.

3. A moderate editing pace builds higher recall the=an either extremely slow or extremely fast editing.

4. Moderate subject movement is more effective at building recall than either a static subject or extreme subject motion.

Among the 139 production factors studied in the Stewart and Koslow paper noted previously, these eleven produced double-digit increases in recall:

1. A setting directly related to the product and/or message increased recall 12%.

2. A cute or adorable tone or atmosphere increased recall 17%.

3. Humorous commercials have 13% higher recall than average.

4. Opening a commercial with surprise or suspense increases recall 10%.

5. A product demonstration gains a phenomenal 25% more recall. (Ad aesthetes will gnash their teeth over this one. But a product demo doesn't have to be clunky.)

6. Animation increases recall 15%.

7. A child or infant as the principal character boosts recall 10%. (We suspect the e-Trade baby does much better than that.)

8. An animated principal character adds 16% to recall. (We can't get that wretched bee with Antonio Banderas' voice in the Nasonex spot out of our heads.)

9. An emotional appeal gets 18% more recall than a rational approach.

10. Brand differentiation (rather than vapid puffery) nets a 15% recall increase.

11. Having the product on screen for 5.1 seconds or longer increases recall 13%.

Don't just build recall. Build your bottom line. Recall is just one of the factors that contribute to a successful marketing communications program. It matters, but only because it can help build a brand's bottom line.


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