In 1971, a luggage brand introduced an ad featuring a gorilla beating up on a suitcase that would become one of the most famous in advertising history.
"Dear clumsy bellboys, brutal cabdrivers, careless doormen, ruthless porters, savage baggage-masters and all butter-fingered luggage handlers all over the world, have we got a suitcase for you," a voiceover intoned as the beast tried his best to beat the stuffing out of the item.
The ad (see below) was a huge hit and, for many of a certain age, remembered to this day. However, it is often remembered incorrectly as a Samsonsite ad. The brand was actually American Tourister.
That's not the only time that a hit ad failed in what's known as "brand linkage." In fact, it's a common occurrence. In a recent example, Advertising Benchmark Index, a researcher that grades ad on 14 key performance indicators including awareness, message and call-to-action, found that although Kmart's "Ship My Pants" ad was a viral hit, relatively few consumers knew it was a Kmart ad. Gary Getto, ABX's president, says that similarly, when consumers see a white cat in an ad, they assume it's for Fancy Feast, the cat food brand, which uses a white cat as a mascot.
Creating an ad that both entertains and deftly makes a product pitch is, of course, not an easy task. If it were, then there would be no reason for ad agencies. (Some insist that there still isn't.) Fortunately, measuring recall is a fairly simple process. All you need to do is ask consumers if they remember an ad.
Nielsen, the premier ad research firm, calls its measurement system Nielsen TV Brand Effect. TVBE, as it's known, asks viewers to correctly recall the content of an ad and the brand being advertised. "These scores are then benchmarked or indexed to ad recall norms, which would encompass all ads in the associated category," says Randall Beard, global head of advertiser solutions at Nielsen. For example, the Tide "Miracle Stain" ad, which ran during this year's Super Bowl, can be benchmarked to a Consumer Packaged Goods Ad Recall norm and also compared to all Super Bowl ads.
Such benchmarking makes a big difference. The best-remembered Super Bowl ad this year was Doritos' "Goat 4 Sale," but, according to ABX, that ad had a middling "message delivery" score of 99 (average is 100), but scored above average overall. The reasons why ads fail for message delivery are vast. ABX found gave Kmart's "Jingle Bells" ad an 86 on brand linkage/recall because "the brand does not appear until late in the ad, and by then we’ve laughed and aren’t paying much attention," Getto says.
The complexity of human memory muddies the picture further. If you've ever experienced deja vu or had a strong emotion about a person or place without knowing why, then you have witnessed the power of the unconscious mind. That's why the Advertising Research Foundation finds asking consumers about ads to be only part of the solution. "Effective recall does not necessarily mean conscious recall," says Horst Stipp, SVP of strategic insights and innovation at the ARF. "An ad can be effective even if the consumer cannot recall having seen or heard it." The ARF's solution: Aided recall. In other words, instead of asking What ads do you remember from last night's game? they might ask Do you remember that ad with the goat? The ARF's research shows that evoking a strong emotion is the key to ad recall — both conscious and unconscious. (Hence the success of Dove's Real Beauty Sketches.)
Good advice, but following a playbook to create a successful ad is too reductive to be practical. The American Tourister ad, for instance, didn't really evoke strong emotions but was instead a memorable image that underscored the promise of the product. It even was eventually successful in brand linkage: In 1993, Samsonite bought American Tourister, so the ad was, in effect, for Samsonite.
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