Recall doesn’t just happen. Remember that!

Columnist Rob Linden argues that if you want to improve ROI, your brand's recall tool must be an integral part of every ad.

By Rob Linden

This semi-regular column by a former P&Ger is focused on helping improve ROI. It’s designed to revisit old tactics, hone new ones and take a moment to ask if we’re spending marketing dollars and delivering campaign ideas in the right way.

Do you remember the last ad you saw? Do you remember what it was for?
No? I’m not surprised.
While clutter may cause some of that, the reason you probably don’t remember is because an advertiser somewhere forgot the basic rule of recall.
I’d suggest we all take a look at our communications to see if we have forgotten recall. Our businesses depend on it. Consumers who do not remember can’t buy. And marketers who forget to think about it when designing communications are bound to waste a whole lot of money.
This is not a new problem, it has been around for a long time. But I’d argue that recently it has gotten worse due to the fragmentation of media channels, recession-busting promotions (who doesn’t like a BOGO?) and a lack of adherence to basic rules of communication.
The good news? This is an easy one to fix.
Recall is the key ingredient so many ads lack. In fact, I would say that recall is just as important as persuasion, if not more. When consumers remember, the chances of them buying are drastically increased. It’s the basic law of simplicity and categorization. Every. Single. Time.
Let’s give this a try: which Canadian bank is the green one? Which one tells you that “you’re richer than you think”? Which toilet paper brand uses the cha-cha-cha bear?
Let’s look at another one. We all know which brand El Tabador promotes. And Koodo is doing well with this campaign. But I would say that El Tab probably doesn’t persuade anybody. What this character does is help you remember a brand when faced with an onslaught of “me too” offers. And El Tabador’s yelling and tights have become very familiar.
Herein lies the art and science of recall.
Conversely, it is no coincidence that you don’t remember which brand of toothpaste used a dentist to endorse it. Or which shampoo had the great looking model shots. Or which car had the ad with the guy driving the tight turns around the mountain with the top down and his hair blowing in the wind. But you do remember “Zoom Zoom.”
As I looked at the shortlist for this year’s Brand of the Year nominations, it struck me that most of them have not forgotten recall. For Ikea, using that Swedish guy was some good common sense – let’s see where things head now. In RBC’s case, I’m starting to recognize that little man with the hat, which is step one.
And Cadbury, well, who doesn’t remember the Caramilk secret? Instant awareness elevation and nostalgia. They could have started from scratch, and spent years trying to re-entrench, but they chose wisely, and began from a solid point of foundation and consumer remembrance.
The marketer in me wanted some data, so I spoke with Catherine Yuile, VP at Ipsos ASI (they test more advertising than anybody). She said that advertisers are often shocked to learn that of those who can recall an ad, almost half don’t know what brand it was for. Pointing out that it’s an expensive lost opportunity, Yuile shared four key insights to help your ad and brand get recalled in-market (based on Ipsos ASI’s database).

1. Be relevant
Recalled ads are often ones where viewers have personally identified with the characters or situation, and then associated that experience with the brand.

2. Differentiate
Humour, insights and emotion should be “wrapped” in the brand or triggered by the brand in a distinct, ownable way. To be persuaded, consumers need a compelling reason to consider your brand.

3. Integrate
The best working ads often connect key elements of story, message and brand so they are inseparable.  Ask yourself, can this story happen without the brand? If so, you are in trouble.

4. Keep it simple
Consumers say this all the time – they do not want to work too hard to understand your ad.

Ensuring your ads have recall is not that hard, you just need to remember it at the briefing and execution stage. Whether it be a sound or jingle, a colour brought to life not just in your logo but throughout your creative, a mascot, a phrase or an ownable scenario, it’s more important that many of us think.
Adhere to it like your brand logo. In fact, once decided, your recall tool should be a mandatory element no different than your colour palette or pack shot. Remember that.

Rob Linden has a passion for ROI. He spent quite a few years at P&G, most recently leading their scale/capabilities department, and is now heading up, an online request-based sampling tool for CPGs of all sizes. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter @LindenRob.

Catherine Yuile is VP at Ipsos ASI. Contact her at or follow @cyuile on Twitter.