The myth of recall as the one and only product placement measurement method


The (potential) impact and success of many advertising campaigns and especially product placement is usually measured (in terms of advertising effects) by simple recall tests.

Hereby, usually using forced exposure experiments (Chatterjee 2007; Edwards, Li und Lee 2002), the target medium (in our example a movie) is shown to a pre-selected group of people. Afterwards, while those people are interviewed, the times, they remember the integrated brand correctly, is measured. If you want to, at least, eliminate some disadvantages of forced exposure designs, you don’t pre-select and instruct the subjects, but simply ask “real” people after they went to the cinema.


Why this method?

  1. So far, simple recall tests were (especially in combination with Forced Exposure experiments) the cheapest and easiest way to measure advertising effects.
  2. Until a few years ago you could also not be sure which implicit and partly unconscious effects even exist.


Why is recall a rather poor method?

The fact that the measurement of a recall value can capture the advertising impact of product placement only in very specific cases is obvious. In the end, you onle measure whether the placement was seen and remembered. This can indeed help to determine the explicit reach of the campaign more precisely, but still only represents a small part of the advertising effects. Any implicit effects of these marketing tactics are neglected, which can lead to fatal fallacies.

Example: A company has the aim of improve its reputation. Since only recall and thus attention (which is actually a completely different goal) is considered, the product is implemented into the movie in a very prominent and noticeable way. However, because people perceive this as disturbing, the company suffers some damage of their corporate reputation. Since according to the recall and reach logic (more reach and more recall equals better advertising effects), a film was chosen, which counts over 20 million people at the box office, the damage is even bigger.


How, if not by attention, can we affect the consumer?

Advertising not only works in an explicit, but also in an implicit way!
The knowledge linked to the implicit memory is mainly relevant in everyday situations and decisions, such as low involvement, pulse or emotionally charged purchase decisions (Shapiro and Krishnan 2001). Here, the intensive collection and analysis of sales information is relatively “expensive” for the consumer – that’s why the implicit memory is much more relevant for the decision (Coates, Butler and Berry 2004). In our example, the consumer would not remember a product placement, but a change in terms of attitude towards the placement (Cowley and Barron 2008). However, implicit effects are also relevant in other situations. We will get back to this in this blog in the future. At this point, it should be noted that especially implicit effects are totally ignored in recall and reach measurements – although their enormous impact!


But how to do it better?

For a correct measurement, it first needs to be clearly defined, which goal you want to achieve be the specific marketing tactic. It makes a big difference, whether you want to generate short term attention or improve your reputation in the long term.

Example: John wants to get noticed by his boss. He takes off his clothes and runs through the office naked. Of course he will receive a lot of attention. However, this most probably won’t be helpful for his reputation and career.

The measurement of advertising effects ideally considers all possible parameters (and interdependencies) and measures the effect one really wants to achieve directly (for example the reputation of the brand). The direct measurement is important because an indirect derivation via (for example) the recall, lefts out many parameters, such implicit effects.


How does it work?

Such a precise measurement comes unfortunately with huge costs and even greater effort – apart from legal issues that result from potential privacy violations. Accordingly, a correct measurement seems not to be very practicable at first glance (especially when taking into account all the costs).

An alternative possibility is the use of past experience and consideration of numerous studies from the areas of marketing, biology and (neuro-)psychology. This way, you can of course also make an approximate statement on the advertising effects of the testes marketing tactic. The statement will be more accurate, the more effects and values ​​are taken into account. Since this is hardly possible for a person, we have created Placedise – an algorithm that is able to compute all these effects at once and also consider all interdependencies. Thus, all parameters – whether explicitly or implicitly – are considered, without any explosion of costs.



Chatterjee, Patrali (2007), “Forced vs. Voluntary Exposure Web Ads: Immediate and Long-Term Impact of Ad Avoidance on Communication Outcomes,” Advances in Consumer Research, 34, 304.

Coates, Sarah L., Laurie T. Butler, and Dianne C. Berry (2004), “Implicit Memory: A Prime Example for Brand Consideration and Choice,” Applied Cognitive Psychology, 18 (9), 1195–1211.

Cowley, Elizabeth and Chris Barron (2008), “When Product Placement Goes Wrong: The Effects of Program Liking and Placement Prominence,” Journal of Advertising, 37 (1), 89–98.

Edwards, Steven M., Hairong Li, and Joo-Hyun Lee (2002), “Forced Exposure and Psychological Reactance: Antecedents and Consequences of the Perceived Intrusiveness of Pop-Up Ads,” Journal of Advertising, 31 (3), 83-95.

Shapiro, Stewart and H. S. Krishnan (2001), “Memory-Based Measures for Assessing Advertising Effects: A Comparison of Explicit and Implicit Memory Effects,” Journal of Advertising, 30 (3), 1–13.

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Jens Kuerschner

Author: Jens Kuerschner

Jens Kuerschner is founder and CEO of Placedise. As an expert in the field of consumer behavior and media enthusiast, he is especially responsible for the product know-how. In our blog, this knowledge and the experience of many years of research and study will be shared with you.

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