Is the Rosser Reeves fallacy alive today?


So, who is Rosser Reeves and what falsehood did he create?

Rosser Reeves wrote the book ‘The Reality in Advertising’ almost fifty years ago when he was the Head of the Bates advertising agency.  He had a simple method of measuring advertising effectiveness. Take a sample of your target audience. Ask them about your brand. Then show them your ad and see how many recognise it. Compare brand scores for ad recognisers with brand scores for non-recognisers.

Why is this problematic?

People are funny creatures. We are more likely to remember and notice ads for brands we know and like. So ad recognition and recall is the effect of ‘liking’ or ‘knowing’ a brand.  Ad recognition doesn’t cause you to like or know a brand. 

As experienced in the wild

This is even better explained in the wild. Have you ever noticed that once you buy a pair of sneakers you start seeing them everywhere? You start working on Hyundai, and you start seeing Hyundai’s everywhere?

Familiarity with a brand primes us to notice it and better remember the advertising over other brands.

What do we need to be careful of?

  • Measure actual (not claimed) behaviour and business results. Compare them against actual campaign exposure and see if there is causation not just correlation in behaviour change 
  • Don’t rely too much on questionnaire techniques. Whilst people are genuinely trying to be honest, their familiarity or ‘like’ of certain brands can skew their response
  • Question everything. People who visit your website may be heavy buyers but this isn’t necessarily caused by the presence of your website. They may be ‘heavy’ category buyers and landing on your website is purely a correlation of this

Source: Mythbuster: The Rosser Reeves Fallacy (Les Binet and Sarah Carter)