Beware When Measuring Campaign Awareness

One often misunderstood term in social development research is ‘awareness’. What exactly do we mean by awareness and how should we measure it?

Advocacy is one of the cornerstones of a successful development program. Investing in beneficiary mind space is crucial for social marketing communication and reliable measures are therefore important. Awareness is commonly used as measure, with which we want to know whether or not people have actually seen and retained the communication. Sounds simple enough, but from a research point of view we need to be very careful that what we measure actually depicts reality.

To better understand what we mean by this let’s look at an example – a social marketing campaign on road safety. There are two ways in which we can measure awareness for this campaign, namely:

  1. Category prompted (recall)
  2. Campaign prompted (recognition)

An example of how we would solicit a category prompted response could be:

“Have you seen a campaign on road safety in the past four weeks?”

The specifics of the campaign are not revealed in the question and lead the respondent to think about the issue and recall what they have seen. Category prompted awareness looks at the ability of beneficiaries to recall the campaign top of mind and allows us to see the extent to which the campaign has managed to achieve ‘cut through’. That is, cutting through the clutter in the media.

keep in mind that awareness through recall is not in itself a reliable measure of actual campaign awareness. People may say ‘yes’ they have seen the campaign but what does that actually mean? The following outcomes are all quite possible.

  1. They may recall seeing a different road safety campaign
  2. They may recall seeing a previous road safety campaign
  3. They may think they saw a road safety campaign but in fact they didn’t
  4. The respondent actually saw our road safety campaign

It is only the last option that will provide us with a ‘true’ measure of campaign awareness (recall). Too often all responses are simply lumped together representing a measure of category prominence rather than specific campaign recall. So how do we solve this problem?

Following the awareness question there must be a question that qualifies the response to ensure the respondent actually has seen the campaign for which awareness is being measured. This requires the respondent to describe what they have seen. Only if the description matches the campaign can we know for sure they have actually seen it. Secondly, we need to solicit a campaign prompted response (recognition). We would show some form of stimuli (e.g. story board or picture) of the campaign and ask:

“Have you seen this campaign on road safety in the past four weeks?”

The full details of the campaign are revealed allowing the respondent to clearly recognize if they have seen it. Campaign prompted awareness measures ‘effective reach’ through recognition of the campaign.

The challenge for those in charge of advocacy is to understand the awareness objective for the campaign and knowing the difference between measuring recall and recognition. Of course there is more to campaign research than simple awareness measurement. Merely seeing a campaign does not necessarily mean the campaign has been persuasive. None the less, understanding awareness is a first important step and it has to be done correctly for subsequent measurements to be meaningful.


Daniel Lindgren is the Founder of Rapid Asia, a monitoring & evaluation consultancy based in Bangkok, and can be contacted