I've seen numerous reports lauding the sales effectiveness of unaided awareness and positioning advertising. Unfortunately these reports do not contain a smidgeon of evidence that the advertising efforts actually increased sales. And even if they provide anecdotal evidence that sales do increase with their advertising, the "evidence" is at best anecdotal.
In fact, such reports usually ignore sales as an objective replacing them with subjective objectives that have little to do with increasing sales. They make no pretence that their efforts yielded sales sufficiently to justify their astronomical budgets.
What would have happened in the same markets if they had done nothing? The results might surprise us.
External events and other activities that have little to do with advertising may affect sales for more than assumed by many. What's worse, these external influences are often unpredictable and difficult to identify.
In the direct marketing arena, we have actually run matched markets withholding advertising in some markets (making them control markets) and compared them to sales in markets where there was advertising activity. Many times, the sales increases occur at nearly the same levels whether we advertise there or not!
For example, when promoting to a three million-name database of past customers for one of my clients, we would run a random select of all names and withhold mailing to a part of the names. Often we saw little difference between those who got the mailings and those who did not.
We might get a 1.6% response on those mailed and a 1.2% on those not mailed. We then had to evaluate the cost for improving the response between those two numbers amounting to .4% response.
If the financials did not justify the mailings to certain segments, then we would cease mailing to them.
Branding should undergo the same rigors to validate budget increases, budget reductions or even budget elimination. Unfortunately, reliable measurement tools for doing this precisely are either not used, not supported or non-existent in most organizations.
So general awareness or positioning advertising has to find a more reliable way to evaluate its effectiveness when competing for dollars against other communications strategies such as PR, sales promotions and direct marketing.