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It doesn't get better-or worse, rather-than this: "Morris the cat singing `Meow, Meow, Meow' for Purina Cat Chow." So said a viewer when asked about her favorite commercial.

The response that undermines three outstanding campaigns clearly suggests that it is one thing to break through the clutter and quite another to leave the right brand name behind. Happily ,though, the wo-man's confusion is more the exception than the rule.

And the confusion is much less among outstanding campaigns. Whereas only one in 10 viewers associates the wrong brand with an outstanding commercial, at least twice as many do so with regular commercials. Men tend to be more accurate than women, which reflects the look-alike nature of the daytime soaps' commercials or the repetitive nature of the beer and fast-food commercials that dominate weekend sporting events.

Consider the Super Bowl. The audience is heavily male, pre-bombarded with as much hype about the ads as pre-game buildup. Add to that the promotions, and the show does wonders for the commercial/brand matchmaking. It invariably carries the first quarter with the lowest confusion.

Prone to mistaken brand identity are cars, pet foods and cereals.

But it extends beyond categories to executional elements. "Looks" can wreak havoc, for example between Little Caesars and Du Pont Stainmaster, which sent one quarter's overall confusion level past 15% (in 1991) vs. the norm of less than 10%. Both the campaigns featured toddlers, so adorable that each registered better than the brand he was representing.

Some categories are so tough, especially for No. 2, that the best way to avoid confusion may be to outlast it. Hence such slow starters but long-distance winners as James Garner and Mariette Hartley (Polaroid) or the Bunny (Energizer).

Jack Avrett, chairman of Avrett, Free & Ginsberg, New York, the agency for both Purina Cat Chow and Meow Mix, who is always trying to keep the advertising for the two brands confusion free, insists that "all pet foods advertising is inherently fun because it is appealing to the converts-pet owners. It is the message that separates the brands. Hence, Cat Chow is nutritious while Meow Mix is taste."

Dave Vadehra is president of Video Storyboard Tests.

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