"I have seen the future; and it works," as US journalist Lincoln Steffens observed less than prophetically following his visit to the Soviet Union in 1919.

Another - and hopefully more accurate - vision of the future is glimpsed in a new study just published by Forrester Research. This charts the results of a mixed media campaign for Unilever brand Dove Nutrium bar soap. The research, the first of its kind was carried out over a six-week period and analysed a multimedia online, print and TV campaign for the brand.

Which of these three media proved the most cost-effective in enhancing brand awareness? To the confusion of many skeptics, it was online – generating a 24% uplift in brand awareness for just 15% of total campaign spend.

The study (of 13,000 randomly selected MSN users) was conducted last fall by Marketing Evolution and Dynamic Logic in tandem with MSN, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the Advertising Research Foundation, and Dove’s agency, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, New York.

Summarized Jim Nail, senior analyst at Forrester: “Basically, the findings show that by increasing the online part of the Unilever campaign to 15%, the marketer was able to burn the brand into consumers’ minds much better than if they hadn't used an online component in the same advertising media mix."

“In the past,” Nail observed. “much of what has been presented as online advertising ‘studies’ has been little more than propaganda. This one is important because it is the first time this kind of study has been done in a disciplined, credible manner.”

His view was endorsed by a Unilever spokesperson: “We are comfortable with the methodology applied to this research since the intent was to evaluate the synergy between online and offline channel usage.”

Although the spokesperson would not be drawn as to whether Unilever or Dove will now hike their online budgets, she conceded that they would “further investigate the benefits of cross-channel marketing and the opportunities that online provides in our marketing mix.”

However, Nick Nyhan, ceo of Dynamic Logic, warned against extending the findings to other brands, even in packaged goods. “We can't compare TV and print with click-throughs,” he cautioned. “But we can compare online and offline with branding metrics, because a question is a question. So it makes sense to do more cross-media research in that area.”

Data sourced from: AdAge.com; additional content by WARC staff