Commercial avoidance rampant

Television viewers are avoiding commercials in droves....

Television viewers are avoiding commercials in droves.

Various Canadian research studies conducted during the past year peg the proportion of those avoiding commercials at 60-69%, considerably higher than a decade ago, when a similar study conducted by Decima Research for the Radio Marketing Bureau pegged TV commercial avoidance at 57%.

There’s a long list of theories as to why two-thirds of the Canadian television audience is avoiding commercials – media fragmentation, wearout, the dearth of great creative – but apparently, no quick fix. The solution seems to lie in finding the right balance between creative and media placement – both of which have to be relevant to the viewing audience.

Barry Kiefl, an independent media researcher and former director of research for CBC, says ad clutter, long clusters of commercials, and excessive repetition are all contributors to commercial avoidance.

However, Kiefl believes one of the major factors is the lack of outstanding Canadian creative. He says U.S. and British advertisers put a great deal of effort into the creation of their national advertising, and that Canadian advertisers do not put enough money into the development of original material.

‘In Britain, they have only six minutes an hour of commercials on private television. That’s less than half the commercial time we have in North America. You can imagine that having fewer advertising opportunities available would certainly improve the quality of advertising. Advertisers would put money into creative they wouldn’t have otherwise – making sure they have relevant, entertaining and effective commercial content rather than putting money into buying time.’

Kiefl says there also has to be synergy between the commercial and the program content, and that even good creative will wear out quickly if it’s repeated too often.

While industry consensus says that creative accounts for more than 75% of the success of an advertising campaign, media placement is also critical.

Cheap volume buys won’t cut it, say the experts. Strong creative performs well at low media weights and has slower wearout. Weak campaigns and rotation of too few creative executions can send viewers screaming from the room, they say.

Bernie Malinoff, vice-president of Montreal-based research firm Ipsos-ASI, says the company’s Adgraph ad tracking study shows wearout is a big problem. Not only with respect to the creative – where viewers become sick and tired of seeing the same spot over and over again – but also with respect to the persuasiveness of the message.

‘For example, with a new product launch, they say ‘new and improved’ or ‘now lemony-scented’ but the persuasion power of that creative will wear out. It will peak at the beginning of the campaign but telling them for six months will not motivate them to try or to buy in months four, five and six.’

Alan Gee, chairman and executive creative director of Toronto’s Gee, Jeffery & Partners, says while it may be true that increased media fragmentation allows viewers to avoid commercials by flipping between channels during commercial breaks, people wouldn’t want to if they were interested in what was being advertised. That’s why he sees opportunity in the fact that there’s a specialty channel to cater to almost every interest – sports, comedy, food, etc.

‘There’s a real opportunity for Nike or a golf company on the Golf Channel, where’s there’s far less zipping and zapping, because advertising is as totally relevant to that consumer as the station is.

‘I’d rather run one commercial to the right audience than four million all over the place that don’t get noticed.’

Gee says this doesn’t take away from the fact that you need to do powerful, clever or amusing advertising if you’re going to keep the viewer watching.

He points to a spot for BMW that shows a landspeed-record kind of car zooming over the salt flats followed all the way by a camera. The kicker at the end shows the camera was mounted on the new BMW, under the super ‘The fastest car on the planet.’

That spot would really hold a viewer who’s interested in cars, says Gee, and would therefore work well on Speedvision.

Of the reputation that Britain has for entertaining television advertising, Gee says creatives there often miss the boat.

‘I see so much of it where I scratch my head and wonder what they were thinking. They try to be so different, sometimes it doesn’t work.’

Placement in programming that is enjoyable and engages the viewer’s attention is also crucial to advertising success, according to a proprietary study by Ipsos-ASI Canada (formerly Tandemar Research) of Toronto and Montreal.

The Quality Rating Points study concludes that commercial attention levels vary by day of week and time of day, by type of program and the enjoyment of that program, and the viewer’s age and sex.

The study contends that TV ratings measure programming, not attention levels or commercial content. In other words, the study concludes, all GRPs (Gross Rating Points) are not created equal.

Ipsos-ASI explored the link between viewing behaviour and attention and found that when viewers enjoy or are engaged by a television show, they’re also more likely to watch the advertising.

Viewer attention to commercials, however, was not strong. Thirty-one per cent said they watched commercials, while 33% switched channels, 60% stayed in the room but did something else, and 51% left the room for at least part of the break.

On first reading the report looks pretty bleak for television advertisers, but John Hallward, president of Ipsos-ASI, says the study concluded that television is still an appropriate and strong choice, achieving better ad recall than any other medium.

‘The main finding is that media planners should concern themselves with qualitative measures – beyond simple audience measures via people meters – when planning TV schedules. Consumer attention levels vary by several discriminating factors and these can be identified, measured and modeled for predicting better viewing behaviour for commercial breaks.’

While it’s too early to see how interactive television (ITV) or personal video recorders (TiVo, ReplayTV) will affect commercial attention in Canada, a limited amount of research has been done elsewhere.

The Henley Centre, a British research organization, studied 1000 ITV and Internet users and reported that viewers repeatedly avoided TV advertising and switched to interactive and e-commerce services during breaks.

Henley found those in the study watched 30% fewer commercials than they did with analogue television. This report has already led one U.K. advertiser, National Abbey bank, to reduce its investment in broadcast and look at other media.