Increased TV clutter dilutes ad effectiveness: Study

The escalation of clutter in the TV environment could induce advertisers to call for a third-tier of ad rates, one that factors in the time-slot's non-programming minutes per hour.
In releasing the Association of Canadian Advertisers' (ACA) new in-depth 'clutter study,' Bob Reaume, VP, media and research for the ACA, says buyers should be asking sales reps about the maximum non-program content per hour they can expect when purchasing a program. If it's 22 minutes (as was the case in some of the stations examined), it should command one price, while 12 minutes would command another, higher price.

The escalation of clutter in the TV environment could induce advertisers to call for a third-tier of ad rates, one that factors in the time-slot’s non-programming minutes per hour.

In releasing the Association of Canadian Advertisers’ (ACA) new in-depth ‘clutter study,’ Bob Reaume, VP, media and research for the ACA, says buyers should be asking sales reps about the maximum non-program content per hour they can expect when purchasing a program. If it’s 22 minutes (as was the case in some of the stations examined), it should command one price, while 12 minutes would command another, higher price.

Because the CRTC regulation calls for 12 minutes per hour, he says, advertisers think the environment they’re buying is 12 minutes when that’s clearly not the case.

‘The 12-minute rule is watered down by 10 separate and individual exceptions to the rule,’ says Reaume. ‘That’s what ticks us off. We’re paying the freight and we get relegated to a cluttered atmosphere.’

Smita Patel, VP media director of Palmer Jarvis DDB in Vancouver, is concerned about clutter, but says that unfortunately media buyers have helped create clutter by pushing for more innovative ways of getting their clients’ messages out there with ‘brought to you by’ sponsorships that help extend client budgets.

‘But [clutter] is an accountability issue. We need to hold stations accountable for the results our clients expect. We have an understanding – the 12-minute rule – and if you’re going over it, what are the repercussions or implications?’

Patel says that by scheduling too many spots, broadcasters are training viewers to know how long commercial breaks are so they can change channels, which is a great disservice to advertisers.

Right now, Reaume says, most broadcasters are working ‘creatively’ within the wording of the CRTC regulations with the unfortunate result of creating clutter – thereby diluting the effectiveness of the advertising and the medium itself.

The CRTC rule states 12 minutes per clock hour. By starting a program two minutes early or running it two minutes into the next hour, a total of 16 minutes of paid commercials can ‘legally’ be worked into the program on top of all the exempted promos for the station, Canadian entertainment, sponsorships and public service announcements (PSA).

Reaume’s belief is that ‘any rule with 10 exemptions is no rule at all.’

The 10 exemptions are: election advertising, referenda advertising, station promos, closed-captioning sponsorships, promos for Canadian shows, one PSA per hour, interstitials, promos for Canadian feature films, promos for Canadian shows (regardless of the medium in which they appear), and promos for Canadian programming from another station.

When ACA released its first clutter report in 1993, it found that 49% of all broadcast hours in Canada ran in excess of 12 minutes of non-programming per hour. That number leapt to over 80% in 1998.

Reaume says the findings of the 2002 study are even more surprising when you know it was conducted last November, two short months after Sept. 11 in the midst of a slowing economy.

The ACA study, ‘Blind Date: The 2002 Canadian Television Commercial Monitoring Report,’ gets its name from the TV show of the same name, which was shown at midnight last fall on a Calgary station with a whopping 28.4 minutes of non-programming time during the hour show.

The study monitored the non-program minutes as well as non-program units per hour in nine markets, plus selected specialty stations, for two weeks last fall. The results are staggering and illustrate that those who feel most programming is dominated by endless commercials are probably right.

Daytime television was the biggest offender across the board. Total day-parts for all stations ranged from 14.3 minutes in Edmonton to 12.6 minutes in Toronto and 11.2 on specialties. Between the hours of noon and 4:00 p.m. the averages of the stations in each of the markets, except for specialties, were all greater than 12 minutes: 15.7, Montreal (English); 15.6, Edmonton; 15.5, Halifax; 15.2, Winnipeg; 14.2, Vancouver; 13.9, Calgary; 12.5 Quebec City; 12.4 Montreal French; 12.4, Toronto; and 9.9 for the specialties.

The units per hour for the same day-part extended from 39 in Winnipeg to 29 in Toronto and 22 on the specialties.

Prime time (6 p.m. to 11 p.m.), ranged from 14.5 minutes per hour in Montreal (French) to 12.6 in Calgary and 11.9 for specialties, with units per hour spanning from 37 in Winnipeg to 31 in Vancouver and 27 on specialties.

Blind Date looks at nine markets and also includes a list of the top-10 most cluttered shows per station in those markets. While the average Toronto day-part was 12.6 non-program minutes, for Oprah it was the equivalent of 20.7, for Will and Grace it was 22.0 and for Venture, it was 18 minutes.

Reaume says the ACA decided to include units-per-hour in the study because viewers don’t discriminate between a promo, a 10-second commercial or a 30-second commercial – any interruption is an interruption. He says the sheer number of units hinders interest and recall of advertising and there’s big difference in effectiveness between being one among 29 spots versus one among 44.

In the early 1990s, the Television Bureau of Canada (TVB) issued a statement of a new broadcaster policy: a limit of 30 individual non-programming units per hour in order to protect the integrity of the advertising medium.

A few years later, the policy quietly slipped to the wayside.

Historically, the main explanation from broadcasters for their requirement for so many promos and interstitials has been that the U.S. market is deregulated as to minutes per hour of commercials and because so much programming in this country comes from the U.S., there is a lot of extra airtime to fill. The U.S. deregulation of advertising time on TV occurred in the late 1980s. The latest figures show that on average, over one-third of the broadcast time in the U.S., a total of 20.57 minutes per hour, is non-program material.

Reaume suggests that there are other ways of filling the time and reducing clutter such as setting a minimum 90-second limit on interstitials like Heritage Minutes or health news segments. If broadcasters produce interesting and informative four and five-minute mini-programs, they can be sponsored and generate revenue for broadcasters, as well as cut down on the number of non-programming units per hour.

Reaume doesn’t believe Canada can deregulate the number of non-programming minutes until there are more competitive, conventional TV stations per market. The average number of outlets per market in the U.S. is eight while in Canada it’s only four. While Canada has 500 radio stations that advertisers have access to, there are only 100 TV stations.

‘This isn’t just self-interest,’ he adds. ‘Truly, if this keeps up, you’re just going to piss off the viewers and they’ll start practising commercial avoidance more and more. Advertisers will find viewers are no longer paying attention to commercials as they used to. Money will then flow out of the medium and that’s not good for anybody.’

Many media buyers see clutter as almost an accepted evil in the broadcast market but are also working hard to find ways to avoid or cut through the most cluttered environments.

Sherry O’Neil, VP of broadcast buying for OMD Canada in Toronto, says some broadcasters and specialty channels, like CTV, have reduced the number of commercials they carry, while others, like Alliance Atlantis, are running commercial-free movies and programming and looking for sponsorship, which can be quite costly.

But, she says, OMD research has found that it’s the quality of message that breaks through regardless of where it is in an ad cluster. Relevance is also key and the message has to be placed in the right programming.

‘Being the first commercial doesn’t necessarily mean you will have greater impact with the consumer,’ O’Neil says. ‘It’s all about what you’re selling and how you’re selling it creatively.

‘People accuse media shops of just buying GRPs but we pride ourselves in evaluating the environment and putting our clients in the right place. Particularly when you put the client in an ownership position, it has to be the right environment.’

In their search for new and better ways to stand out, media buyers are looking at opportunities such as product placement. It’s been much easier in the U.S., where so much production is handled and many of the mega-media shops south of the border are working with entertainment companies to facilitate placement.

In Canada, product placement is in its infancy but will likely be more prevalent starting this fall. Earlier this summer, Starcom Worldwide initiated a marketing partnership with Premier Entertainment Services of Toronto to put together product placement and celebrity endorsement deals for its clients.

David Shiffman, research director for Starcom in Toronto, says this is one important avenue for cutting through clutter, but not the only one. Media attentiveness, media relevancy and being in an environment where people really tune in or become engaged are some of the areas he is studying.

There has to be synergy between the program and the product when it comes to advertising, says Shiffman. The industry has spent millions of dollars over the years measuring exposure to advertising, but that is not enough.

‘We have something being trademarked called Passion Group Markets. The whole idea is it’s not enough to just get your message out in a show that has a pretty good rating and pretty good cost-per-point. You have to be in an environment that people are passionate about. Our research shows when [viewers] are paying more attention to TV, they’re more likely to pay attention to the ads. You have to understand your consumer’s media behaviour a lot better to really know when they’re tuned in.

‘It’s the age of engagement. You have to be where people are fully engaged and if they’re not, they’re not going to notice, and you’re going to be invisible.’

Five other industry organizations supported and contributed financially to the clutter study: the Canadian Media Directors Council (CMDC), the Institute of Communications and Advertising (ICA), Le Conseil des directeurs medias du Quebec (CDMQ), the Vancouver Media Directors Council (VMDC), and L’Association des Agences de Publicite du Quebec (AAPQ).