Commercial Data Zaps 'Effective Frequency,' Supports 'Recency'

New research on the commercial zapping habits of TV viewers, especially those equipped with digital video recorders (DVR), reveals that a common element of most campaigns--advertising frequency--may be the biggest anathema to advertising exposure. The research, part of an ongoing series of studies conducted by InsightExpress, finds that people are most inclined to view ads they have not seen before, and consequently are most likely to zap ads they've already seen.

While that revelation might not seem like much to some Madison Avenue insiders, it suggests that the economics of a business based on serving redundant commercial impressions to a mass audience in order to reach an impressionable few will no longer work in the future.

Most major media shops have already moved past historical concepts of effective frequency and embraced the notion of "recency," or the idea that a single ad impression is most effective as long as it is served to a consumer when they are in the market to buy a product. But weeding frequency out of TV advertising schedules has proved a practical problem, especially as the reach of the average TV ad declines. The more commercials marketers air to build reach, the more likely they are to reach some viewers multiple times.

Two-thirds (62.3 percent) of total TV viewers and 39 percent of DVR owners cited having already seen a commercial/not wanting to see it again as the reason they zap TV commercials. It was the No. 1 reason cited by total TV viewers and the No. 2 reason cited by DVR owners in the InsightExpress study. The No. 1 reason among DVR owners who fast-forward through commercials was "saving time" to watch TV programming (48.8 percent).

 
To save time/enabling me to watch my show: 48.8%
Previously saw the commercial/don't want to see it again: 39.0%
I do not find commercials interesting: 31.7%
I do not find commercials valuable: 29.3%
I am not interested in the topic being advertised: 29.3%
I do not learn anything from the commercial: 22.0%
Other 4.9%
None of the above: 12.2%

Source: InsightExpress. Base = 41 PVR-owner respondents to an online survey conducted May/June 2004. Multiple answers per respondent.

But while redundant exposures to an ad may be a turn-off, the study also shows that advertising novelty may be a turn-on. Nearly half (45.4 percent) of DVR owners said they were likely to watch TV commercials they would otherwise fast-forward through if they do not recognize the first few seconds of that ad.

"It does appear that frequency is a major driver for zapping and fast-forwarding," said Lee Smith, president-COO of InsightExpress. Smith, who has been probing the impact DVRs are having on TV viewers as part of a variety of studies--some for The Media Kitchen, some for MediaPost, and some as part of InsightExpress's own research--says relevance and the quality of TV ads are also major drivers that influence commercial exposure.

Interestingly, some of the same technologies being used by consumers to avoid TV commercials, DVRs, and video-on-demand can also be used to target highly relevant and--perhaps more importantly-- original advertising to viewers, although some privacy issues still need to be addressed to make those applications actionable.

Another big barrier is the cost of creating and serving original and relevant advertising copy to a narrow audience in a mass medium like television. Several addressable TV advertising firms, such as Visible World, have emerged to develop solutions--but are still waiting for cable TV operators to provide more discrete advertising zoning capabilities.

When you see the first few seconds of a commercial that you do not recognize, how likely are you to watch it vs. a commercial you have previously seen?

 
Much more likely: 15.7%
More likely: 29.7%
As likely: 41.0%
Less likely: 5.3%
Much less likely: 8.3%

Source: InsightExpress. Base = 300 respondents to an online survey conducted May/June 2004.
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