Internet Capturing What TV is Losing -- Audience

  • by February 6, 2003
A study from the London Business School claims few people actually watch TV commercials especially if there are others in the room to talk with when the spots are running. The study found viewers who watched the ads together tended to "deride products and ads in front of their friends," defeating the object of advertising.

"In a breathtaking example of ignorance and strategic naivety, advertisers have spent millions in the mistaken belief that they have purchased an audience for their advertising that never existed," Mark Ritson, assistant professor of marketing at the London Business School, told the Financial Times.

More bizarrely, the study said that advertisers were misguidedly spending money on placing their commercials in popular programs rather than in less-watched shows, where lone viewers were likely to be concentrating on the ads.

Critics in this country (or at least broadcast network officials) are certain to point out that Ritson only observed a sample of eight households ranging from a retired couple to a group of five immigrant office workers over a single week. And that does not a national sample make.


It is intriguing to focus in on Ritson’s persistent claim that messages delivered to individuals get more attention. Instead of buying major prime time shows with big audiences advertisers “…could have spent less money and ensured more exposure by buying spots that delivered a lonely but more attentive viewer," Ritson said.

“Lonely but more attentive viewer...”

Sounds to me like every person in front of a computer screen. Although I’m not sure “lonely” is as accurate as “attentive.”

The London B School study simply reinforced what we all know from our personal experience…if there is ANYTHING better to do during a TV commercial, we do it. Bathroom break, grab a snack, put the kids to bed, walk the dog, call your gray-haired old ma in Virginia, answer e mail, load the dish washer, berate our spouses for flipping channels with the remote.

Ritson says there is a huge tendency to hit the mute and talk with others in the room. Kind of takes the wind out of “family hour” for advertisers doesn’t it? So, advertisers now have to worry not only about TiVo, huge audience defections to other media, but too many people in the room during their commercials.

While I confess to occasionally doing more than one thing while online (mostly listening to the radio) it is a time when I am NOT in conversation with anyone else. I am focused and attentive, if not lonely.

My point? Hey you big spenders, come to the Internet where, believe me, we pay attention.

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