Interactive TV Spots Prove Less Than Activating, Viewers Grow Fatigued

A new interactive study that uses set-top boxes to monitor second-by-second airing of TV commercials has shown that TV consumers tire easily of traditional five-week-long TV advertising campaigns. Results from The PreTesting Company's MediaCheck initiative--which is currently testing its system in Omaha, Neb. among 2500 homes--showed that campaigns should cut their duration in half.

The test, called Project Wanamaker--which was started this past May and will continue through September--uses set-top decoders where viewers transfer a gum-stick-size memory stick containing viewing information from the decoder to their computers on a weekly basis. Prodding viewers' efforts comes from receiving free gifts that viewers receive online.

Some 38 advertisers--such as Neutrogena, Subway, Colgate, DirecTV, Chervolet, Pepsi, Walt Disney, and Burger King--are participating in a test in which specially encoded commercials have been running on KMTV Omaha, a CBS affiliate. These commercials have a special Internet component in which viewers can receive discounted prices on products. MediaCheck's data shows exactly when consumers stopped watching commercials--either by switching channels, fast-forwarding, or otherwise. In the first two days of the campaign, Neutrogena had one of the best scores--96% of consumers viewed its commercials to completion, with 55% going to the company's Web site.



"There were a lot of other advertisers [who performed at that level]," said Lee Weinblatt, CEO of The PreTesting Company. "You could tell what you were getting for your [media] dollar."

Weinblatt said that TV advertising reaches a saturation point faster than most advertisers and agencies realize. Other advertisers scored as low as an 11% rate of commercial completion. Weinblatt wouldn't reveal the names of those companies.

So far, Weinblatt said the major takeaway from this test is "that TV works [for advertisers]. But the things killing TV commercials are overexposure and poor creative."

After two weeks of watching commercials, viewers generally become fatigued, said Weinblatt. The remedy? "Give them more interesting commercials," he said. One advertiser--Subway--kept changing its creative during the test, and experienced less weariness among viewers.

Of the 2500 Omaha homes in the test, 22% had digital video recorders. Although DVRs have been viewed as a major threat to advertisers because of their commercial-skipping technology, MediaCheck discovered that DVR homes are not zapping commercials any more than non-DVR homes. Weinblatt said the biggest zappers were those in the older 25-54 demographic, which could be explained by the fact that KMTV is a CBS affiliate. CBS is known for having older viewers.

"Most of the advertisers in this test were giving people what the average homeowner would want--such as discounts on groceries, and on Burger King," said Weinblatt. "But if we had music download [advertising] and worked with MTV and younger shows like "The O.C, " we think we would see a tremendous response from younger viewers because they are tech-savvy."

The next step in MediaCheck, according to Weinblatt, is to form a national sample with as many as 50,000 homes or more. PreTesting is looking to partner with a number of cable operators. Weinblatt says its technology could easily be retrofitted into existing cable operators' set-top boxes.

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