More People Watch TV Ads With Their Ears Than Their Eyes

Growing up, I loved me some TV. "Fantasy Island." "Love Boat." "90210." Who had time for a social life when you could hang out with MacGyver and a six-pack of Jolt? As the prophet Homer Simpson once asked: "How can one little insulated wire bring so much happiness?"

In fact, I loved TV so much, I dedicated my life to it. Well, at least the part of TV that happens in between shows: the commercials. But like all great love affairs, with time, relationships change.  The way people consume TV shows today has fundamentally changed from my days riding shotgun with "Knight Rider." So has the way people watch TV commercials. A recent eye-tracking study revealed that 60% of participants look away during commercial breaks.

This shouldn't surprise anyone in today's second-screen world. After all, there's a Facebook feed hungry to be fed and tweets to Twitter. If the way people consume TV ads has changed, then so shouldn't the way agencies create them?

TV marketers need to take a serious look at the sound of their brand.



While more than half of viewers are turning their eyeballs to their mobile phones during commercial breaks, TV still controls the audio experience of any family room. So when was the last time you watched your TV campaign with your eyes closed? Is your value proposition still clear, even though there are no pictures? Was the name of your product or service even spoken? Does the voice, music and sound design represent your brand in a way that's ownable to you?

The buzz around sonic branding.

Sonic branding is a hot topic these days. And for good reason. There are more ways for a brand to engage with consumers through audio. Podcasts. Music streaming. In-store. In-app. Hold messaging. Smart speakers. And more are on their way. Forward-thinking brands are staying ahead of this trend by creating brand standards specifically for audio. For example, Pandora recently unveiled their "sonic logo."

TV should champion your audio brand. But the fact still remains − with all the different ways audio is being used in branding, TV still reigns as a supreme force in reaching your customers’ ears. And given more people are listening to TV commercials than watching, it's more critical than ever to ensure you're getting the most value from the ads you broadcast.

Putting audio into action.

So the next time you're about to launch a new TV campaign, don't just put a critical eye on the final cut. More importantly, apply a critical ear. Be sure you're testing and refining all aspects of your television audio, from music to mnemonics to voiceovers.

All these elements are critical to driving measurable performance gains. Then be sure to push all these audio elements beyond TV into the DNA of your brand's audio ecosystem.



4 comments about "More People Watch TV Ads With Their Ears Than Their Eyes".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, November 12, 2019 at 7:27 a.m.

    Rob, while a significant percentage of program viewers leave the room or cease paying full attention during an average TV commercial, the extent to which this happens is vastly overstated by many commentators. For example, a recent TVision "eye tracking" study noted that 29% of those in the room prior to a commercial break, were absent during an average second when the spots ran. That does not necessaily mean that they missed all of the commercial content--- people come and go during breaks. As for visual attentivenss, many observational studies have been conducted using cameras, persons watching how others behave, etc. All of this is covered  in our upcoming MDI Direct report, "TV Dimensions 2020".  The findings indicate is that about 40-45% of  program viewers are fully attentive to an average commercial but, obviously, this varies because of commercial clutter, program environment and the interest level aroused by each ad. Some commercials attain attentiveness scores of 55-65%; others fall well down to only 35%. So it's not true that today's TV viewer is mainly a "listener" to the commercials. Sure, the audio element, as you note, can be an important plus---or minus---if not handled effectively, but we are still mostly "watching" commercials---when we choose to.

  2. John Grono from GAP Research, November 12, 2019 at 6:19 p.m.

    Rob, do you know the thresholds used for "60% of participants look away during commercial breaks."?

    Most eye-gaze tracking surveys use the 200ms standard for a 'gaze'.   Yes, one-fifth of a second.   A logical threshold would be something like 2 or 3 seconds (in this modern world with lots of distractions), which would be 10-15 'gazes' away from the TV (or device being measured).

    The thing is we are human and vision is a limbic function.   You hear a noise and look towards it to make sure things are safe.   +1 to the "looked away" category.   The difference between seeing and hearing is that you hear every second of the day - if you have good hearing you can't "not hear" in the usual course of the day.   You can choose to "not see" which can mean looking away, closing your eyes from something you don't want to see, having a nap or sleeping at night.   Hearing and seeing should always be thought of in a symbiotic conjunctive way - it's at the core of great TV ads.

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, November 13, 2019 at 7:30 a.m.

    John, I find the claim that 60% of the viewers look away from the screen during commercials entirely credible if what is meant is that during the course of a 15- or 30-second commercial that percentage looks away at some point in the presentation. That makes sense as it's hard to believe that everyone in the room has his/her eyes riveted onto the screen without exception for every second of a commercial---or program content either.The same thing applies to digital  and print media. However, you don't have to have your eyes fixed on the screen every second to be effectively "exposed" to an ad message----do you?If, however, what is meant is that 60% of the viewers never look at the screen to any extent during commercials---I find this difficult  to swallow.

  4. John Grono from GAP Research, November 13, 2019 at 2:54 p.m.

    I agree Ed.

    What I was driving at was that if the 200ms threshold was used close to 100% of people would be "looking away".

    'More than half' would sound reasonable for "looking away" any and every media - I was just wondering what threshold they actually used.

    Quantifying it at 60% could alarm some people because their perception may have been that their ad was not seen at all.

    And to extend the discussion, I have seen claims of "100% viewable" from some media.   That is a very different kettle of fish to "100% viewed".   For example, in the TV ratings system every ad is "100% viewable" as they enumerate that the TV is on and tuned to a specific channel.   They then use the 'people' part of the peoplemeter to reduce that amount to as close as they can quantify people actively viewing that device.

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