DVR fast-forwarding may not be fatal to TV advertising

DVR fast-forwarding may not be fatal to TV advertising
Fast-forwarded advertisements with brand information located outside of screen center -- such as in this frame from a restaurant ad -- are of virtually no value, Boston College researchers report in the November edition of the Journal of Marketing. Photo courtesy the Journal of Marketing

While digital video recorders and products like TiVo allow television viewers to skip past commercials, Boston College researchers have found that fast-forwarding viewers actually pay more attention and can be influenced by brand images they view only for a fraction of a second.

Tracking the eye movements of viewers, Carroll School of Management Professors S. Adam Brasel and James Gips found that ads with brand information placed in the center of the screen still create brand memory despite a 95% reduction in frames viewed and complete loss of audio. Their results are reported in the November edition of the Journal of Marketing.

"In the age of DVRs, advertisers who place their brands anywhere outside the center of the viewing screen do so at their own brand peril," said Brasel, an assistant professor of marketing. "Even in fast forward, consumers can focus in on a product logo or brand and that fraction of a second can later influence their preferences."

Ads with brand information located on the periphery of the TV screen are of virtually no value, according to the study "Breaking Through Fast-Forwarding: Brand Information and Visual Attention."

Fast-forwarded commercials containing extensive central brand information can even have a positive effect on a consumer's brand attitude, behavioral intent and actual choice behavior, the researchers found.

The findings show that marketers can counteract the impact of DVRs by ensuring their ads are heavily branded and the branding is centrally located.

"Everybody is saying that TV advertising is doomed – TiVo has broken it and DVR will kill it," said Brasel. "But it's not like the advertising disappears when you use TiVo. We wanted to find out what happens when you fast-forward through these ads."

Brasel and Gips found that people who fast forward through shows actually pay more attention to the screen than those who view at regular speed. That's good news for advertisers, as long as their commercials feature their brands in the center of the screen.

When a viewer hits fast forward, he or she only sees about 1 out of every 24 frames, reducing brand ID to a little less than a third of a second out of a 30-second spot, Brasel said. But the speed of the play-back removes visual cues and motion that attract attention to brand images that lay along the periphery of the TV screen. Instead, television watchers concentrate on the center of the screen.

Curious about how attention on the central image might impact consumer behavior, the researchers created a pair of mock commercials for two British chocolate bar brands. One was heavily branded, the other lightly branded. After the research subjects had viewed the content and were preparing the leave the lab, they were invited to choose one of the candy bars. Subjects chose the heavily branded bar twice as often as the lightly branded bar.

"We created a massive shift in behavior from a commercial lasting just over one second," said Brasel. "It's clear that just because an ad is being fast-forwarded, doesn't mean it is a wasted ad."

The onus now is on brand marketers not to forsake TV advertising or to look for ways to block the increasingly popular technology. "DVRs aren't going anywhere," said Brasel. "So it's up to advertisers to work with these new technologies."

Source: Boston College

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User comments

Nov 03, 2008
Hopefully users will migrate to real DVRs, where you can implement complete commercial skips. SageTV, BeyondTV, Media Center...TiVO will never give the flexibility, they are too integrated with the media providers.

Nov 03, 2008
I prefer the "obtain the entire episode without advertisements" avenue. Death to the mutant they call "Television."

Nov 03, 2008
Of course, it's paid adverts that fund "free" tv stations, so I wouldn't advocate doing something to get rid of them entirely. I just hope the tv execs don't do the moronic thing and try to retaliate by increasing the amount of advertizing time per show. I *already* have gotten in the habit of channel-surfing if there are too many commercials in a row. And what's with this new ploy of playing the same ad two or more times in the same commercial break????

Nov 03, 2008
I found that the animated Esurance commercials are very good at catching your attention when running fast-forward on a DVR. The style of animation, which is mostly static poses with minor mouth and head movements, works very well when displayed in that way. I don't know if this was the intention of the animators, but certainly was the effect.

Nov 03, 2008
"If anyone knows, I'd be interested."

_GREED_ I'll post the source if I can find it, but I could swear that cable television originally launched without advertisements - along the lines of HBO (today). And then they said "oh look, we have everyone's attention, advertisers are offering huge amounts of cash for our reserves of attention" and BAM, advertising on paid services. Just like the movie theaters now-a-days. Why should you have to watch advertisements before a movie you just paid for? ... AND THE TICKET PRICES HAVE GONE UP!

D666 - Your sympathy is a weakness. Trust me, they have no sympathy for you and will take everything you allow them to. GIVE THEM NOTHING. TAKE BACK EVERYTHING.

WE THE PEOPLE, own them, not the other way around.

Nov 04, 2008
There is a fundamental problem with "adware" television. It is hard to see with TV, so let us look at 2 DVDs instead - one adware, and the other payware (what our DVDs are today, pay up front for an ad-free product):

So you have your DVDs. One is adware, which you got for free, and the other is payware, which you paid exactly $30 for (It is a season of Stargate: SG-1). Which is better for you in a financial sense? Everyone's first reaction is that adware is cheaper. But let's examine adware.

You are getting your Stargate DVD free. But surely the production and distribution companies aren't just giving it away free! When they sell their DVD at 30 dollars they are already giving it away at their bare minimum price; they can't afford to go any lower. So they still need their $30. "But ah", you say, "that is the beauty of adware! They're just getting their money from an advertising company instead of me!"

Right. Exactly. But of course, that advertising company is just a middleman. It is creating and distributing (at great cost to itself) ads for another company (say... Sears). That ad company is paying $30 per DVD to the Stargate people. And of course, in order to make some money, that ad company has to tack on a few extra dollars (say... $3, just as an example).

Cool. So right now we're paying a bit more for our DVD in total economic terms, but that's no big deal. But wait... the ad company isn't the end of the line. They take their total costs ($30 $3 in fees) and pass it to the company for which they are making ads (Sears).

So when you bump out all the middle men, we find out that Sears is paying 33 dollars for your DVD for you. Cool! But wait... Sears expects to get something back from this. They aren't just doing it out of the goodness of their heart. Sears expects to have increased sales at the expense of their competitors by using advertising. Ah the Free Market in action:). Personally I get kind of a sublime joy when watching one company out-compete another. I don't think I'm alone here: many people seem to be enjoying watching Google and Apple out-compete MS.

But wait... Sears thinks it will get more sales... will it? The research done thus far has shown that a person is much more likely to buy a product which was advertised than one that wasn't, so I think we can say the answer is a resounding YES. ("But it only works for a spherical cow in a vacuum!" - sorry, physics joke.)

So Sears WILL have increased sales... assuming that Walmart is stupid enough not to advertise. Oops. And here we come to the Catch-22, and the reason why adware is bad.

EVERYONE advertises, so NOONE sees any advantage in it. They are all just desperately treading water against one another. This means that their advertisements are *not* bringing them increased revenues.

And when Sears spends $33 on advertisements for a Stargate DVD, that $33 has to get recouped - and if it isn't getting recouped with increased sales, it gets recouped with increased prices. Increased prices on products that YOU buy.

"But", you say, "I don't buy the whatchamahoozit that Sears was advertising for! In fact, I don't even shop at Sears! So HA!". Ah, but everyone advertises. And if Sears is just treading water with its ads, then so is everybody else.

So, assuming that you aren't a zombie vampire living in a crypt or something, you must be buying *someone's* products. And even if you buy everything from your local farmer's market, those farmers are still having to buy equipment and such things from large companies treading financial water with ads.

The real kicker is that Sears expects to get MORE than the 33 dollars that it spent back. I mean, think about it. If they just remake that 33 dollars, then they aren't getting anywhere, are they? So adding $33/DVD-given-away to their product line is their *break even* point. In reality - as a publicly traded company - they have to make a profit rather than just breaking even, so they have to add more.

So you get $30 (cost profit of Stargate producers) $3(cost profit of advertising firm) = $33 somearbitraryamount (cost profit of Sears) = You getting screwed in the end.

Of course reality is far more complicated than this. Companies have different business strategies which can lead to success (Walmart), and some ad companies are more effective than others (the company that produces ads for Apple). Companies can indeed be driven out of business by well run ad campaigns. But adding in those (and other) complexities doesn't change the basic idea.

Adware is BAD. In the end, it pulls more money out of your pockets than what you'd have spent buying the product directly. As I said in the beginning, the entire concept is, at its core, fundamentally flawed.

Nov 05, 2008
Bah. I keep forgetting that this stupid comment software strips the plus sign out of comments.

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