TV commercials worked because people were a captive audience and had nowhere else to place their attention. Yet, when they have other options for their attention, they tend to take them. In fact, the latest study (sent over by Eric Goldman) shows that DVRs were never really a huge threat in terms of taking people's attention away from ads. Instead, it seems the real threat is that everyone has a smartphone now, and when commercials come on, they turn their attention to their smartphone, check their social network/email/etc.:
It was found that simply turning one's head to ignore video ads had far greater impact than DVR fast-forwarding is assumed to have. Magna Global estimates that 35% of U.S. households have DVRs and 10% of their total TV consumption is time shifted, within which 65% of ads are fast-forwarded, meaning 35% x 10% x 65% = 2% of total TV ad impressions are avoided through fast-forwarding. Our study found that 63% of TV impressions were avoided simply by not paying attention to the screen.To be honest, that 2% number seems crazy low to me, and I wonder how accurate it really is. However, even if it's noticeably higher, it appears that smartphones and other distractions are definitely taking people's attention away. In fact, even when people do fast-forward ads (as we noted in that study years ago) they still seem to see the ads:
When participants did use the DVR to fast-forward TV ads, nearly half of them paid full attention to the screen during that process. Fast-forwarded ads had 12% more attention levels than non-fast-forwarded ads.Though, this study contradicts the other one from a few years ago concerning retention: saying people don't retain quite as much from fast-forwarded ads.
Of course, you can debate the statistics all you want, the basics are pretty obvious: if your method of advertising relies on a captive audience, and that audience is no longer captive, then you're going to have problems. TV execs were wrong to worry about DVRs, because they didn't really take people's attention away from the TV, and had the other side effect of making people watch more TV. However, there may actually be an issue with things like smartphones, because if people don't like what's on the TV (i.e., the ads suck) they now have a much more entertaining option right in their pocket. The captive audience is dead. Of course, that doesn't mean that there's nothing the TV guys can do. They could start making the ads more compelling such that people actually want to watch them, but I guess that probably sounds like "work."
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