Are Family-Friendly Shows a Better Environment for Ads?

ANA Study Says Marketers' Spots Are More Effective When Matched to a Program's Tone

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NEW YORK ( -- Could the gore from a scene in "CSI" or the salty language of "Southland" keep an ad for Pampers or a commercial for Coca-Cola from making its point with viewers? According to new research from a consortium of blue-chip advertisers seeking more programs that spur family viewing, the answer is a resounding yes.

NBC's 'Chuck' is among the programs the ANA Alliance for Family Entertainment has helped bring to air.
NBC's 'Chuck' is among the programs the ANA Alliance for Family Entertainment has helped bring to air. Credit: NBC
In findings that could prompt at least a rethinking of how certain companies allocate their spending on TV advertising, new research from the ANA Alliance for Family Entertainment suggests that the type of show in which a commercial airs can hinder or help the effectiveness of that advertising. Running an ad in a show that matches its tone and provides appropriate context can boost ad effectiveness by an average of more than 30%, according to the research. The group's collective advertising represents approximately 30% of all advertising spending in the U.S.

A change of opinion
According to the study, 10.7% of the audience changed their opinion about purchasing a product based on the content in which they viewed the advertisement that promoted it. Indeed, brand equity attribute summary scores for all commercials tested were negative when viewed in adult content, according to the group's research. The Alliance for Family Entertainment conducted the research by having 2,400 consumers -- in 12 cells of 200 respondents -- test six different ads by watching them in program segments and on their own.

"I believe that for family brands, the kitchen logic is they need to be in family content or there is going to be a disconnect" with consumers, said Jim Bechtold, a former veteran Procter & Gamble executive who served as a consultant to the group in devising the study. "Adult-oriented brands need to be in adult context." The research suggests that advertisers may want to "give up on reach rather than go into a mediocre program as far as it being family-friendly," said Barbara Bacci Mirque, exec VP of the ANA Alliance for Family Entertainment.

Indeed, one marketing executive said the research gives him tangible data to use to fend off suggestions that his company's ads appear in content that might be a little dark or sexual in nature. "When we do things in the family environment, it's just that much more engaging," said Ed Gold, advertising director, State Farm Cos.

Consisting of blue-chip advertisers ranging from Coca-Cola, IBM Corp. and Walmart Stores to Procter & Gamble, General Motors, McDonald's, Verizon Communications and Kraft Foods, the Alliance has garnered notice since its informal inception in September 1998. At that time, a group of big ad names gathered together as the "Forum for Responsible Advertisers" by former Johnson & Johnson ad chief Andrea Alstrup to discuss steps they might take to encourage the development of TV shows parents and children could watch together. Among the programs the group has helped bring to air since that time are "Gilmore Girls," "Chuck," "Everybody Hates Chris" and "Friday Night Lights."

Need to monitor content
Developing family-oriented content becomes more important as audiences begin to spread out and graze on a wider array of digital content in addition to TV, said State Farm's Mr. Gold. Marketers have a broader range of content to monitor, and the ability of consumers and advocacy groups to express discontent is magnified. "With the advent of e-mail and the advent of social networking, putting messages out there to advertisers about what they like about what you're doing and what they don't like about what you're doing has become that much easier," he said.

Microsoft's recent decision to back out of its plan to support a Fox variety program featuring "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane, citing concerns about ribald content, only serves to emphasize the concerns marketers have about negative feedback. The software company had planned to have its new Windows 7 operating system featured in the program itself, but learned the popular but off-color producer intended to use material that referred to such topics as feminine hygiene and the Holocaust.

The collective ad-spending might of the Alliance for Family Entertainment is enough to raise the eyebrows of any media outlet. Should the research help guide marketers' spending decisions, then certainly, TV networks and other media might take notice.

"If more advertisers are willing to begin allocating greater amounts of money towards this programming, the broadcasters will begin to put more of that programming as part of their schedule and think a little bit differently about what advertisers are wiling to buy and what may work on their networks," said Marc Goldstein, president-CEO of WPP's Group M North America, a large media-buying concern.

Still need to reach the masses
The trouble? Advertisers can't ignore where the masses are at present. More often than not, large swaths of consumers are tuning in to programs that contain elements of sex and violence, including ABC's top-rated "Grey's Anatomy" and "Desperate Housewives," and CBS's humorous "Two and a Half Men" and its powerful "CSI" franchise.

"To say that you're only going to be in family-friendly fare, however one chooses to define that, you're probably running the risk of not being visible in some areas that may have a lot of potential," said Tony Pace, chief marketing officer of the Subway Franchisee Advertising Fund Trust. "For a brand as big as ours, you need to reach consumers and there are going to be some trade-offs you have to make between content and size of audiences," he said, adding, "You're always trying to balance those two things."

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