An Exclusive Ad Age Wartime Survey

TV VIEWERS FAVOR RETURN TO NORMAL PROGRAMMING

But Have Different Feelings About Ads in Cable Network War News

By Published on .

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- A majority of U.S. consumers say they favor a TV network return to regularly scheduled commercial programming
TV viewers want a distraction from war coverage, some analysts have concluded.
Related Stories:
WAR SPARKS GROWING BOYCOTTS OF U.S. PRODUCTS
Marketers Meet in Cairo to Plot Brand-Protection Strategies
WEB VIDEO BATTLE RAGES AMONG WAR NEWS SITES
RealOne Hawks For-Fee War News Video; Rivals Promote Free Video Viewing
AFTER SHORT WAR PAUSE, AUTO ADS RESUME
$350 Million in Campaigns Readied for Launch
PR INDUSTRY HIT HARD BY WAR
Shrinking News Hole, Cancelled Campaigns, Satellite Overload
WAR POLL RESULT: CHANGE ADVERTISING PRACTICES
Agency, Media and Marketing Pros Favor Reassessing Industry Tradition

during the ongoing war in Iraq, according to an exclusive Advertising Age survey.

In a poll conducted by WPP Group's Lightspeed Research, 83% of consumers said it is appropriate for the networks to run prime-time entertainment during the first weeks of the war.

Network vs. cable news
By the end of the first week of fighting, most marketers had returned to TV, with some avoiding news programming. But Lightspeed's survey found consumers supported showing ads on news programming nearly 2 to 1. Sixty-three percent of respondents said it would be appropriate to show ads on network newscasts and 35% opposed the ads. But they were less tolerant of the cable news networks, with only 53% feeling ads are appropriate.

The survey of 439 consumers was carried out March 25 and 26, a week after the start of bombing in Baghdad, when the networks had already returned to their regular prime-time schedules.

'Looking for distraction'
"People are still looking for distraction. [Fox's] American Idol is still popular," said Jonathan Field, cultural strategist at New York-based Fieldworks, a brand-research and strategy firm.

This consumer mind-set is a departure from consumers' views of advertising on last year's anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. At the time, more than half those polled by Lightspeed felt advertisers should go dark for the whole day. Even more telling was that nearly a third said they would develop a negative view of advertisers who aired TV spots on that day.

"Sept. 11 was a watershed. It was like getting hit with mortality, and life stopped. Now it's the opposite. Life goes on [and] advertising is just one more thing," Mr. Field said.

Could change as war proceeds
Geography also figures into consumer's reactions this time around, said Jane Strong, president of market-research firm Insight Out, Weston, Conn. Sept. 11 affected civilians in the U.S., while the Iraq war doesn't have the same immediacy, she said. She added that may change as the war drags on, especially if the U.S. takes heavy casualties.

"I wouldn't be surprised if there's a change as people realize this isn't just some football game and we're going to have a tailgate party and watch Saddam get blown up," she said.

The consumer mind-set is also more aggressive now than in the aftermath of Sept. 11, said Faith Popcorn, founder of Faith Popcorn's BrainReserve, New York, a marketing-consulting firm.

"Back then we were in deeper mourning. Now we're on the attack," Ms. Popcorn said.

Escapist programming
Viewers have grown tired of watching war news and want more escapist programming, including commercials, Ms. Popcorn said. They may become more receptive to commercial messages, especially if they're for products that make them feel safe and comfortable, citing as examples "good Americana -- Tide, Tylenol and Campbell's Soup."

But advertisers need to be careful to pitch their products in the right programming, and watch the message, since overtly patriotic messages or the wrong use of humor could backfire, observers said.

"At a time like this, media planning becomes important," Mr. Field said.

Ms. Strong recently worked on a campaign for Gillette Co.'s Duracell brand depicting real-life uses of batteries. One spot showing firefighters caused a fair amount of discussion about whether viewers would feel it was exploiting the heroes of Sept. 11, she said.

"People don't want their heartstrings pulled overtly. Advertisers need to be careful how they're using patriotism," she said.

In this article:
Most Popular