How to Keep Ad Skippers From Fast-Forwarding Your Ad

TiVo/Innerscope Study Tracks Which Commercials Keep Viewers Watching

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NEW YORK ( -- Most TV ads give a marketer half a minute to make a pitch, but a new study suggests advertisers barely have three or four seconds to get it right.

Viewers with digital video recorders are 25% more likely to fast-forward past ads that don't interest them immediately, and 25% of viewers are likely not to watch an entire ad that fails to draw them in right away, no matter how great the commercial is overall, according to the study.

Hyundai's 2009 Super Bowl ad held viewers' attention.
Hyundai's 2009 Super Bowl ad held viewers' attention.
Viewers were monitored
DVR manufacturer TiVo and Boston's Innerscope, a company that measures viewers' biometric responses to watching TV, studied 40 viewers in groups of 20 during a 2008 study. Each group watched an hour of TV in real time and with commercials. Viewers wore lightweight, wireless vests developed by Innerscope that monitor heart rate, breathing, skin sweat and motion. Their reactions were correlated with TiVo viewership measures of the same programs and ads.

Researchers found that creative work must rate "high right out of the blocks," said Carl Marci, CEO and co-founder of Innerscope.

Mr. Marci pointed to a Burger King ad developed by Miami's Crispin Porter & Bogusky that showed declining viewer engagement the longer it went on. In the commercial, a woodsman comes across the burger chain's popular and inanimate King character, and then is handed the restaurant's enormous omelet sandwich. Because the product being pitched was introduced relatively late in the ad, viewers began to tune out, Mr. Marci told an assemblage at a conference held by the Advertising Research Foundation today.

A recent Hyundai Motor ad that appeared in this year's Super Bowl fared much better. In the commercial, created by Omnicom Group's Goodby Silverstein & Partners, a number of executives read reports about Hyundai winning an industry award and begin screaming the company's name. Later, an announcer dryly notes that it's funny how everyone says a company's name right after it wins an important honor. More viewers stayed to watch the whole ad, Mr. Marci said, because it quickly told a story and hewed closely to it.

More tinkering of ads
While the findings aren't the most eyebrow-raising, they could fuel more creative tinkering with TV commercials. If a focus group is forced to watch an entire ad, they may well rate it highly, Innerscope and TiVo suggested, even if the beginning is weak. And yet, this traditional research method often doesn't take into account how viewers might react if they have the fast-forwarding option readily available to them.

About 30.5% of households with TVs will have DVRs by the end of this year, according to Interpublic Group of Cos.' Magna, and that figure could rise to nearly 44% by the end of 2014. Even TV executives say they believe that about 60% of DVR owners use them to speed past the ads -- in the process wiping out a fundamental economic pillar that makes the industry hum. If viewers won't watch ads, marketers are apt to put their money into media venues where they will, potentially throwing a wrench into ad support for the media venue that attracts the most viewers and highest amount of U.S. ad dollars. Already, some broadcast TV networks are starting to scale back production costs for their shows.

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