Consumers Bugged by Many Ads

Study: Public Less Wary of Economy, Still Wary of Direct, E-mail, TV Spots

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NEW YORK ( -- The addition of Citigroup to the list of powerful institutions begging for government rescue last week only reinforced the impression that everything has changed. But it might not have changed as much as you think, according to a Gfk Roper online survey of 2,000 American adults, which was weighted to reflect the demographic characteristics of the total online population.

The survey, conducted Sept. 11 through Oct. 10 -- just after the government started pushing the panic button over the economy -- suggests that consumers may be responding a bit more coolly than anticipated.

But they also still think a lot of ads are annoying. The more things change ...
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Cutting Back

Consumers may have calmed down fairly quickly after the financial meltdown got white-hot, according to the survey. During the onset of this fall's crisis, GfK Roper reports, only 14% said they thought it was "a good time to buy," while 53% called it "a good time to wait," and 33% said they figured conditions were "someplace in between." But those in the mood to buy edged back up to 18%, while those who thought it best to wait fell all the way back to 40%.

We have yet to see how much those sentiments will translate into spending; most retailers are expecting a terrible holiday season.

Just over three-quarters of online Americans anticipate having to cut their expenses in the next six months, according to the research. First on the chopping block: eating out at restaurants, which 82% of people cited. Entertainment outside the home; clothing for themselves; vacation and pleasure travel; buying lunch; hobbies and major home-improvement projects followed. Just 15% said they were eyeing their computer or internet costs.

Among traditional media vehicles, mail proved the most irritating: 52% of GfK Roper's respondents said the word "annoying" applied to the medium. TV came in at No. 2 among annoying ad formats. Mail also bored more people (30%, according to the survey) than any other ad format, while radio outstripped TV for the second spot on the list of big bores.

Newspaper and magazine ads, on the other hand, annoyed the least -- one thing worth remembering as print media busily culls its own herd. Newspapers, magazines and TV were ranked more informative and useful than, for instance, billboards and mail.

In the world of digital marketing, e-mail, like mail, annoys people (54% of them) and bores people (22%) more than other forms of advertising. Web ads -- although the research doesn't distinguish search ads from display -- beat both e-mail and mobile for "useful," "interesting," "creative," "informative" and "funny."

Free product samples are the most "quite acceptable" form of ad out there. That may not be a surprise, but let it be a lesson to marketers. Free product samples also tied newspaper ads for annoying the smallest number of people, just 12%.

Unsolicited e-mail falls at the other extreme. Only 4% said it was "quite acceptable." A full 84% called spam annoying. Web ads that play before a home page loads didn't fare much better; only 10% found those roadblocks quite acceptable, while 70% rated them annoying.

Fans of keyword search, too, should take note, because the format that drove Google to dominance earned just a 21% quite-acceptable rating, compared with a 48% annoyance rate. And in case 2009 really is the long-awaited year of mobile advertising, be aware that "ads on mobile phones" annoyed 70% and proved quite acceptable to 5%. Proceed carefully.

Advertising on social networks remains an open strategic question, but rest assured that your assumptions about the audience are still about right: Social networks are a channel better suited for young adults than old.

Nearly half of consumers older that 60, for example, said their top thought about social networks was that they "can be dangerous, allowing predators to find victims." Only 7% of 18- to 29-year-olds agree. The biggest chunk of those young adults, 38%, identified social networks chiefly as an "efficient way to stay in touch with friends and family."

Small proportions of each age group emphasized a belief that interest in social networks will fade in time. But 6% of people older than 60 said they feel that way, the research found, compared with 9% of the 18- to 29-year-olds.

About 13% of people said they often sit and watch the commercials that come on while they're watching TV, according to the research. About the same size slice said they keep an eye out for new products or services; slightly more said they learn about products or services in which they're actually interested.

But more than half (53%) report getting annoyed by commercials. Some 52% talk over them, and 51% do something else during commercial breaks. Some 43% fast-forward through ads as much as possible, and 43% also look their computers while commercials are on.

A vast majority of people who watch TV online do it to catch up with recent shows they missed, but there are some interesting other groups. About 12% call online TV more convenient, while 7% said they watch online to avoid all the commercials. Then there are 9% who said they watch TV online because their TVs aren't available.

Remember that people are streaming more than short YouTube clips on the web. There are also full-length movies on the internet, which the research suggests 17% of online adults watch weekly. And there's audio: 33% of online adults said they use the net to listen to music at least weekly, while 16% listen to talk radio online at least once a week.

Not everyone on the web is leaning forward and paying total attention to the page in front of them. At least some of the time, 17% are simultaneously cooking, 19% are doing housework, 45% are eating a meal, 54% are watching TV and 59% are talking on the phone.

Whatever else they're doing, online adults turn to the web first for information on virtually every subject. For travel information, a whopping 70% go online first. TV still grabs people looking for weather or traffic information -- 35% of online adults go there first—but the web is the first stop for 43%. Newspapers remain the first stop for online adults hunting for local shopping information, but the web crushes the rest of the competition.
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