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Today's viewers are just as receptive to a commercial's message as they were in the 1960s but they are much more impressed with the messenger-the TV commercial itself. That's the key finding of two surveys-taken 30 years apart-about viewers' perception of TV commercials.

Columbia University provided the benchmark for the 1960s in its study "The People Look at Television: A Study of Audience Attitudes." Video Storyboard Tests, on recently duplicating the original survey's advertising section, found the commercial has performed very well indeed over the years.

The negatives are down. Whereas, almost two-thirds of the respondents thought that "most commercials were too long," now less than half of them feel that way.

In the 1960s most TV copywriters were still adapting their print skills to TV, and their efforts often seemed labored. Today, they have learned how to communicate more in less time. And of course, the commercials are now shorter.

Two in five dismissed commercials as "ordinarily in poor taste and very annoying." Now their ranks are only slightly more than one in five thanks to the efforts of the industry to respect viewers' sensibilities.

The most surprising gain is the ability of today's commercials to compete with the shows they interrupt for "entertainment."

In the original survey, 43% found "some commercials more entertaining than the programming"; now 57% concede as much. This is especially heartening considering the wide variety of entertainment options available to today's viewers.

The only area where the commercials haven't made much progress is in the realm of the message: then, as now, 58% of the viewers consider them "very helpful in keeping me informed."

And this aggravates wordsmiths like Jim Jordan, who recently retired as chairman of Jordan, McGrath Case & Taylor. The TV commercial "has been dressed up to look spiffy. Of course, I like my messenger to be admired. But I worry even more about the message it is delivering."

Mr. Vadehra is president of Video Storyboard Tests. Write him at 107 E. 31st St., New York 10016. Fax him at (212) 689-0210. Campaign Clout reports consumer response to current advertising.

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