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J. Walter Thompson Co. has joined forces with Comedy Central to test the effectiveness of commercials across various cable networks.

One test has been conducted on an interactive cable system reaching 103,000 subscribers, and the study will be expanded using more JWT clients this fall.

"We need to move beyond just Nielsen measurements and need to form partnerships between buyers and sellers," said David Marans, JWT's senior partner-director of U.S. media research and resources, in explaining the linkup instigated by Comedy Central. "There has been a dearth of innovative research for advertising, so when Comedy Central came to us we jumped at the chance to be a part of the study."


The idea came from feedback from direct-response advertisers that they had been getting better results on Comedy Central than on some other networks, said Debbie Reichig, director of research at the network.

Ms. Reichig approached the New York agency when she learned JWT had been testing commercials in an interactive environment via Paragon Cable's Star Response Interactive TV system in San Antonio.

Working together, it was decided to test the hypothesis that the effectiveness of commercials-as measured by responsiveness, recall and attention to copy detail-varies by the programming environment.

Mr. Marans got permission from one of JWT's large national clients, which he declined to name, to test a 30-second spot across eight cable networks: Arts & Entertainment, Cable News Network, Comedy Central, Discovery Channel, ESPN, MTV: Music Television, TNT and USA.

The commercial ran road-blocked, or as close as possible, during prime time, with one spot per night on each network airing for four consecutive nights. After the :30, another spot followed immediately telling viewers that, by using their remote controls and answering two questions, they would be entered in a contest to win free

cable service for one year.

Viewers were then asked what product or service was being offered on the

preceding commercial, followed by four choices and "don't know."


In the spring test, viewers of Discovery and USA tied for first place in

recall, with 86% getting the name of the advertised product correct. CNN

viewers were last, with 69% knowing the product. Comedy Central registered


A second question asked a specific copy point and measured attention.

That portion had 83% of Comedy Central's viewers getting the correct

answer, while just 30% of A&E's viewers answered correctly.

Using national Nielsen Media Research ratings applied to the Star

Response universe, the total number of viewers who saw any of the spots

over the four nights was 20,700, but the total number of actual

respondants was only 283.

Of that number, Comedy Central had the highest response rate, 4.1%.

Larry Divney, Comedy Central's senior VP-advertising sales, is realistic

about using the results as a sales tool.

"Some advertisers will say `That's nice,' now let's get back to

discussions about your CPMs.' But other advertisers are very interested in

this kind of data. It's usually very hard to come by and everyone knows

that if Thompson has signed off on it, the results are valid," he said.

Indeed, a cable buyer for a major agency said, "If the research was

valid, it is something I would definitely factor in when weighing what

cable networks to buy."


Not all cable nets agree with this pilot study.

"We have evidence from a number of national studies that have tested

specific campaigns, such as IBM's "Solution for a Small Planet," which

show that CNN's environment proved to be credible and effective in

enhancing advertiser's messages," said Mark Harrad, senior VP, Turner

Broadcasting Sales, which sell

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