Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Epilogue to the DearMedia study on youth and TV

After the publication of the full report I mentioned in my previous post (which, in academic terms would not be considered a full report) and the comment by one of the authors (Jo Caudron) you'll find below that post, it is my duty to get back to the results and discuss them. 

Firstly, I have to confess something. Jo Caudron is right when stating that there is a real lack of research on the topic. Of course, there will be some data available in the industry, but there is only little (and biased?) information publicly available. Academic research has, quite surprisingly, slowed down the last decade on this topic. Speck and Elliott (1997, Journal of Advertising) is still an often cited source, which illustrates this standstill. A striking parallel with this seminal work and the DearMedia report is the use of self-report measures, something I would not trust as a researcher. There is some more recent academic work and my discussion here is mostly based on Bellman et al. (2010, Journal of Advertising).
In advertisement avoidance, we can discern three types: mechanical (zapping, skipping, etc.), cognitive (not paying attention), and physical (e.g., leaving the room). People in advertising have been largely focused on the first type, just like the DearMedia report focuses on it, but actually the two other types are far more frequent. So, if there is a generation effect demonstrated in the report by DearMedia (they have no inter-generational data), than this could simply reflect the switch from cognitive and physical avoidance towards mechanical avoidance.
The same Bellman et al. paper also includes a nice study on the effects of the different types of mechanical ad avoidance. Bottomline is that, yes, there are negative effects of avoidance on ad recognition and recall, but for some types of avoidance the effects are not that bad. More importantly, if people have seen an ad at least once, there is a strong residual effect of mechanically avoided ads. The mere blink of the ad in a fast-forward projection may be enough to reactivate the ad and to have a clear effect. Here lies one strong benefit of delayed viewing: these people have the power to fast-forward so they stay in front of TV, actively watching the screen while going fast-forward. The advertising effect might be greater than it used to be the past decade when people used the ad breaks to visit the fridge or the bathroom.
Another advantage of delayed viewing, and one I have not yet encountered in literature, is the higher motivation or involvement of the viewer. When viewing delayed, the viewer is that much involved with the content that he or she decides that anything else that is on TV at that time is of inferior quality or importance compared to the chosen delayed broadcast. This type of involvement with the contents is a serious ad benefit given that TV has a strong context effect on the advertisement processing. Indeed, you are quite sure that the person confronted with your delayed act is really part of the target group you aimed for when buying ad space at that particular slot. Ironically, the delayed viewers are not, or only marginally, paid for by the advertisers.
In sum, I believe that the delayed viewing might be an issue all stakeholders will have to think about, but there surely is a positive way to deal with it. In the UK, signs are already there that the expansion of delayed viewing is at an end, so I don't believe there is an end of an era approaching. Of course, TV will have to reinvent itself a bit to attract viewers massively at about the same time, but even the delayed viewers will experience advertising effects as argued above.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Tim,

    Nice post. Please let me add just a few remarks.

    Though it is true that the main part of our report talks about digital media-behavior (as the initial purpose was to get a feeling about the impact of "digital" on TV-behavior), we do have results on all 3 levels of ad avoidance. Zapping to another channel and running away from TV are still the 2 largest categories, followed by FFWD'ing.

    I do agree that FFWD'ing might still allow people to get influenced by an ad, considered they had the chance to watch it at least once. So in that case the ad might still work, and little harm is done with ad avoidance.

    The problems with this situation are twofold:

    We still have to let them watch the ads at least once. Viewers who have developed the fine craft of using the remote to precisely FFWD over all ads, drop out of this possibility.

    But more worrying: even if the effects of FFWD'ing are less dramatic, we need a new consensus in the industry that acknowledges this. Today we are at the beginning of a long phase of arguments and (re)negotiation of the value of TV-advertising for advertisers. If they are not convinced of the limited effect of FFWD'ing on ad recognition, they will force TV-stations to bring down their rates anyway, based on avoidance. Thus creating the start of a negative, downhill evolution, reducing the revenues for TV-stations, reducing quality, ... eventually bringing down TV-stations as we know them.

    So if there is indeed a not-so-negative effect of FFWD'ing, we need proof of this so it can be used to find a new (positive) balance between the TV-industry and the advertisers. If the results are not-so-negative the industry can start to develop ways to show more "one-time-ad-views" to their audiences. They can be positive and constructive to deal with a problem that is real, but at least they can deal with it.

    But if this "not-so-negative" effect happens to be invalid OR if we can't proof it to the advertisers, I believe some very bad times are ahead for the industry.

    So again: could someone please pick up to towel and start doing this kind of research rapidly. Make it deeper, make it wider, make it better, make it academic, but just do it. We need it.