Wednesday, April 01, 2009

How To Hold A Viewer's Attention

Isn't that the goal of a TV commercial? To hold a viewer's attention.

You'd think so, wouldn't you? A recent study by TiVo and Innerscope (a company that measures viewers' biometric responses to watching TV) revealed that commercials must score "high right out of the blocks" to maintain interest.

Otherwise, the fast-forward button becomes activated. And, apparently, that fast-forward button is getting quite a work-out.

According to Magna, 30.5% of households with TVs will have DVRs by the end of this year. Magna also states that about 60% of DVR owners will use these machines to speed past ads. This is relatively safe number. TiVo's CEO, Tom Rogers, says that 90% of the time an ad runs, the fast-forward button is activated.

That's just 10% under "all the time." Rogers also implies that creativity has nothing to do with whether people watch a commercial or not. Rather, the problem is that commercials interrupt what someone is enjoying. Fast-forwarding is a viewer's way to eliminate the interruption.

Great. So, what the hell do we do?

The answer, I suppose, is to make it so that people can access commercials of interest without having them interrupt their programming. The problem is that when you suggest this to people, their response is, "C'mon, who in their right mind would choose to watch a commercial?"

Good point. But if you listen to Rogers, and look at the data, the only conclusion you can draw is who in their right mind wouldn't skip one when they have the chance?

And, unfortunately, that chance is only going to become more prevalent.

So, we're stuck between a rock and a hard place. If commercials continue to interrupt programming, viewers will continue to skip the commercials. If commercials don't interrupt, but are available for viewers to access when they're interested, we won't have enough people accessing them to make it worth the cost of producing the commercials.

Or, will we?

If advertisers continue to justify the cost of production on the size of the audience that sees the commercial, then yes, we're pretty much screwed. But, if advertisers justify the cost of production based on how long viewers spend with the commercial, then, well, there's hope.

Because then, you see, creativity comes to the fore. The more engaging the commercial, i.e. creative, the longer viewers will pay attention. The longer they pay attention, the better the ROI on the dollars spent to create the commercial.

Lee Clow, Chairman and chief creative officer of TBWA, and, without doubt, a creative genius, last year deplored the state of online ad creative as being "semi-nowhere." Randy Rothenberg, CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, has challenged ad creatives to begin a "creative renaissance," and to once again "start paying attention to great creativity."

Maybe it's not so much "paying attention" as it to have advertisers start paying, period, for great creativity.

If we can all agree that creativity is what inspires people to watch more of a commercial rather than less, then let's pay well those agencies that deliver such.

We can do this because the data itself, in the form of time-spent, view duration metrics, more or less tells us which commercials are creative and which commercials are not.

Which means that you could, in fact, argue that data is the new creative.

Then again, I already have.

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