CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/CAMPAIGN’S 30TH ANNIVERSARY SURVEY - Tackling the problem of increased TV ad zapping. If half of viewers skip ads, how can you reach them? Richard Cook investigates

Sometimes it hurts to tell the truth. Even when that truth is well enough known and understood. Sometimes the truth simply makes unpalatable reading. And, then again, sometimes the truth is more difficult to digest in one form than in another. This is particularly the case when it comes to the truth contained in statistics.

Sometimes it hurts to tell the truth. Even when that truth is well

enough known and understood. Sometimes the truth simply makes

unpalatable reading. And, then again, sometimes the truth is more

difficult to digest in one form than in another. This is particularly

the case when it comes to the truth contained in statistics.

Half of all television viewers now switch channels when the commercial

break starts, according to exclusive research commissioned by Campaign

last week to mark its 30th anniversary (Campaign, 18 September).

The survey was conducted by Audience Selection among a representative

sample of 1,000 people. Two-thirds of this sample also agreed that there

was simply too much advertising on television. The figures are

surprising, not so much in what they say, as in how vehemently they say


They go far further, for instance, than a broadly comparable report

organised by the Henley Centre back in 1996, which found that 39 per

cent of UK adults agreed with the statement: ’I usually switch channels

or leave the room when ads come on.’ But that survey also hinted at the

potential meltdown the UK was facing by examining the situation in the

other major European markets. It has found, for instance, that the

attention paid to ads in the UK was, at that time, actually the

strongest in Europe. In Spain, an incredible 71 per cent admitted to

switching channels or leaving the room when the ad breaks came on.

The statistics at first sight don’t appear to offer much cheer to the

advertising or TV communities. But, though clearly worrying, are they

really as cataclysmic as they might seem?

’It’s wrong to use this sort of information to say that advertisers are

wasting any of their adspend on television,’ Channel 5’s director of

advertising, Nick Milligan, explains. ’Advertisers buy impacts, of

course, and not ratings, and the research currency, BARB, produces

figures for every minute of the broadcasting day. They know precisely

what they are buying.’

Advertisers, in other words, already know that they lose viewers in the

commercial break and, according to BARB’s minute-by-minute ratings, they

already have some idea of the magnitude of this loss. The problem is

that BARB’s estimate of the magnitude of this loss is nowhere near

Audience Selection’s 52 per cent.

’If the Audience Selection figures are right, then they suggest

something serious is amiss with BARB,’ Phil Georgiadis, Walker Media’s

managing director, concurs. ’But I’d agree that the exact amount of

churn isn’t the issue as long as we always remember that there will be a

hefty degree of churn in the consumption of any media - not just TV.

’It’s the same with NRS in the press market. The effectiveness of the

communication has to be the only important way of evaluating media


It follows that it doesn’t matter whether you are buying 200 ratings or

500 ratings, as long as the advertising is doing the job it set out to

do. This explanation is familiar to the poster industry, where the

abolition of the Oscar research and the setting up of the more rigorous

Postar panels reduced overall audience levels for the medium at a


However, it did little to harm the effectiveness of the medium as an

important advertising vehicle. And it is much the same story with


What the Audience Selection research does suggest, however, is that the

problem of churn is only getting worse as we approach the multichannel

future. And, unfortunately, this is not the only research to reveal

unwelcome facts. According to TGI, consumer dissatisfaction with

advertising is sharply on the increase. In 1991, almost a third of the

adult population agreed with the proposition: ’I enjoy the television

ads as much as the programmes.’ Last year that percentage was down to 23

per cent (although last week’s Audience Selection figure for people who

thought the ads more enjoyable than the programmes was 48 per cent).

But then that’s hardly surprising in this age of media


According to Western International Media, each week the average UK adult

is exposed to 250 television commercials, 350 poster sites, 150 radio

ads, 400 press ads and three cinema ads. Western’s research into the

area tends to support the Audience Selection figures. In fact, it has

categorised a group of viewers as ’ad avoiders’ - an increasingly

important minority that actually takes positive steps to avoid watching

ad breaks.

’The trouble is, everyone knows ad avoiders are a problem but they are a

bigger problem than anybody realises,’ Ivor Hussein, Western

International Media’s research director, points out.

’Because, despite the fact that they are demographically flat, they are

the most attractive to advertisers in each of their demographic


For instance, ad avoiders are 30 per cent more likely to own their own

car, 18 per cent more likely to take multiple holidays and 27 per cent

more likely to take out a personal pension plan.’

Hussein concludes: ’They are the creme de la creme as far as advertisers

are concerned but are the very people who actively try to miss the


It’s a huge problem and one that requires advertisers to adopt entirely

new strategies in their advertising and media plans if they really want

to reach them.’

Editor’s Comment, p31.

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