Likeable ads are more effective, but some people are uninterested
in all forms of marketing communication. Damian Lanigan explains Lowes’
Ad Avoiders theory and asks whether ISBA and its powerful members should
be paying attention.
Here’s an experiment you can try at home. Sit in your favourite armchair
watching commercial TV with your index finger poised over the remote
control channel changer. You see the little black and white square in
the corner of the screen, announcing an imminent ad break. Tempted to go
surfing? No? Now the break bumper appears, followed by the Tic Tac ad
featuring that Austrian maiden aunt with her mind-bending mantra (’...
so that’s two hours of fresh breath for just two calories. Yes, two
hours of fresh breath for just two calories.
Yes, two hours of fresh breath ...’)
Still with us? Good. Over to a series of glassy-eyed automata addressing
an unseen interviewer with evangelical zeal: ’Since I subscribed to BT’s
Friends and Family scheme I have become surgically attached to the
Finger still hovering? Incredible. Now Shane Richie comes into view.
He’s grinning maniacally, foisting boxes of soap powder on to frightened
Northern housewives. If you’re still persevering you must either work in
advertising or take some kind of ghoulish pleasure in godawfulness. Real
people aren’t so masochistic. They may well have moved on at any point
after the black-and-white square.
This is a shame, particularly for Whitbread and the media planners at
Motive, because the new Boddingtons ad is up next in the break, and a
good proportion of the intended audience, which might actually have
liked the ad, is not going to see it. Most will still show up on the
Barb figures, of course, but this is cold comfort for Motive. The money
spent on its client’s behalf is effectively wasted through no fault of
New research from Lowe Howard-Spink on Ad Avoidance suggests that up to
13 per cent of all TVRs, worth nearly pounds 500 million, are lost in
such a way - and there is no way of telling who is suffering the most.
More alarmingly, there seems to be a growing alienation from advertising
in general. In 1991, TGI recorded that 33 per cent of consumers agreed
with the statement: ’I enjoy the TV ads as much as the programmes.’ That
figure is now down to 23 per cent, the lowest on record, and there is no
evidence to suggest that this is because the programmes have got
Lowes, having detected the phenomenon of avoidance, went on to identify
these Ad Avoiders within the population. They applied a proprietary
software system to available Barb data and three broad segments emerged,
each accounting for roughly one-third of the TV viewing audience.
Non-Avoiders rarely missed commercial breaks, while Moderate Avoiders
saw about 20 per cent fewer ads than Non-Avoiders. Ad Avoiders, however,
take every opportunity to avoid commercials and consequently see only
half of the ads of Non-Avoiders.
It’s not that Avoiders hate ads per se, they just think that far too
many ads nowadays seem designed to bore, bewilder and patronise. When
they see ads like this they make their escape, which makes it all the
more galling for agencies and advertisers who take such pains to ensure
that their ads don’t fall into any of these categories.
This news would be distressing enough for advertisers and TV contractors
if Avoiders turned out to be the elusive young, high net worth, light
viewers so dear to their hearts. But the news is worse. Lowes revealed
that Ad Avoiders exist across the entire population and can’t be reached
by skewing media plans in the conventional manner. As a segment, they
are also non-price sensitive, and thus potentially of very high value to
advertisers in their fight against budget brands, own-label and
The final worrying finding was that Avoiders are likely to grow as a
segment as cable and satellite penetration increases. Barb analysis
determined that people became far more likely to avoid once given access
to cable and satellite.
Also, you can’t reach them in media other than TV, because they are as
likely to avoid in press as they are on the box.
Lord Leverhulme’s statement, that only half the money he spent on
advertising was wasted, is beginning to look blithely optimistic.
Lowes believes that the answer lies in making ads that ’people are
prepared to give time to’ allied to sharper media placement tailored to
the characteristics of Avoiders. The agency claims that it has empirical
evidence across its client list that advertising effectiveness can be
improved if Avoiders are pursued with the right degree of care and
It is difficult to argue that media plans couldn’t be enhanced by the
application of some of Lowes’ findings, particularly those related to
reducing ’over-coverage’. The real issue, however, is creative. What
types of ad prevent Avoiders from avoiding?
Lowes cites research conducted in the US, South Africa and the UK to
help answer this question. All these studies (Haley and Baldinger, ARF
Copy Research Validity Project, 1991 in America, Du Plessis, 1994 in
South Africa, Millward Brown in the UK) claim to find a strong
correlation between ’likeability’ and ’awareness’. Du Plessis also
detected that ads that people truly loathed, while they are better at
generating awareness than bland dreck, are less than half as effective
at doing so than the most ’likeable’ commercials.
Given that the American study claimed a correlation between
’likeability’ and sales, the TGI findings begin to take on more
significance. As Lowes puts it: ’If liking matters and fewer people now
like advertising, then advertising is getting less effective.’ However,
’likeability’ is a complex notion.
Research conducted by Alex Biel in America, cited in Haley and
Baldinger, gave it five dimensions: Ingenuity, Meaningfulness, Energy,
Warmth and ’Rubs the Wrong Way’. Any clearer? Even Procter and Gamble’s
most fiendish efforts probably score on at least one of these
dimensions, not least ’Rubs the Wrong Way’.
Bob Wootton, the director of media services at the Incorporated Society
of British Advertisers, encourages caution on the Ad Avoiders study,
particularly in the area of likeability. While acknowledging that Lowes
work is ’quite well put together’ and presents an interesting use of
available data, he contends that the connection between likeability and
effectiveness is not yet proven. ’Lowes may be on the right path but, if
it was, its client base would be evangelical. If the link was proven
then new clients would be hanging around the agency’s door like bees
around a honeypot,’ he says.
Furthermore, Wootton identifies considerable self-interest in the
’Lowes has found a hypothesis that fits its ethos and has gone out to
prove it. The creative thought-police want to maintain the idea that
Britain is different from everywhere else, that the ad industry here is
more like the film industry. The reality is that people aren’t making
ads for the love of it, but for hard, cynical, commercial ends.’
Wootton is happy to countenance a ’mixed economy’ of advertising
approaches, and contends that any other view is tantamount to
He also believes that the marketing community might take the Ad Avoiders
research more seriously if it came from a different source: ’TMD for
Lowes has used the research to question ISBA’s policy of increasing the
minutage on terrestrial channels to the level allowed on
extra-terrestrial stations. It believes that if commercials remain at
their current level of quality then increasing available minutage will
increase avoided minutage.
More avoided minutage means more wasted client money. Again, ’case not
proven’, according to Wootton.’If the market is being responsible then
it will find new ways of cutting through, either with new uses of
airtime (he cites Miller Time) or with better uses of existing
Clients have a similar perspective. Michael Hebel, marketing director at
Wall’s Ice Cream in the UK, has seen the research and acknowledges its
importance. ’Lowes has a valid point, and the phenomenon is apparent in
every European market. Ads should be enjoyable, to help brands build
bonds with consumers,’ he argues. However, having accepted the
principle, he finds it more difficult to be definitive about its
application: ’Better ads - it is very subjective - who can say what it
Lowes is continuing its study in order to determine what Ad Avoiders are
prepared to give time to, and also to establish whether there is any
correlation between the ads they like and the brands they buy. Just as
importantly, they will need to ’out’ those ads that are precipitating
the big turn-off.
Is there the prospect, some time in the future, of the producers of
’likeable’ ads claiming compensation from the producers of the boring,
the patronising and the just plain awful? Speaking as an entirely
subjective Mancunian, I just can’t stand those patronising Boddies ads
and always turn them off. Tic Tac should sue.
Ad Avoiders: the theory
Lowe Howard-Spink set out to prove that there is a distinct segment of
the population who actively seek to avoid advertising. If these people
were found to exist, the plan was to find out whether anything could be
done to get them back in the fold.
Using proprietary software, six years of Barb data, a TGI recontact
programme, focus groups and modified client tracking studies, Lowes
discovered a large section of the population (about 30 per cent) that
actively avoids advertising.
These people view as few as half the commercials seen by
They expect ad breaks to contain boring and irrelevant material and have
thus developed strategies of avoidance.
Lowes contends that avoidance activity accounts for 13 per cent of all
TVRs at a cost to all advertisers of nearly pounds 500 million. A
further consequence is that a large proportion of media budgets is being
wasted on over-coverage of Non-Avoiders.
Inconveniently for advertisers, Avoiders are not contained within any
one demographic segment, but are likely to be the ’smartest’ people
within their group and, crucially, tend to be the people with the lowest
price sensitivity, those who should be most susceptible to brand
The research offers a worrying glimpse of the future: people are far
more likely to be Avoiders if they have satellite or cable. But all is
not lost. Avoiders do respond to distinctive, relevant and original
advertising that catches them at the right time.
Individual advertisers and agencies must identify and understand the
motivations of Ad Avoiders and tailor their creative and media solutions
The issues for the industry in general are serious - the producers of
boring, patronising advertising are not only reducing their own
commercial effectiveness, but that of advertisers who try harder to make
their work involving and sympathetic.