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.

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

telephone receiver.’

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

their own.

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

margin-eating promotions.

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.