The World: Insider's View - Netherlands

The Dutch are finally getting to grips with the realities of TV advertising and the fact that only 19 per cent of viewers watch the ads, Ron Vrijmoet says.

Most foreigners visiting The Netherlands will notice that the Dutch generally never close their curtains. Walking around a Dutch city at night, you can look straight into the well-lit living-rooms and watch people going about their evening routines: watching TV while they have dinner, taking a nap, reading the paper, scratching the dog or even themselves.

Given this transparency, it's surprising that relatively little is known about the TV viewing habits of the Dutch. There is, of course, the regular AGB viewing measurement, but as in other countries, this simply registers who is in the room when the TV is on, not what they are doing.

Inspired by Mark Ritson's research in the UK two years ago, the Dutch Association of Advertisers recently assigned MM&O, a Dutch research consultancy, to find out more. MM&O installed cameras in the living-rooms of 100 Dutch families and recorded their viewing habits for one evening.

MM&O reported that only 19 per cent of advertising broadcast actually had an audience. More than four-fifths of viewers do something else when the ads come on: channel-surf; talk; leave the room; read a paper or sleep.

The news caused big headlines for a couple of days. Now, a few weeks later, the subject seems to have disappeared from the agenda completely.

The fact that the report's publication coincided with the annual negotiations between advertisers and the TV stations created some scepticism. In addition, marketers most likely put more trust in their own tracking and qualitative research and seem to continue to base their marketing communication strategy and channel-mix on their own data.

But even if the MM&O research is taken as merely indicative, it contains some interesting points for marketers and agencies. The research highlighted that people have lots of other things to do in their own living-room.

Second, it indicated that programmes with "higher emotional involvement" keep viewing high and prevent channel-hopping. Entertaining TV ads do the same. Popular commercials resulted in increased audience size, as viewers would call other family members into the living-room to watch the ad.

For marketers and ad agencies, the message should be clear. Even in their living-rooms, people have plenty of things to do aside from watching TV and there are lots of alternatives to watching ads. People make time for programming and advertising that involves and rewards them and that they enjoy.

To deserve our share of their time we need to stop interrupting what audiences are interested in and become what they are interested in.

If you want to check if this is working, slow down while walking past a Dutch house during a late-evening stroll.

- Ron Vrijmoet is the JWT chief executive for continental Europe.