Do TV ads reach DVR owners ? What marketers really need to know.

Commercial market research company Millward Brown have announced results of a (single) study of TV ad awareness showing no difference between DVR owners and non-owners.

There are several good reasons to believe that the potential impact of the DVR/PVR/Tivo has been overstated.
Does this study add supporting evidence ? Unfortunately no, not really.

The survey, done with ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC, purports to show that owning a DVR does not reduce the effect of prime time TV advertising (on ad recall). But this is not a longitudinal study, its quasi-experimental design appears to have simply compared current DVR owners with non-owners – when we know these are two very different groups of people. DVR ownership in the US is rare (about 7%), and current DVR owners are not typical TV viewers (before or after they get their DVR). I expect they watch more TV, and more intently, even with ad fast-forwarding they are probably more knowledgeable about ads.

Just as importantly we can’t generalise these results to all DVRs. In the US currently most of the DVRs only allow fast forwarding of ads, and as Nigel Hollis rightly points out this may actually result in more intense processing of the ads by viewers. But other DVRs allow for 30 second jumps at the click of a button – a few clicks and the viewer misses most ads in the break entirely. This is a different ball game, but how much it affects ad effectiveness remains yet unknown.

In order to understand the DVR effect we need a realistic picture of how much avoidance occurs already in a non-DVR environment. It could very well be that DVR facilitated ad skipping merely replaces other forms of passive and active ad avoidance – in which case DVR impact will be negligible.

We’d also like to know how much ad skipping will occur amongst ‘normal’ TV viewers once they have a DVR. And we need to know how much effect an ad can have even if it isn’t viewed entirely, and how this differs for different types of ads.

The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute’s media research group has recently conducted a large scale field experiment examining passive (ie not switching channels or leaving the room) ad avoidance. More than 400 people were observed watching TV in their own homes. Full results will be released to corporate members shortly, but meanwhile I’ll mention that we were pleasantly surprised by the amount of impact that good quality ads had amongst viewers who were avoiding the ad break (muting the sound, reading, talking etc.).

More evidence that viewers don’t have to be actively engaged with the ad for it to have an effect. Which is a good thing because viewers are rarely actively engaged with ads.

– Dr Byron Sharp

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