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Does fast-forwarding through commercials hurt advertisers?


A few weeks ago, my co-bloggers were doubtful that it is possible to watch 36 hours of television in a week. The main factor that makes television viewing on this scale possible for me is the DVR, which allows

me to tape two shows simultaneously. It also allows me to easily fast-forward through commercials, and  because of the DVR,  the only commercials I see anymore are when I’m watching live sports. While the ability to easily record a show and watch it later (and fast forward through commercials as you watch it later) has improved the quality of life for my roommates and me, I’ve often wondered how it affects advertisers. After all, it’s their money that pays for my favorite shows.

A recent study in the Journal of Advertising Research addressed this very question. Erik du Pleiss of the South African advertising agency Millard Brown gathered 68 average TV watchers for an experiment on ad recall.

Participants were first shown a series of ads at normal speed, and then were shown the same ads fast forwarded. They were asked if they remembered the ad and how much they liked the ad. Here are their results as presented in the Harvard Business Review article on this topic:

As it turns out, if you’ve seen an ad before, even seeing it for a split second while fast forwarding will make you think of the product. I know that this works on me- when I’m fast forwarding through a show and see an ad for Wendy’s, I crave a baconator even if I don’t see the whole ad. Mmm… baconator.

Interestingly, whether people watch a show at normal speed or fast forwarded doesn’t seem to affect how much they like the ad. Though fast forwarded scores were always lower, they weren’t significantly lower.

Du Pleiss correctly points out that fast-forwarding through commercials to get back to your show requires paying pretty close attention to the TV. I can attest that it’s very easy to go too far and miss some of your show. This increased attention might actually benefit advertisers if they create an ad designed to be viewed very fast with no sound.

DVR’s are here to stay. They are just too convenient-  thanks to our DVR, I can now leave my house during “Shark Week”.  Advertisers must adapt to this new technology instead of just complaining about it. I’m very interested to see what they come up with, and how I can learn to skip it so I can watch my show.

DU PLESSIS, E. (2009). Digital Video Recorders and Inadvertent Advertising Exposure Journal of Advertising Research, 49 (2) DOI: 10.2501/S0021849909090345