NBC's Clockwork Use of Ultra-Research
On our way toward enjoying our first cup of coffee yesterday, we read WSJ reporter STEPHANIE KANG's first sentence about NBC's new research. It made us pause to think about the mental picture it created....
We then swallowed carefully, stopped the gagging reflex, dumped out our mug and decided to drink it black instead. It hadn't occurred to us that the subject of the article would make us even more nauseous!
"What do Matt Damon and an animated piece of phlegm have in common? Viewers seem to remember them especially well, according to a new test that measured what people recall about TV ads, even when they're zapping through them."
The test is part of a continuing effort by General Electric's NBC Universal to measure the effectiveness of television ads that viewers skip through with their digital video recorders. The bottom line: Viewers still remember the spots -- or at least some elements of them -- even when they're watching at up to six times the speed of regular live TV.
A Mucinex ad. People are more likely to remember an ad in fast-forward mode if they've already seen it live; familiar characters help, too. Tracking biometric measurements such as eye movements, heart rate and sweat, the study found that the ads people concentrated on the most and recalled the most shared several traits. The most successful ads concentrated the action and the brand's logo in the middle of the screen, didn't rely on multiple scene changes, audio or text to tell the story, and often used familiar characters. People were also more likely to remember an ad in fast-forward mode if they had seen it once before live.
The results could have implications for media planning and buying. Advertisers may decide to unveil new campaigns during live events like sports games and then re-run the spots during programs likely to be recorded. Advertisers may also choose to test multiple edits of a commercial to see how it performs when it's fast-forwarded, says Mike Hess, global research director at media firm OMD, part of the Omnicom Group.
NBC's study is the latest effort by the industry, which has grappled in recent years with how to make TV ads DVR-proof. At least one major marketer has already begun to tweak how it crafts ads in the DVR world. Last year, Visa ran a commercial set in a deli, where patrons were paying for their lunch using Visa check cards. At the end of the commercial the company's "Life Takes Visa" tagline appeared in bright blue on a white screen. Visa decided to focus on the slogan for a few extra seconds so it had a better chance of being seen if the ad was being zapped. (Visa didn't participate in the NBC study.)
Conducted in August by Innerscope Research, the NBC study included 100 people between the ages of 25 and 35, who watched ads during the pilot of the NBC show "Journeyman." Most of the 24 ads in the test had already aired, says NBC. The study compared the responses of viewers who watched the ads live with the responses of those who fast-forwarded through them.
NBC Universal President of Research Alan Wurtzel says the network commissioned the study to better understand why TV zappers still recalled ads, which many in the industry found counterintuitive. Part of the reason, it turns out, is that viewers speeding through ads are often paying more attention to the screen than live TV viewers, who listen for clues to turn back to the TV program.
Two of the top-performing ads in the NBC test featured Mr. Damon, star of the "Bourne" movie franchise, and Mr. Mucus, the cartoon spokesman for Reckitt Benckiser's cough-medicine brand Mucinex. The 30-second trailer for the third Bourne film, from GE's Universal Pictures, earned high scores with viewers because many were already familiar with the film franchise and the trailer relies heavily on Mr. Damon's celebrity appeal. The Mucinex ad, meanwhile, features Mr. Mucus, the brand's well-known cartoon spokesman.
In general, viewers who watched live were much more likely to recall an ad. In the study, 69% of live viewers remembered the ads the next day. But 25% of the viewers who were zapping ads at the fastest available speed also recalled them the next day, according to NBC -- countering the idea that viewers don't absorb any ad messages in fast-forward.
"I don't think the industry is about to create a whole round of commercials" around DVR viewing," says Mr. Hess. "But if you're sensitive to that, there are some things that you can try to do better."
Advertising experts were surprised by some of the findings, including the notion that viewers tend to concentrate on the center of the screen rather than taking in the entire picture.
"It shows that the mind starts to take short cuts in fast motion," says John Mossawir, senior vice president of research at Initiative Media, part of the Interpublic Group. The NBC study also shows that simple, traditional plotlines perform best in fast-forward. "Having things come in at weird angles, tricks with pacing don't work there."