Thought Gadgets

You’re not paying attention, dammit! Or at least that’s what advertisers are learning about consumers, as shown by the cute triangles on the line at above right.

Nielsen recently enlisted the Ball State University Center for Media Design to spend a whopping $3.5 million and observe 476 U.S. subjects directly for a combined total of 952 days to see how they really acted in front of TV sets, computer screens, mobile phones and other media devices. The study found Americans on average:

– watch 8.5 hours of content on all screen devices each day,
– spend most of that time, 5 hours and 9 minutes, in front of live TV,
– pay the most attention to television and video games (and the least to other media, such as radio, which tends to be on while John and Jane America do other stuff).

All sounds good for advertisers until, alas, Page 46 of the report shows that when spots run on TV, the “concurrent media exposure indices” go through the roof. Um. Yikes. You see the triangles above? In layman’s terms, that means when ads appear for dish soap, consumers change their environment — go to the bathroom or kitchen, pick up a magazine, call someone on the phone, or toy with a laptop computer, things other than watch the 30-second spot on TV. “During commercial breaks,” the report says, “people were observed shifting their primary attention.”

Impressions as currency

We call this the fallacy of impressions. “Impressions,” if you don’t work in advertising, are the currency used to price advertising. When you’re spending ad dollars, you compare cable network A vs. magazine option B based on the cost to make impressions on the target audience. Impression estimates, like prices in a store, help marketers judge which media thing to buy. But just as the dollar bills in your wallet used to be tied to the gold standard but now represent fictional digits in a bank computer, “impressions” in advertising are often more currency used to price media … than any actual imprint on the retinas of a consumer.

This is not really news. Numerous studies, such as this one by Mediamark Research, show consumers’ attentiveness to advertising slips and slides based on the channel format and time of day. Of course advertising still works, but the question, as our esteemed agency chief says, is “how much?” The solution we recommend for clients is to build some form of direct measurement into your advertising media plan. Impressions may or may not happen. The only way to evaluate your real impact in the market is to monitor the response results.