Sunday, July 08, 2007

What's less interesting? The opening of Heroes? Or commercials on fast forward? Turns out they're equals.

The article below is a report on the desperate attempts by the networks to slow down their increasing irrelevance to advertisers.

Unfortunately the conclusion I take from the quote below (which links you to the NYT site - though I cut and pasted the whole article as well) is that NBC shows like "Heroes" may be increasingly irrelevant. Period.

After all, if the opening of "Heroes" creates as much excitement in a viewer as a commercial played on fast forward, what does it say about "Heroes"?

Just how uninteresting is that show?

(By the way, from what I read, the numbers went down for the show as it continued to play out. Why? My guess: Way too many story lines dragging out way too long for viewers to really care. This saddens me since I loved the series first few shows - the pilot was especially compelling.)

If networks want to prove that people watch commercials on their shows, they should insist that advertisers make commercials worth watching.

That means, relevant, pointed, thoughtful, interesting entertainment about what you offer or make .

Advertising creative departments have been suggesting this solution for years, but they are consistently denied by both clients who are fearful of making the bold simple dramatic statements they say they want in their advertising and media departments that insist repetition is more important than quality.

(Apple's 1984 shows just how blind this "repetition logic" is. It ran once. Yes, during a Super Bowl, but it only ran once. Whereas most of the other commercials that ran during that years Superbowl ran again, over and over, elsewhere, the commercial STILL talked about from that year was Apple's 1984. Repetition is NOT the best way to connect to a human being through advertising. Relevant entertainment is.)

Anyway, here's the article.

"...judging from the biological reactions, the test subjects were just as engaged while watching fast-forwarded advertisements as they were while viewing opening scenes from the NBC show “Heroes” at regular speed."


Engaging at Any Speed? Commercials Put to Test

Published: July 3, 2007
In new experiments for NBC, people are hooked up to sensors as they watch television, and researchers observe changes in their heart rate, palm sweat, eye movement and breathing patterns.

Alan Wurtzel of NBC Universal monitoring a method of testing commercials played at a fast-forward speed.

But the panelists are not watching just NBC programs. They are watching commercials — in fast-forward mode.

So far, the findings have been just what NBC hoped: judging from the biological reactions, the test subjects were just as engaged while watching fast-forwarded advertisements as they were while viewing opening scenes from the NBC show “Heroes” at regular speed.

And that conclusion — which is still preliminary — could have big implications for NBC and other networks as they negotiate rates for air time with advertisers. Although advertisers have steadfastly refused to pay the networks for viewers who fast-forward commercials, as more households buy digital video recorders like TiVo, the networks may one day argue that this system should change.

When it comes to fast-forward advertisements, “the assumption has always been that they have no economic value, that they have no communication value,” said Alan Wurtzel, president for research at NBC Universal. “But the fact of the matter is we’re learning that they are valuable.”

The thesis flies in the face of the assumption among advertisers that their ads have no effect when played at a high speed on a DVR. Over the last month, as advertising agencies and television networks negotiated billions of dollars in deals for commercials during next year’s season, executives who buy commercial time did not waver in their position that people who zap past the ads are of no value to them.

“Would we pay when they’re fast-forwarding? No,” said Jason Maltby, president and co-executive director for national broadcast at MindShare North America, an agency in the WPP Group that buys advertisements. “You’ve created a message that in theory requires 15 seconds or 30 seconds to get that selling message across. On a high-speed DVR, 30 seconds gets pushed down to 1.5 seconds with no audio. It just wouldn’t work.”

For decades, advertisers have paid for advertisements based on how many people see them — or how many “impressions” an advertisement receives, in industry terms. Now that technology has reshaped people’s viewing habits, advertising executives are looking for other ways to quantify their audiences and gauge the impact of messages.

Some researchers said efforts like NBC’s to find alternative measurements are a step in the right direction.

“Whether people watch or not is not a useful measure of anything,” said Joe Plummer, chief research officer for the Advertising Research Foundation. “Exposure has very, very weak correlation with purchase intent and actual sales, whereas an engagement measure has high correlation and are closer to what really matters, which is brand growth and creating brand demand.”

Media executives have long discussed the potential of using physical reactions and brain scanning to track their messages, and advances in medical research in the past few years have made this more practical. NBC is working with Innerscope Research, a small company in Boston that uses wearable sensors to translate physical responses into what the company calls “emotional engagement.”

Panelists wear black-netted vests with tubes running out of them. Sensors on fingers measure sweat or “skin conductance,” as the researchers like to say. A monitor picks up on heartbeats, and an accelerometer tracks movement when panelists wiggle in their seats or chuckle. A respiratory band can tell if the abdomen and chest stop moving — noticing when someone holds their breath, for example, in a scene of suspense.

Innerscope has developed its own scale for engagement that combines the biometric factors that it tracks. On a scale of 1 to 100, a 50 is neutral, and above 60 is engaged. In Innerscope’s test for NBC, viewers of the first 20 seconds of live advertisements clocked in with a 66 engagement score and those fast-forwarding scored 68.

“People don’t turn off their emotional responses while they’re fast-forwarding,” said Carl Marci, the chief science officer of Innerscope. “People are obviously getting the information.”

Innerscope is working on a second study for NBC that will try to pin down which types of commercials generate the most engagement in fast-forward mode. Innerscope will monitor things like how often brands are shown during the advertisement, how quickly the camera cuts to new images, and whether audio is important in the storyline.

From there, NBC may be able to offer tips on how to make commercials stand out, even at rapid speeds.

“We can then go through our advertisers and help them optimize a commercial for fast-forwarding, while also not denigrating the quality while watched live,” Mr. Wurtzel said.

Millward Brown, an advertising research company in the WPP Group, has also studied physical responses to television commercials. The company found that people who have already seen an advertisement will tend to experience the same emotional response when seeing the same advertisement again in fast-forward mode.

Fast-forwarding should not scare advertisers because consumers are engaged to some degree, just by the act of pushing the button, said Nigel Hollis, chief global analyst for Millward Brown.

“We probably pay more attention to doing that than we do when watching a regular TV program,” Mr. Hollis said. “You’re sitting there saying, ‘when is the program coming back on?’ You are actually attending to it.”

But even if physiological measures become more accepted, media buyers said they do not see them replacing viewership ratings anytime soon.

“I can’t imagine the logistics of actually buying and selling commercial time based on physiological responses,” said Steve Sternberg, executive vice president of audience analysis for Magna Global, an agency that buys ads in the Interpublic Group. “We need data that is projectable.”

Mr. Wurtzel of NBC acknowledged it was early in the research process. But over time he hopes to expand bio-testing of commercials to the facilities NBC has used to test potential television programs in front of an audience. General Electric, the parent of NBC, has worked on security technology that can track people’s facial expressions and follow eye movements. He said he may also put that to use.

In time, he said, he hopes to shift NBC away from discussing advertisements based on eyeball counts to something incorporating physiological measures and engagement. But advertising executives said they plan to go only so far.

“I would say I’m not ready to jump on cost per perspiration,” said Mr. Maltby of MindShare.


Dave Tutin said...

This is such bullshit I can't believe a reputable newspaper would print it. we have always been fascinated by fast forward and slow motion. As human beings we are interested in anything that messes with the one thing we cannot mess with: time.

We are intrigued and held by the out-of-time movements. Slow mo has been used in a billion pop videos for this reason. Paul Simon even sang..
"The way the camera follows us in slo-mo."

So for this reason these resuklts do not surprise me. BUT...can the human mind actually take anything in...anything that an advertiser would be interested in conveying...while being entertained by this messing with time? I doubt it.

But watch. Next thing we know someone will create advertising DESIGNED to be watched in fast forward!

If was half as smart as I think I am I'd be off doing it right now! Another fortune pissed away.

Dave Tutin said...

Sorry for the terible spelling and missing words in the above comment. Just drove 6 hours from Montreal! I'm still seeing the New York Thruway in fast forward!

Malachy Walsh said...

These researchers are amazing, aren't they?

I mean, they've really got NBC on a hook.

It's interesting how little interest the advertisers are showing, though. It's hard to get the snake oil salesemen to buy snake oil for himself.

Dave Tutin said...

I think the biggest problem facing the advertising biz right now is the loss of faith on the part of its clients. Every silly idea like this that comes up just proves how right they are to suspect the industry (including the media side of things as in this case) of doing ANYTHING to survive! I truly believe that many clients - not all - are trying to create things of value and be of use in people's lives. It's the agencies that still behave as if everything is snake oil!