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Guest Opinion: New Research Shows That TV Is as Powerful as It's Ever Been

3 Nov, 2009 By: Doug Garnett Response

i1The death of television advertising was first rumored decades ago with fears that remote controls and the VCR would put advertisers out of business. When digital video recorders (DVRs) appeared more than 10 years ago, we were once again told that TV advertising would die. Now the "TV killer" idea is trotted out for every new media option — from "buzz" marketing and YouTube, to social networking and mobile advertising.

To sort today's media fact from fiction, the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR) dedicated its June 2009 edition to new and old media options. It includes articles dedicated to specific media types as well as compendium articles looking at how to balance an integrated media mix. What they found is surprising.

LESSON 1: Television advertising's impact is increasing. This is a jaw-dropping conclusion. And the studies are very clear. For example, one article reports findings that one index of TV effectiveness has increased 30 percent from 2005 to 2008 (The Dratfield Analysis). This same article reports a 50-percent increase in the television "Persuasion Points" between 1997 and 2006, according to the ARS database. (Rubinson, "Empirical Evidence of TV Advertising Effectiveness")

LESSON 2: TV Viewership has not declined. We were told to expect TV's decline because viewership would decline. In fact, it's not declining. The latest studies find that TV consumption is as high as ever. During primetime on any given evening you will still find two thirds of American households watching TV.

LESSON 3: Attention while viewing TV has not decreased. We've also been told that TV advertising will lose impact because viewers are "multi-tasking" — watching TV while browsing the Internet.

In fact, there is no drop in effectiveness of TV advertising. We've always multi-tasked while watching. Thirty years ago, my college roommate and I played darts during commercial breaks while watching "M*A*S*H" every night. Is anything really different today? We have new options for distraction.

LESSON 4: TV effectiveness hasn't decreased due to DVRs. DVRs were supposed to put the nail in the coffin of TV advertising. The JAR studies look at this question and find no drop in effectiveness due to DVRs.

Why? One study notes that without DVRs, we saw three types of behavior during commercials: one-third of viewers remain active, one-third partially view commercials, and one-third completely avoid commercials.

It appears this behavior remains the same with DVRs and that their impact is to allow people who would have ignored the advertising anyway to fast-forward past it.

LESSON 5: Television makes other media work better. The JAR studies also show that when a TV campaign is on-air, other media have higher impact as well. The direct response television (DRTV) business should take note. While television might be our core communication, it has even more impact when used with other media. Building a solid foundation of communication with TV makes for better success, for example, in word-of-mouth advertising campaigns — just one cross-media finding in the JAR articles.

Why Do We Hear So Much About New Media?

New media dominates discussion right now because it benefits three power centers. First, it's good for advertising agencies. In broad terms, it shifts client spending from media expense to agency manpower — the best source of agency profit.

New media hype is also good for new media companies. These companies stand to make billions from successful IPOs or acquisitions. Finally, new media is good for journalists. It gives the 24-hour cable news cycle and traditional advertising reporters a topic that drives viewership and readership — their key to profits.

Unfortunately none of these groups are the advertisers themselves. Truth is, new media has had more impact on agency profits than in generating profits for clients.

Back to the Future With DRTV

Far from the death of TV, these studies show that TV's evolution gives it amazing vitality and life. DRTV is one of those sources of TV's vitality — an evolution that brings new power to advertisers with campaigns that can be mounted for pennies on the TV dollar.

Doug Garnett is founder and CEO of Atomic Direct — a Portland, Ore.-based advertising agency specializing in brands, consumer strategy, infomercials, and driving sales with television. He can be reached via E-mail at . For more information, visit

About the Author: Doug Garnett

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