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Why DVR might not mean the end of advertising

Thanks to the glorious invention of television recording devices, like TiVo and DVR, boob tube connoisseurs can watch their favorite shows and fast-forward through all those pesky commercials (I'm looking at you, Geico). This is great news for everyone, except advertisers. As the popularity of DVR continues to grow, 21st century Mad Men are scrambling to come up with new ways to get people to pay attention to their ads. But a new study by a group of Boston College researchers shows that watching ads in fast-forward can still influence consumer behavior, if done in the right way.

The study was run by Professors S. Adam Brasel and James Gips of the Carrol School of Management at BC. They concluded that if the brand information (ie: the Pizza Hut logo or the Nike swoosh) is placed smack in the middle of the screen, viewers will not only see it, but remember it. In fact, they pay more attention to the screen than people who watch commercials at regular speed. They don't need audio and they don't need to see 95% of the frames (the number of frames lost when watching in fast-forward).

On the other hand, brand placement anywhere outside the center of the screen will be completely lost on fast-forwarding viewers and make no impact on their future buying decisions. In a 30-second spot played at regular speed, visual cues and motion attract viewers' attention to brand images along the periphery of the screen. When cruising through commercials with TiVo or DVR, the viewer sees about 1 out of every 24 frames and the brand imaging get less than one third of a second of view time. Without the audio and visual cues to direct them, these viewers focus on the center of the screen only.

"Everybody is saying that TV advertising is doomed – TiVo has broken it and DVR will kill it," said Brasel. "But it's not like the advertising disappears when you use TiVo. We wanted to find out what happens when you fast-forward through these ads." As a test, Brasel and Gips created two commercials using centered images for two different British candy bars. One was heavily branded and the other was lightly branded. After viewing the ads, subjects were invited to choose one of the two chocolate bars. They chose the heavily branded bar twice as often as the lightly branded bar. "We created a massive shift in behavior from a commercial lasting just over one second," said Brasel. "It's clear that just because an ad is being fast-forwarded, doesn't mean it is a wasted ad."

This is no death knell for ads, just a siren call to adapt. But does this mean those of us without fast-forwarding technology will have to suffer through ads with no captivating visuals or clever banter? Ads solely concerned with in-your-face brand images? Ads more devoid of intelligence than they already are? And the most worrisome thought of all: What will happen to that loveable gecko for Geico?

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