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The size TV commercials is important: if small, then unnoticeable

The size TV commercials is important: if small, then unnoticeable

Mikhail Dymshits

Advertisers love short TV commercials. This love bases upon the assumption, that no matter how short a commercial might be, it is always noticed by the consumer and it always influences his behavior. One of the main reasons why short commercials are used is the high price of 30-second commercials, for example. But the thing is, that short commercials (shorter than 20 seconds) are completely useless, because they aren’t noticed by the audience. Even if combined with longer versions and if there is too much of them, they are not noticed either. Commercials with a duration of less than 20 seconds are ignored due to the psychophysiological limits, so if each contact is ineffective (has a zero-effectiveness), all together they make a zero (no matter how many zeroes you add or short commercials you show).

A little bit of history

In the 60’s many commercials had a duration of 1 minute, in the 70’s the standard went down to 30 seconds, in the 80’s more and more shorter commercials were shown. And at the same time the discussion began, whether short commercials were effective or not. On one hand the commercial’s duration went down to 30 seconds, so its effectiveness fell as well, but on the other hand such a commercial demands a much lower input (the difference between a 30-second commercial and a longer is much more influenced by the quality of the creative input then by the duration).

One of the first works, which brought short commercials into fashion, was a study by MacLachland&Siegel (1980). It presented the results of the experiment, when the duration of a commercial was reduced by 20% (from 30 to 24 seconds). And the shortened commercials turned out to be even more effective than the full version. But we must also take into consideration that the duration was reduced because the commercial was shown at a higher speed and not because some excerpts were cut.

In addition to the experiments some argumentation is presented, basing upon the Fechner’s law, which describes the dependence of force perception as a logarithm from the impact force. After all the conclusion comes, that a 15-second commercial must be 25% less efficient, than a 30-second commercial. But in this case everything is unclear, because the law supposes, that there is a threshold perception, i.e. an impact force, which is not perceived by people, but it is not included into the duration calculations.

Today there are quite a lot of studies on this issue. Some of them state, that 15-second commercials must be at least half as efficient as 30-second commercials (so the advertisers cut down advertising expenses), others allege, 15-second commercials prove completely inefficient.

The examination of all of the studies on this topic leads to the conclusion, that different points of view result from the analysis techniques applied. The main arguments for and against short commercials that have been adduced within the recent decade and the structure of argumentation are listed in the table bellow.

View on the efficiency

Analysis technique

Argumentation structure; Comments

Authors, Source

Detecting, what arguments of the commercial the spectators interiorize right after it was shown.

24 types of advertisement arguments were classified. The content of 15-second (380) and 30-second (221) commercial was analyzed. At the average 4,39 arguments were used within 15 seconds and 5,67 arguments during 30 seconds. Right after the commercials were shown, the respondents (225-440 persons) were asked to name the arguments, which they managed to notice. He difference between both arguments shown and detected made up 77%.

Comments: field study, all commercials were viewed and evaluated separately. It does not correspond to the real viewing conditions

Comparing the effectiveness of executional elements in TV advertising: 15- versus 30-second commercials, John L. Stanton and Jeffrey Burke, Journal of Advertising Research, nov/dec 1998

The effectiveness of 15-second commercials makes 88% from the 30-second commercials when the spectators were informed and 72% when the spectators were not informed.

Interview 10-30 minutes after the advertisements were shown. 175 respondents were polled at home. They were informed before hand, that the commercials ore going to be shown. 39000 interviews were taken within 17 years, during which 224 advertisements and 2677 commercials were shown.

Comments: One of the most interesting studies, which are most similar to the real viewing. Drawbacks: «professionals” being polled, people, who constantly participate in the research.

Consumer memory for television advertising: a field study of duration, serial position and competition effects. Rick G.M. Pieters, Tammo H.A. Bijmolt. Journal of Consumer Research, March 1997 v.23 n.4 p362(11)

The effectiveness of 15-second commercials make 30% from the 30-second commercials

Advertisements were included into a pilot tv program. Polls 30 minutes after the advertisements were shown.

Comments: field study

Television viewers’ attitudes and recall of 15 second versus 30 second commercials. James S. Gould.

The effectiveness of 15-second commercials makes 2,8% of 45-second commercials

Test advertising campaigns were conducted. 45-second commercials were being shown during 200 weeks (400 GRP), and 15-second commercials during 6 weeks (1850 GRP). 30% of the 45-second and only 4% of the 15-second commercials were memorized correctly.

Comments: A fully correct research

Max Sutherland & Alice Sylvester «Advertising and the mind of the consumer”, s. 186

Advertisements with a duration of less than 20 seconds proved ineffective.

Many MMI commodity groups were analyzed in terms of how the aided awareness changes depending on the annual advertising volume. Finally it turned out that only if the advertisements have a duration of 20 seconds and more, the aided awareness directly depends on the advertising volume.

Kokorin A., 2000

Advertisements with a duration of less than 20 seconds proved ineffective.

Ivorine advertising campaign (approximately 3000 GRP within three months, for the most part in short commercials). Tracking in three cities, more than 7000 respondents polled overall. Parameters analyzed: spontaneous knowledge, latest purchase, purchase planning.

Own data

Physiological limits of human perception

If the advertisement is meant to have any effect, it must be noticed, some cognitive processes must take place (recognition, notional ascription, encryption in the memory). All these processes do not necessarily have to be realized, but to «launch” the unrealized processes (they are often incorrectly called subconscious) you need a contact, that lasts for some period of time. Everybody knows that from personal experience. Compare, how long it takes to get in touch with someone, who is absorbed in thoughts or busy doing something and with someone, who is expecting you to tell some information. There is a huge difference, because if the person is expecting some information from you, it takes just a split second, because right from the start he’s listening to you and trying to understand you. But if you first need to attract his attention, it takes 20-30 seconds just to be heard (you need to address him and to name the subject of your message twice or even trice). These are the TV commercial viewers’ limits, we’re going to discuss.

First, even if an experiment is carried out (i.e. when the person is expecting some information to be presented), it takes up to 4 seconds to attract ones attention to the new object (this period of tome is required to fill the sensory storage, it’s the first stage of memorization). So if the viewer sits at home, it takes half or even twice as much. That is, all the oohs, and oops and wows, coming from the TV screen during 5-10-second commercials cannot be noticed and or they are noticed as «some noise”, the viewers don’t manage to react to them. As a result, such commercials just attract the viewers’ attention to the TV screen and to advertisements that are shown afterwards.

Second, if you don’t want your advertisement to mix with the next one (the so called interference effect) and if you want the relevant information to reach the long-term memory or to be picked out from the memory (where it can be stored forever, if there is no competitive information), you must spend at least 12 seconds to attract the viewers attention to your message (the time is limited by the duration of the short-term memory). As a matter of fact, it takes at least 16 seconds to get an active viewer completely involved into what your are presenting to him and to reach the proper effect, so as the advertisers usually have to deal with passive viewers, commercials must have a duration of at least 20-30 seconds, so that they could involve more viewers.

As early as in the 60s electrophysiological research showed, that the «brain processing” of the commercials does not become faster, no matter how many times they were repeated (Herbert E. Krugman, 1971). So the allegation, that «a higher presentation frequency makes up the drawbacks of each presentation taken separately ”, which is one of the most popular among those, who are fond of short commercials, turns out to be speculative. Once again, several zeroes add up to a zero, that is, if each of the events is not recognized, no matter how frequently the unrecognized events are presented, they won’t be recognized any better or worse.

All the versatile tricks (like loud sounds, acute sounds) are not very helpful, because the viewers get used to them very quickly, and when those sounds don’t emphasize the key qualities of the brand being advertised, they even play a negative role. As a rule, if the viewer recognizes a part of the commercial it takes the same time to pick the previous knowledge out of the memory. Otherwise, if he reacts to the first ten seconds, the advertisement that comes after the short commercial will interfere with the knowledge, which just has been picked up from the memory, and they will get mixed. And if a short commercial comes next, it will be even worse for the advertiser, because the viewer will not be able to find, that it’s another commercial already. Nobody knows for sure, what there is in the memory, when different brands and commercials get mixed, but the viewer will definitely refuse from a brand like that, because its image will be broken.

In reply to my observations most advertisers who use short commercials will say that after the advertising campaign their companies saw a great sales growth. Of course they saw, but not due to the advertising campaign. The true reasons are completely different from what the advertisers think. When a Russian short-commercial-fan starts to pay for his advertisements, he gives his sales department such a telling off, that the sales really grow (first of all due to a stable and / or expanded distribution). If the manager does this without any advertising expenditures, he achieves the very same results. So advertising expenditures seem to be a kind of self-motivation for Russian manufacturers. And what is more, the sales grow only after the first flight of the advertising campaign. During the next flights the advertiser just hopes for the best and waits, but over and over again he fails to succeed.