TV Commercial Creators Don’t Consider How People Watch TV Commercials

By | March 22, 2017

I’m a “Digital Guy”, but today I want to opine about TV commercials. If you’re a Digital Marketer, you probably spend a lot of time thinking of, or at least hearing about User Experience or UX. How many clicks does it take to get to the Buy Button? Will the user be able to see that font on an iPhone 5? Are those colors enticing enough? Creating an easy, memorable, and profitable UX is critical in digital marketing.

So why does it seem that so many people who create TV commercials don’t seem to understand that concept? Are they too busy trying to woo clients, see how much they can spend on ads with pretty visuals, and win awards to worry about the reason they’re making the commercial in the first place, to sell something?

Let me bring some context to the discussion by turning the Wayback Machine to 1987. A radio station in Boston needed a way to get people’s attention and get them to listen. On the radio dial, they were just another place to hear music, so they had to break through in another way. They did it with a series of TV spots like this one.

It’s 30 years ago and “back then” most TV spots were a silly setup and happy people with big hair using the product before you saw a product shot or logo at the end. But here was a commercial that did NONE of that, and didn’t even ask you to listen to the radio station. It played a song and told a story.

The WMJX commercial forced you to both watch the screen and listen to the sound, and it caught on like wildfire. The radio station went from the middle to the top of the heap in Boston in just a few months. By all accounts, the commercial cut through the clutter and it worked.

But that was 1987. People actually WATCHED TV spots back then, unless they got up to grab a snack or go to the bathroom. VCR’s were just beginning to become an everyday thing, and many people hadn’t figured out the magic of recording a show and skipping through the commercials. So when most spots ran, people watched.

But no more. Thirty years after WMJX slapped people upside the head with a new kind of TV spot, TV viewers (the ones who don’t skip the spots) are doing other things while they are served “a word from our sponsor”.

They’re using their phones or tablets to text, check social media, and any number of other things. Deloitte’s Digital Democracy Survey was recently released, and it asked people what they did when TV commercials were on. Not surprisingly, Millennials, people born to multitask, don’t watch the commercials.

Millennials during TV ads

But it’s not just Millennials who are prone to not looking at the TV during the breaks. Even Baby Boomers have their eyes somewhere other than the TV screen during commercials.

Boomers during TV ads

Granted, more of the Boomers are watching TV, but the number, according to Deloitte, is only 14%. Which means 86% of these older viewers have figured out there are better things to do than watch TV during commercial breaks.

So why are advertisers making commercials like these?

Why do they continue to make commercials that give no aural message at all when there is an ever-growing mountain of evidence that most people don’t look at the screen during commercials? The only real effect of these spots is that people hear a song they might like and may Shazam then while they’ve got their eyes glued to the phone to see what it is. Other than that, it would seem to me that the chance to sell jeans or cars or whatever is lost on the majority of the audience in 2017.

Yes, these spots are creative. They’re pretty. But they probably don’t sell the product as well as they could. And that’s at least partially because the “creatives” have lost touch with how the audience thinks.

Closed Circuit to the people responsible for artsy TV ads that don’t “ask for the order”: You have a picture and an audio track at your disposal. Use them both.