Note to Advertisers: TV Viewers Aren’t Actually Watching

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Advertising pioneer John Wanamaker once said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” For TV advertisers, the amount they waste might be even higher, due to TV viewers being distracted by mobile phones, laptops and other devices during ad breaks. A new study conducted by IPG Media Lab in partnership with video ad network YuMe sought to understand how viewers watched television. What it found instead was all the ways viewers weren’t actually paying attention during viewing sessions.

More than 60 percent of all viewers watching TV spent time distracted by data applications on mobile devices, while 33 percent watched TV with their laptops open. Just 6 percent of those monitored watched TV with no distractions at all. All those distractions lead to a dramatic reduction in ad viewing. According to the report, 63 percent of TV ad impressions are ignored, and just 25 percent of viewers studied were able to recall advertising they had seen during TV shows unaided, with 28 percent recalling TV ads with help.

Compare that to online, where 38 percent of viewers could recall advertising brands unaided and half could do so with help. A lot of that has to do with the amount of distractions people bring to online viewing. Unlike TV, where viewers are only paying attention about half the time (and that percentage drops even lower during ad breaks), online viewers are more engaged, at least in part due to the lean-forward aspect of the experience.

The caveat, of course, is that the study was commissioned by a video ad network that wants to show its online video ads are better at reaching consumers and producing brand recall than those run on TV. But the winner in this case might not be online video, as brand dollars transition from TV buying to over-the-top services, but second-screen companion apps that tie into what’s happening on the bigger screen. In particular, there seems to be a huge opportunity for advertisers to leverage those apps to feature multi-screen advertising.

Some of that is happening already. Yesterday we wrote about Second Screen Networks, a startup that synced ads on the second screen with those that appeared during American Idol’s finale. It’s hardly the only company attempting to do so: IntoNow and other mobile app makers have also talked up the opportunity for companion ads to run on companion devices.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Keirsten Balukas.

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