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Will Digital Video Recorders Destroy Television Advertising?

Over the last few years there has been a lot of angst in the advertising industry over the use of DVRs (digital video recorders). Quite naturally, advertisers assumed that given the opportunity, viewers will zap through ads. On the surface, research seems to support this. As of the last Nielsen survey in 2009, approximately 30% of US households owned DVRs, and they estimate that approximately 68% of DVR owners use the technology to skip ads.

But look a little deeper and you can draw different conclusions. A Millward Brown survey of 1000 US households of which 400 had DVRS showed no decrease in recall or prompted recognition of commercials among the DVR users in comparison to non-DVR households. Researchers attribute this to the fact that if you are zapping through a commercial you actually have to pay closer attention to it to make sure you don’t speed through programming.

As I dedicated DVR user I can attest to this fact. While I zap most commercials, I am watching them carefully, albeit at high speed. And when I see a product or commercial I am interested in, I stop and watch the commercial carefully – sometimes twice.

My admittedly biased but logical view of DVRs would lead me to the conclusion that direct response advertising bodes much better in an “ad zapping” environment, for several different reasons:

1. The highly graphic nature of DRTV, and the modular design of most good direct response is much more understandable in fast forward mode than most traditional brand advertising. Testimonials with graphic support, before and after shots, call to actions, and clear demonstrations can still be comprehended at high speeds. High concept brand advertising does fare well in comparison.
2. Viewers watch DRTV with a much higher level of involvement. Unlike watching a traditional commercial it is not a passive activity. You are ultimately expected to take action. So the DRTV viewer typically has some level of interest in the product and is interested to learn more.
3. DRTV formats are longer, so even if you are zapping you are carefully watching a longer message.

Per my final point, I also strongly believe that consumers want to be sold to, and that is why DRTV works. At our agency we know from experience that if you list an infomercial in the program guide the results go up. Consumers are tuning in when they see a Murad, or Bare Minerals, or a Bowflex ad because they want to know more about the product. If used properly the DVR many ultimately be a asset to DRTV because it would allow consumers to watch the sales message they want to see on their own time schedule.

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