Zipping and Zapping

Often discussed and reviewed topic on advertising, TV and the changing consumer behavior- How does zipping and zapping through commercials impact the business model and eventually consumers? I find it fascinating and perplexing at the same time. I love watching TV on TV, iPhone, iPad and the computer. Do I mind the commercials, quite honestly no. I often skip/zap them or fast forward/zip through them. But occasionally, when I don’t or when something catches my eye I will watch that commercial, and if I enjoy it then I will watch it again, better yet share it with my network, announce it to the world, a discovery that I believe I am leading them to. And that in the end is the desired outcome. At least in part, the real outcome is to create brand recall or recognition based on the product being advertised (but that is another topic to talk about some other day).

There are valid concerns about the cord-cutters who have taken to online viewing where ad dollars don’t go as far as they do on-air. And even more troubling is the study that says the Millenials consider TV far less necessary than do the Gen X and the Baby Boomers. So, I decided to take what I have learned and observed and write this post, which is by no means exhaustive or conclusive, in fact I consider this a first in the series I hope to continue.

We can trace the concept of zipping and zapping to the era of VCRs and remote controls, each of these devices brought a change not only in the TV viewing habit but also led to a proliferation in the number of TV channels. When VCRs launched they also introduced time shifting viewing pattern and the remote control helped evolve TV viewing beyond a family setting; by the 1960s TV sets were cheap enough to afford more than one per household and with that it also brought about the beginning of different channels that catered to more varied taste. The remote control made it easier for the viewers to zap through commercials i.e. viewers could now change channels during the commercials thereby avoiding ads. Some experts argue, ad avoidance was in existence even before the remote, people would leave the room during the commercial break.

DVRs also cause similar concerns, how attentive are the viewers to the ads, if at all?  But time shifting helps find new audiences as well, people who otherwise would have missed the show. VCRs gave viewers more control, and so do DVRs that have helped viewers watch more of programming they like, i.e. they are therefore more likely to be engaged hence more willing to pay attention. However, we are still not addressing the problem of ad avoidance behavior.

One way to involve viewers is to create branded entertainment, content either exclusively produced underwritten by an advertiser or placing a product in a show. In the first case, we could take the example of the web series “In Gayle We Trust” produced by the NBC Digital Studio. The concept was conceived and produced by NBC for the American Family Insurance brand. The cost was far less than what would have been for advertising on-air to compete with the bigger and the more established brands such as Geico. The series was apparently so successful that it was sanctioned for a Season 2. In the other case we consider Bravo; a channel known for engaging content and a large audience base of affluent younger women. Advertisers tend to partner with shows such as Top Chef to reach audiences who cannot avoid the brand now placed within the show. Remember Whole Foods and where did you see the ad for it? That’s right you didn’t but you recalled the brand because it was integrated into the show and you watched the Chef’stants buy their produce for the quick fire round. And because the content was engaging to you, you subconsciously associated the show with the brand and now the Whole Foods brand has become linked in your associative network with Top Chef, so each time you think about the show you inevitably strengthen that link.

Advertiser funded program and product placement have been around for a long time but with the challenges facing both the advertisers and more importantly the TV channels these methods are being revisited. Will this help TV keep its revenue stream? In my opinion yes and no. Yes, because there will be audiences who like and will watch TV, the young and the old alike, so advertisers need to reach these valuable consumers. And no, because audiences are now dispersed across different devices and the ad spending is spread across them. However, branded integration does overcome the problem of ad avoidance issue and is not interrupting. It is an exciting, experimental and creative strategy, but not the singular solution.