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The Hidden Costs of Airing Bad Ads – Why TV Networks need to care about ad quality

Peter Daboll headshot

Peter Daboll
CEO, Ace Metrix

Advertising has always been the backbone of the television business model, enabling networks to deliver great programming for free and providing high value to viewers and advertisers alike. With all the digital options, television still remains the most powerful medium for brands to tell their story.

But historically, Networks have not scrutinized the quality of that advertising, considering that the domain of the advertiser/agency. If we are being honest, it takes a very bad ad for a network to refuse to air it. Ad dollars rule, and networks are hesitant to tell a client their ad is awful.  This worked in the past because many viewers felt ads were a necessary evil– a kind of hidden tax they were subjected to watch as payment in return for free programming.

But that world has changed. Viewers have taken the reigns. Viewers are in control of what they watch and when they watch it. And while network television still wields a powerful net for marketers, it is no longer immune to the negative effects of bad creative. With so many ways that viewers can avoid ads, advertisers must produce ads that viewers choose to watch. Digital behavior has trained audiences to be more ad-avoidant, or demand more from their attention investment.  A recent Cox study cited that Millenials demand to be entertained…Today’s viewers are more likely to hold networks/publishers accountable for the ads served up to them. Viewers have choices, and bad advertising fuels switching to alternatives—from skipping, to changing channels to changing screens and content altogether.

At Ace Metrix, we support many of the world’s largest brands advertising on television today. We answer the fundamental questions: Is my ad any good? Will it break through? Will it be remembered, or even shared? Ace Metrix measures every nationally breaking ad in the US in near real-time, providing marketers the data and tools to create, adjust, and optimize their ad creative to have the highest viewer impact. We have seen first hand the power of the television commercial to ignite revenue streams for brands by connecting emotionally with viewers and creating memorable experiences.

Great creative matters and provides leverage for both the brand and the television network– the consummate win-win. Ironically, creative production represents only about ten percent of a marketer’s campaign budget. And yet, a great television ad makes the media spend more productive. And better ad performance leads to an increase in ad spending. More money will be generated if all participants in the ecosystem are committed to improve ad quality. Yet our data reveals that only about 4 percent of the ads airing over the past 5 years are truly “great.”

The essential challenge for all of us in the advertising industry is not just to have advertising persuade viewers once an ad is seen, but to capture their attention in the first place. Viewer attention is no longer automatic, but rather needs to be earned. They expect a benefit if they are going to pay attention: to be entertained, informed, inspired, and so forth. Marketers need to up their game.

Some advertisers are doing just that- executing brilliant campaigns that create followers, and are shared. New metrics are needed to fully determine ad success— such as Viral potential, sharing, emotional connecting etc. (see “Bad Ads Spoil Premium Content”) This is both a challenge and an opportunity for brands. When ads approach the quality of content that viewers would “choose” to watch because they can no longer be “forced” to watch, magic happens.

Craig Davis said it best: “We need to stop interrupting what people are interested in, and BE what people are interested in.”

Airing bad ads has a cost to the viewer, to the advertiser and to the network. It is time for us as an industry to focus on the quality of the advertising as well as the quality of the programs in which it appears.

About Peter Daboll

Peter Daboll has more than 25 years of experience in the science and business of advertising effectiveness. He has spent his career developing and implementing analytical models and testing systems to measure consumer response to advertising. Peter is currently the CEO of Ace Metrix, the standard in television and video advertising analytics and is the author of the best selling book “AD-itude: Using Data to Inspire Extraordinary Creative.”


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