“Proving” that fast-forwarded ads work (or not)

I almost spit my coffee across my laptop this morning when I read the latest from my all-time favorite spin doctor, Alan Wurtzel of NBC. Let me start with his conclusion. Alan wired up a bunch of people to study their “engagement” with TV and is announcing that people are just as engaged when watching a fast-forwarded commercial as they are when they’re watching an actual program.

In a former life, I really would’ve liked some of what the guy smokes.

The New York Times has the story:

When it comes to fast-forward advertisements, “the assumption has always been that they have no economic value, that they have no communication value,” said Alan Wurtzel, president for research at NBC Universal. “But the fact of the matter is we’re learning that they are valuable.”

No. They’re. Not.

I mean, this is pathetic, folks. It’s like saying a picture of the Grand Canyon is as good as being there. What kind of fools does this guy think we are?

The Times does its best to present that this “thesis flies in the face of the assumption among advertisers that their ads have no effect when played at a high speed on a DVR.” And yet, they offer this remarkable statement of support for Wurtzel’s slight of hand.

“Whether people watch or not is not a useful measure of anything,” said Joe Plummer, chief research officer for the Advertising Research Foundation. “Exposure has very, very weak correlation with purchase intent and actual sales, whereas an engagement measure has high correlation and are closer to what really matters, which is brand growth and creating brand demand.”

“Whether people watch or not is not a useful measure of anything?” What exactly is it, then, that the industry has been selling for all these years if it’s not that somebody’s watching?

Wurtzel is doing a second study of this to determine what “works” during fast-forwarding, so that NBC can “offer tips” on how to optimize ads for fast-forwarding. I kid you not.

“We can then go through our advertisers and help them optimize a commercial for fast-forwarding, while also not denigrating the quality while watched live,” Mr. Wurtzel said.

If anybody in the ad industry really buys this flimflammery, they’re dumber than I thought.

It’s like researchers for the whale oil industry announcing that electric light bulbs enhance the quality of the light given off by oil lamps. Yeah, right.

Alan Wurtzel’s personal life mission, it seems, is to prove some how, some way that DVR’s are the opposite of what they really are and that the 30-second ad paradigm is just as powerful as it has always been. Fortunately, Madison Avenue is leery. And as I’ve said many times, the real problem with this effort is that it detracts from actually doing something useful in the face of disruptive innovations attacking the paradigm itself.


  1. from the same fine folks that brought you nbbc?

  2. Ah..I think he might have a point, at least on average. People are using DVRs to avoid the ads where previously they’d have skipped channels, read a magazine, chatted, made a cup of tea, played gameboy or gone to the bathroom to avoid the ads. He’s not saying anything about the absolute effectiveness of ads on fast-forward — just that ads ignored in this new way are relatively no less effective than ads ignored any of the existing ways.

  3. actually he does have a valid point, but not for all ads.

    Is there any higher level of attention paid to ads than when while fastforwarding through them ? Seriously. Is there anything more aggrevating than fastforwarding too far past the ads and into the programming and having to rewind again ? multipel times ?

    Nothing is more aggrevating. So we all pay close attention to the last ad in the pod. We may not watch it, but without question we know what the ad is, and what the content is because we are doing everything in our power to stop forwarding at the very end of the ads.

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