TV Viewers Ignore TV Ads: Report

06 February 2003

A new report from the London Business School details what television viewers do during commercial breaks. Unfortunately for marketers, they rarely seem to watch the ads.

The study placed cameras and microphones in the homes of various types of people and monitored their reaction to commercials over several weeks.

Viewers tended to have one of six reactions to ad breaks. Four of these – talking, reading, undertaking a household chore and switching channels – mean they are not watching the advertising.

The other two reactions – watching the television and interacting with commercials – do involve advertisers’ expensively bought TV slots. However, even here there are caveats, as interaction often involves criticism of the advertising and the brands it promotes.

The research flagged up two other phenomena. One is the ‘friends’ effect, where the more people there are in a room, the less chance there is of any of them watching the ads. The other is the ‘late night curve’, whereby tired late-night viewers are less likely to get up and do something else and so more likely to watch ads than earlier in the evening.

LBS assistant professor of marketing Mark Ritson claims this behaviour makes a nonsense of expensive peak-time slots. “In a breathtaking example of ignorance and strategic naivety, advertisers have spent millions in the mistaken belief that they have purchased an audience for their advertising that never existed,” he blasted.

“In fact, they could have spent less money and ensured more exposure by buying spots that delivered a lonely, but more attentive viewer.”

However, before advertising strategies the length and breadth of the land are overhauled, it should be noted that the survey is not exactly comprehensive – it was conducted with just six households.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff