US Consumers Unhappy at Incursion of Ads into TV Content

08 January 2003

The perception of Americans is that the rate of incursion by advertising and product placement into TV and movies is growing – and the majority are none too happy about it.

In a survey conducted online for Advertising Age by WPP’s Lightspeed Research, 75% of the five hundred respondents said they believe such intrusion has gown over the past year and that the line dividing advertising and content has become increasingly blurred.

Asked to opine whether such intrusions were ‘distracting’ or ‘entertaining’, sixty-two percent plumped for the former while 38% chose the latter. A separate question asked consumers if they approved of the trend and a substantial majority (72%) did not, deeming it ‘too pervasive’.

But in the ad-lucrative 18 to 34 demographic the number objecting fell to 54%, the remainder finding it ‘entertaining’. A surprising 35% thought the crossover ‘not pervasive enough’.

The survey data was seized on with enthusiasm by all the usual suspects, both pro and anti advertising. Rooting for the latter camp, Jeff Chester, executive director at the Center for Digital Democracy punched the air: “It's gratifying that consumers understand that advertising and editorial [are] merging. The Chinese walls are being obliterated. The survey is an indication that there is fertile ground for directing consumer anger and getting the industry to clean up its act and be more vigilant about the relationships.”

Patti Ganguzza, president of New York-based AIM Productions, which specializes in product placement, was equally pleased at the data, claiming that the technique remains effective even if disliked by viewers. “Consumers dislike it because their defenses are down when they're following a storyline,” she said. “They're not sifting through placements.”

Ganguzza believes, however, that overkill would be counter-productive with viewers. “I would never want the product placement industry to turn a sitcom into a tattoo parlor,” she said.

The survey, which aimed to identify shifts in media consumption over the past year also turned its attention to the internet, finding that more people are skipping network news in favor of the web as their primary source of news and information.

Over the past year, the number of people citing the internet as the first place they turn to for news has almost doubled, rising from 9% to 16%. Network news as a primary news source appealed to only 31% of the sample compared with 36% last year.

The changes were most marked in the 18 to 34 demographic, only 36% of which cited network news as their primary news source – a ten percent decline over the past twelve months.

Commented Lightspeed national account director Steve Marks: “I think people are turning to the web more because it is more pervasive than a year ago; people are surrounded by PCs and laptops. They're in an online environment more.” But network news is not yet dead, and Marks predicts that although the web will continue to grow as a primary news source it will not break the 20% barrier yet awhile.

The magazine industry also has reason to utter a sigh of relief. The survey found that more than half of respondents (52%) are spending the same amount of time reading magazines as a year ago; 14% spend more time doing so; and 34% less time.

The survey was conducted December 5-9 and has a margin of error of 4.4%.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff