HONG KONG: Safe TV spots are turning off viewers in Asia within their first few seconds on air, as advertisers fail to establish an emotional engagement with consumers, a facial imaging study has suggested.

AsiaEmotion, a joint venture by international consultants Gordon & McCallum, market research firm Cimigo and facial imaging company nViso, tested 75 TV ads across 750 viewers in five countries – China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia and Vietnam – to gauge emotional responses.

The study found that viewers rapidly lost interest when confronted with a hard sell approach. It suggested that the first ten seconds of a traditional 30-second commercial are vital to building engagement, during which time advertisers need to create an emotional reason for watching.

With "tried and true" TV ads failing to resonate with viewers, the study urged advertisers to take risks and break category expectations.

"The key to any TV spot is strong storytelling," Eric Cruz, executive creative director of Leo Burnett Malaysia, told Campaign Asia-Pacific, "and when you have only 30 seconds to tell a story, the first three to five seconds are critical in capturing attention."

The difficulty is compounded by the development of dual-screening. "It's getting harder and harder to gain anyone's attention," said Cruz, who felt that advertisers needed to be culturally relevant as well as using visual and aural cues to attract viewers.

He noted that while stories engage viewers, it's not practical to tell the same story across the region, as consumers respond differently depending on the country. His experience, for example, has been that quirkiness works in Japan, humour in Thailand and melodrama in Malaysia.

"Asian advertisers have a tendency to go with the flow," he observed, but "when everyone is going one way, you should go the opposite way and differentiate yourself from the rest.

"If everyone is shouting about the same thing, then all we succeed in doing is blending in"

Data sourced from Campaign Asia-Pacific; additional content by Warc staff