People can’t hide from out-of-home advertising

People are ignoring advertising as their schedules become fuller and their options wider. The trick is to find something they can’t switch off.

Although not a new phenomenon, advertising avoidance is now easier and more attractive than ever. This is partly because, unlike the old days when you had to leave the sofa to switch channels, the remote control invites you to channel-hop – and for anyone under 21, channel-hopping is an art form.

Ad avoidance is more attractive because consumers have so much choice, demanding to be tried in the breaks. In magazines the “graveyard” slots of consecutive ad pages were always to be avoided, but nowadays, with so many more titles to consume, and less time to do it in, avoiding those ads is fast becoming a necessity. The national press, at weekends in particular, has also made ad avoidance essential – weekends no longer provide enough time to read all the supplements.

What is new is that avoidance levels have been measured, and they are not only higher than expected but, crucially, they are likely to worsen. Research indicates that an increasing proportion of consumers is avoiding ads.

To test this claim, Western International Media commissioned a study, which showed that 68 per cent of respondents actively avoid newspaper ads, and 44 per cent avoid TV ads.

We shouldn’t be surprised by these figures, considering the feast of choice tempting the consumer away from even the best that the creatives can come up with. More TV channels, more radio stations, more magazine titles and ever-thicker newspapers, and if that isn’t enough, the Internet and mobile phones are increasingly diverting consumers’ attention.

So where there is an opening to tune out of a medium, whether literally or mentally, inevitably some people will. Advertisers will therefore need to take measures to reduce their exposure to the media that are most vulnerable to being turned off. An example of this would be Abbey National’s recent decision not to bother advertising on digital TV, because of the possibility that the audience will participate interactive activity, “rather than watching commercial breaks”.

Conversely, advertisers will come to rely more on media that are not so susceptible to the avoidance factor, or whose technology does not make it easy to channel-hop. The most obvious candidate to benefit is outdoor advertising, a ubiquitous phenomenon in the modern world.

Such is the growing prominence of out-of-home media that adverse reactions to its alleged intrusiveness have recently emerged. For example, the appearance of advertising on BT phone boxes has raised objections from English Heritage and the Civic Trust.

So, ironically and perhaps uniquely, the consumer’s very inability to avoid outdoor advertising has become a potential problem, one which would probably be welcomed by most other media. Provided the outdoor industry acts responsibly, therefore, its ability to command consumers attention will be an increasingly attractive proposition for advertisers.

Alan Simmons is chairman of Concord

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