The 'F' Factor in TV commercials

What is important to remember is that it is the viewer's response to the ad
and not the ad itself that wears-out

Rajat Sethi
CEO, Wunderman India

During the recent Asia Cup Cricket a large part of India was glued to the telly.

But when you're sitting in front of the tube, watching Cricket for extended hours, one cannot help but watch the TV commercials, which get repeated with unfailing and irritable regularity. My wife's comment on how irritated she was watching the same commercial being repeated after every over from lunch till close of play, got me thinking on why is it that advertisers spend crore on T.V. time cost, but do not spend a fraction of that on creating different executions so that the viewer can be relieved of the fatigue of watching the same commercial over and over again!

And considering that it is an issue that concerns all Advertising Agencies and Advertisers alike, it surprises me that Advertising Agencies and their Clients have not invested in researching this phenomenon called 'The Fatigue Factor'.

The Fatigue factor, to my mind, is generally that point in the life of a T.V. commercial when the viewer starts turning off, or reacts negatively to it. This irritation could either be the antagonizing kind or simply the desperate irritation caused by sheer dullness! It's a pattern, which passes very fast through six phases:

Phase1: Exposure of message on several occasions prior to serious attention
Phase 2: Interest in the Ad on either substantive (information) or stimulus (enjoyment) grounds
Phase 3: Continuing but declining interest in the ad
Phase 4: Mental tune-out to the ad on grounds of familiarity
Phase 5: Increasing re-awareness of the ad …but now as a negative stimulus
Phase 6: Growing irritation and tune-out

What is important to remember is that it is the viewer's response to the ad and not the ad itself that wears-out.

Generally speaking, if a product or service is of low interest, like banking, insurance or staples like bread, butter and cooking oil, the TVC is likely to wear-out slowly, simply because viewers don't 'tune-in' as much, so it obviously takes much longer to 'tune-out'. That's why TVC's for Brands like ICICI Pru & Apollo Tyres can run for longer.

I do believe if advertisers keep some key factors in mind, they would be more successful in keeping the viewer's interest alive:

  • 'Me too' advertising escalates the onset of the F Factor. A TVC not only competes for the viewer's attention with others in its own product category, but also with all other TVC's in the program. Ads for consumer durables which have high relevance but low differentiation suffer from the 'me too' syndrome.

  • Short-term and seasonal campaigns will generally result in minimal or no fatigue despite heavy repetition. Competition, however, by outspending, can escalate fatigue. In repeat purchase markets, tying exposure frequency to purchase frequency to the product category may help to push back fatigue.

  • TVC's with a strong attention-getting gimmick or verbal or visual hyperbole tend to wear out much faster. Unless, of course, it is brilliantly executed as in the case of 'Badiya Hain' of Asian Paints.

  • Developing several executions of the same theme (and ensuring that your media agency takes care not to repeat the same execution more than twice in the same program) is likely to postpone the onset of fatigue. When you are spending Rs.50 crores on media, won't an additional Re.1 crore investment in producing more executions, be worth it??

  • Strong sound identification can prolong a TVC's life through association. Catchy jingles, music and such 'hypnotic' effects can also be life-giving ingredients. The lilt of the Titan jingle or the 'ting ting ta ting' of the Britannia sign-off and the 'lage raho' of the Alpen Liebe commercial illustrate this very well.

  • For Brands where only a limited number of TVC's can be made, using a subtle, rather than a hard-sell approach helps immensely through extension of the learning process and greater viewer involvement. A case in point being the ICICI Pru ' Retirement' ad. The line 'mein sirf kaam se retire huan hoon, zindagi se nahin' struck a chord in almost every person going through a mid-life crisis at work.

  • Presenter-type TVC's require regular testing to determine wear-out of the personality, whether live or a cartoon character. Mr. Bachhan has been used brilliantly in the Dabur TVC's but more often than not, he has been more misused than used. Cricketers, of course, are a classic example of being over-exposed in TVC's every time they fail with the bat or ball. 'Boost is the secret of my energy' claims Sachin. Considering that Sachin's exceptional abilities go well beyond the cricket field and into the world of endorsing any and every product, one wonders if his 'energy' isn't fast becoming the secret of his wear-out!

  • TVC's that invite mental or emotional participation by avoiding rigidity or a structured appearance again work very well. Associational activity, drama, imagery or meanings that go below the surface hold interest longer as they involve the viewer. The Franklin Templeton 'Bonsai' TVC, conveys an underlying message subtly, yet memorably.

  • How about media planning where the creative theme fits into the program selection…rather than the other way round.

  • Beware of jokes and forced humour…they are dangerous. Yet, humour well used, works brilliantly. The Fevicol 'Ek Boond' TVC or the Center Shock 'Barber' TVC amply demonstrates this. But TVC's that are 'different' just for the sake of being so are guaranteed to wear out faster than straight sell spots of comparable initial effectiveness.

To sum up, there are a multitude of factors that affect the useful life of a TVC. Perhaps the most important are the concept, idea and it's brilliant execution. But what about clutter, competitive commercials, scheduling, knowledge about the consumer and the viewer, attitudes and many other (often uncontrollable) variables. So far, the 'F' factor - probably because it has escaped even being defined as a problem in it's own right - has not yet been related to sales as a dependent variable. And so definite measures of TV fatigue have not yet been suitably developed. But it is an issue worthy of some consideration by strategic planners & media researchers. Any takers?

© 2004 agencyfaqs!