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Commercial Wearout

November 7, 2009

When I started in the advertising industry in New York, there was some obsession with commercial wear-out.  That is, at what point does the effectiveness of a commercial decline and render it less and less worth the media investment.

In theory this makes a lot of sense if you buy into learning theory which holds that you need to be told something a few times to understand it.  Then you have diminished returns on your attention to the message until you get turned off over time.

There was a consensus in New York at the time that the heavy viewing quintile was where wearout risk was the greatest.  A frequency of four was supposed to be killer.  This would occur with a cWearout Graphommercial that was in a decent rotation with a solid daytime/nighttime schedule in a couple weeks.

Then I moved to Canada.

Here wearout occurs when the budget can afford to either import another spot from the US or a new spot can be developed.  The wearout frequency at the heavy viewing quintile is nearing infinity.

I thought that this was because the relative cost of an announcement in Canada is a small fraction of a similar announcement in the U.S.  The cost of production in the US is more or less similar to the cost of a prime time announcement.  Sure some productions cost more and some cost less, And some announcements are cheaper than others.  But the costs on average are within range.

The cost of production in Canada is less than it is in the US.  The market just won’t bear the inflated costs of some of the talent in the US, after all we are a smaller market.

The media cost is about one tenth the cost of the US.  Because we are buying an English market that is less than one tenth the market in the US and we are paying for audience, not announcements.

Nevertheless, it is a stretch to believe that Canadians can tolerate more than ten times the exposure to a commercial than the US consumer can.  So why do Canadian advertisers keep wasting their media dollars running commercials that are no longer effective and only alienating their target?

Why haven’t more advertisers gone to low cost productions that can be renewed more quickly and can be less irritating?  The cost of the production is not a determinant of success – think The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity.  These low budget flicks, among many others, raked in huge box office.

I am sure we all have commercials that we have seen so many times we are detest them.  Awake, agencies and advertisers!  Get to work on ideas that don’t cost so much to produce, yet still bring in the customers.

Some commercials do wear well.  Especially those with songs, warm feelings, and clear logical arguments.  The worst commercials for wear out are those with punch line jokes.  I mean who thinks “Why did the chicken cross the road?” is still funny?

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