Some on Mad Ave. Doubt CAB Ad-Recall Study

New York-Pod position, pod duration and the number of spots within a commercial break all significantly affect how well consumers can recall primetime network broadcast and cable commercials.

So said the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau last week as it unveiled results from Nielsen Media Research's "landmark" unaided recall research study at a press briefing here.

But some ad-agency buyers disagreed with some findings.

TN Media Inc. senior vice president of broadcast research Steve Sternberg praised the CAB study as "a good first step [and] one of the better ones we have seen." However, in his analysis, Sternberg said the study has "shortcomings, both from a methodological standpoint and in the CAB's conclusions."

In general, the first commercial-pod position and shorter pod lengths command above-average recall levels, said CAB research vice president Jonathan Sims. Unaided recall of 15-second commercials is one-half that of 30-second ads, the research also showed.

CAB CEO Joseph Ostrow-who called the project the biggest single commercial-recall study ever done on television-ad effectiveness-hoped it would help "make up about a $2 billion shortfall" in terms of what cable networks should amass in primetime alone.

The CAB spent several hundred thousand dollars on the study, which was based on 17,200 responses via random telephone surveys with adults 18 and older.

To verify viewers' ad recall, Nielsen cross-checked answers with its own Monitor Plus Ad*Views service, which tracks national-advertiser brands within commercial breaks on seven broadcast networks and 34 cable channels.

Of the 73 percent of respondents watching TV when contacted, 68 percent were tuned to broadcast and 65 percent to cable.

About 14.9 percent of cable viewers recalled an ad in the last commercial break, compared to 14.5 percent of those watching broadcast.

Among the nearly 1,000 viewers who recalled more than one spot correctly, the broadcast viewers identified 1.13 spots, while cable watchers pegged 1.08 spots, Sims said.

But TN's Sternberg said he would rather have seen a recall study that tracked levels through all primetime commercial pods.

"Do broadcast and cable equally hold onto their audiences throughout the duration of a program?" he asked.

The CAB and Nielsen did not ask viewers how long they were tuned to the program they were watching when contacted, or how often they switched channels during the program, Sternberg noted.

Before the CAB agreed, Nielsen had talked to others about funding the recall study, said Nielsen vice president of custom research sales and marketing Paul Lindstrom. A 22-year Nielsen veteran, Lindstrom dubbed the report "truly a landmark database" that goes well beyond comparisons of broadcast TV and cable for ad effectiveness.

The results confirmed what "we've always believed, [that] the less clutter, the better recall," Sims said.

In terms of pod position, Sims said Nielsen found that those brands that led off breaks scored 25 percent above the norm in recall, compared to 16 percent of those in the second position. Recall rates for the remaining positions dipped, except for those in fourth position, which was 4 percent above average.

Recall levels within breaks ranged from 57 percent above the norm for those pods containing up to three units, to 17 percent above for those with four to six spots, Sims said.

Those cluttered with seven or more units were well below average. As an apparent result of channel surfing during ad breaks, the recall scores for five-spot pods, for instance, slipped below average for the third and fourth spots, but then returned to above-average levels for the final spot.

Turning to 30-second and 15-second spots, Sims said the shorter units once had roughly 75 percent of the value of the longer ones. But this study showed that disparity has dwindled to about half the value.

Sternberg, disputing the study's findings on pod length, said the data showed him that broadcast recall improved as pod length grew from three to six minutes. But cable's fell-and cable had many more pods that spanned six minutes or longer.

Sims said findings were consistent through both CAB surveys, and showed that viewers' ad recall levels were virtually the same whether consumers were watching broadcast or cable networks. But the much larger sample adds to the credibility of the data.

The CAB now will offer raw data from the recall studies to the ad-agency community for planners and buyers "to analyze as they see fit," Ostrow said.

Ostrow said he did not fear that the ad community might use the data to clamor for the leadoff pod position while pressing for lower rates for the less attractive positions. "It becomes part of the negotiation process," as with any research data, he said.

This study will give agencies and their clients a better idea of the value of various pod positions, and also may lead them to reexamine the value of 30-second spots and shorter units, Ostrow added.

Ostrow praised the coincidental phone survey approach as "really the gold standard of research, untainted by any prompts." In carrying out this coincidental survey, Nielsen called 102,000-plus phone numbers at random, including non-working numbers.

Only one attempt at each house was made, with no callbacks, except to get permission to call some consumers between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m., Lindstrom noted.

But Sternberg said that making calls after 10 p.m. "is very unusual for any telephone survey."

And since the Fox Television Network, The WB Network and United Paramount Network don't program after 10 p.m., Sternberg added, that move increased the odds that viewers would be watching cable during that last hour.

Although the CAB did not reveal what programs its recipients watched, it did indicate that 45 percent of the cable programs watched were 120 minutes in length or more, which Sternberg said meant those programs were sports events, movies or award shows rather than weekly series.

"How this strange disparity might impact recall rates is unknown," he said.