The TV Ad Expense Report

On any given Friday night, most Americans are ready for a break from the week. They plop down on the couch, put their feet up, eat their favorite snack and grab the remote. As they hit the power button, they are normally faced with dozens of channels to choose from. Channel surf or watch what’s been recording all week? They get all set up and here it is. Time to watch their favorite…commercial?

With a busy social and work life, many people today are now using services like TIVO and DVRs to record their favorite shows, which is making it harder to measure TV viewership. With little time for extras these days, recording devices make it easy to cut your TV watching down by nearly 30% by fast forwarding right through the commercials. Consumers rarely think of the consequences of this action but are businesses suffering? Is it still beneficial to market products on TV?

A few years ago The Atlantic published an article that claimed nearly half of DVR users actually left the commercials playing, that TV watchers were there to relax and did not want to be bothered by having to actively use the remote.

TV marketing isn’t like email marketing. It’s much more subliminal. Email marketing has to spell out the details and draw in your attention, but a television ad can be vague. It can be confusing. It doesn’t have to do much of anything other than place a brand name in your mind.

For consumers, watching commercials is actually beneficial. A TV commercial can inspire, motivate and educate consumers about products, services and organizations they did not previously know existed. And it is up to the consumer to make the choice of what to do with that new information. Many suddenly have a craving for that juicy and delectable-looking burger or find cars or clothes or services they want to buy as a result of viewing a TV spot. And sometimes a small child sees that cool toy and adds it to his Christmas list. That’s not harmful, right? Not a waste of time either.

Taking it a step further, primetime and big money commercial markets are actually sought out. Think about the most recent big event: the Super Bowl. Even non-football fans tune in for the big game and although the game is important, Americans are obsessed with the commercials long after the last down is played. There is an entire class of viewers that watch the Super Bowl ONLY for the commercials. Companies pay top dollars for these prime advertising spots. CBS News reported these ads costing businesses up to $3.8 million for just 30 seconds. This is just the cost to purchase the spot and doesn’t even include the cost of actually making the commercial.
So yes, there is something for consumers in the TV ad business—but with such a hefty price tag, is this sort of outlet beneficial to businesses? With watchers choosing recorded programming over live and busy viewers leaving the room during live commercial breaks to multitask, is it work it to spend thousands and even millions of dollars on an advertisement if only half of your audience is even paying attention? Well, for live viewers alone, there were over 108 million people watching the Super Bowl. So yes, I think it is well worth it.
Now I’m not saying to jump right into TV advertising by purchasing a spot during the Super Bowl. What I am saying, though, is to not be afraid of TIVO or busy consumers. More people are seeing your commercials than you may realize. It is important to still focus on your target market when advertising. You wouldn’t advertise a kid’s toy at 10 p.m. just like you wouldn’t advertise a masculine product during a female-oriented TV show.

It’s essential to remember that TV advertising will not lead to an immediate return. It is an investment. Your ad is just to get that idea in consumers’ minds, make them remember your name or your brand. Of course the end goal is to get a sale out of the idea but the first step is planting the seed.

Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for She specializes on the topic of small business tips and resources. helps small businesses grow their business on the web and facilitates connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide.