Only a few years ago, the major concern of television advertisers was to inhibit viewers from leaving the room during the commercials. Now there is a much more serious problem-commercials can get zapped without leaving the room. A viewer can turn off the sound or change channels with a remote control tuner (zapping) or run fast-forward on a prerecorded program (zipping). Households with remote controls for their TV sets zap ads 60 percent more than do those without remotes-and such remotes are now in more than 50 percent of all U.S. TV homes, and there are more of them every day.
Using scanner data, Fred Zufryden, James Pedrick and Avu Sankaralingam found that, in addition to the presence of remotes, zapping also to be higher among households with cable TV, and with multiple people at home, households with children under eighteen living at home, households w:ith college-educated adults, and households where VCRs are used. Interestingly, they reported TV channel switching to occur more during TV programs than during ads, and they found the strange result that TV ads appeared to affect sales more strongly if they were zapped than if they were not! They suggest that perhaps consumers are forced to pay more attention to ads they are zapping-ads not being zapped might just be completely ignored.
Meanwhile, according to proprietary studies by the scanner data company Information Resources, Inc. (IRI), zapping tends to be higher for the first ad in a commercial break, and higher among more media-savvy younger consumers, especially those who have higher incomes· and male. Other surveys also point out that younger adults zap ads more often than older adults, and men more than women. Zappers are less likely to plan their TV viewing and more likely-to flip TV channels till they find something they like (sometimes called "channel grazing").
The obvious approach to combating zapping (and zipping and clutter) is to create commercials that are so interesting that viewers will prefer to watch them rather than zap or zip them. Research shows that zapping tends to occur most strongly during the first five seconds of a commercial, so that it is crucial to sustain the consumer's interest during these first few seconds. In sustaining the viewer's interest, advertisers can make use of all the prtnciples that we will discuss further below-offer information that is useful, create ads that are complex and interesting, create ads that "fit" with prior expectations and attitudes, and so on.
In making such ads, the "interesting" and "novel" elements appear to be more important than the "useful information" aspects, at least for casual, lowinvolvement viewers. Indeed, a recent study by T. J. Olney, Morris Holbrook, and Rajeev Batra found that viewers' tendency to zip and zap commercials was reduced to the extent they found the commercials pleasurable-but increased for ads that were simply useful and utilitarian.18 A study by the McCann-Erickson agency also found that zapping was reduced for ads that were more entertaining.19 Having said that, it must aJso be pointed out that getting and gaining attention is not everything: the executional elements that are used for these purposes must not detract and distract from the real, eventual purpose of the ad, such as changing attitudes.
Ideally, ads should be so interesting that viewers would look for or wait for commercials to come on! Perhaps the most spectacular commercial of re(:ent times was a spot for the Apple Macintosh computer. Called "1984," it aired only once during the Super Bowl. A young woman is shown throwing a sledgehammer through a giant TV screen featuring Big Brother. The tag line was: "Apple computer will introduce Macintosh and you'll see why 1984 won't be like 1984." The ad was enormously successful at generating interest in the computer. Apple's "Lemmings" commercial, aired at the 1985 Super Bowl, however, was less successful.20