Advertising: Captive audience

Confounding conventional wisdom, a new study says we actually do watch ads.

Though it may not mean a return to the Mad Men era, advertisers take note: your audience is watching.

A survey sponsored by U.S.-based Council for Research Excellence reveals 85% of adults are watching on average 64 minutes of ads daily. The study, which was initiated in 2008 with a budget of $35 million, also reveals 56% of commercial viewers are engaged solely with media – led largely by TV viewing – during the ad break, meaning over half aren’t multi-tasking.

“The interesting thing is, they’re not even flipping channels,” says Terry O’Reilly, host of CBC radio show The Age of Persuasion. “Staying on the couch is good and big news, but not switching is very surprising.”

The industry has long assumed that most people make a sandwich or go to the bathroom during commercial breaks. Until this study, the first of its kind to use in-person and computer-assisted observation to measure the commercial-watching habits of 376 adults, no valid research had been done on the topic.

O’Reilly says though the study doesn’t say anything about viewers retaining the ads, knowing they’re watching is half the battle. “You can’t sell anything until someone notices the market,” he says. “Getting people to stick with you is first. Persuading them with content is second.”