David Reviews, the influential TV and film aggregation site, has recently started something called The Lunch Break. This is a selection of TV ads put together to watch as if in an ad break. The very good idea behind this is obviously to better replicate the experience that viewers have.
People rarely watch any advertising with devoted attention – unless they’ve specifically sought it out to view again. TV viewers watch a series of different ads from non-competing markets with varying levels of attention (all of which we now know are valuable to advertisers, thanks to neuroscience).
This is not astonishing; I’m clearly not breaking much new ground telling you this. But it occurred to me while I was on the jury for the Campaign Big Awards that when we judge ads they are dislocated from their natural habitat, and often alongside others in the same market.
Advertising is affected by many things, but one of its primary concerns is context; the TV programmes you’re rubbing shoulders with, the pages of the specific magazines or websites you’ve bought, the posters in those particular locations. And let’s not forget the emotional and physical contexts of rushing to work or relaxing in the bath and cuddling with your kids/cat on the sofa. But when judging awards normal contexts are lost and artificial ones imposed. It is impossible to recreate the actual viewer experience when lined up alongside an eclectic bunch of people you don’t know well in a hotel room focussing solely on a screen and watching 60 TV ads in a row.
Where TV is concerned, the influence of the context in which we watch is incredibly significant. For sponsorship credits I would say it is impossible to judge them fairly when detached from the editorial context in which they appear and with which they are supposed to relate.
Later this year we’re publishing new research into the influence of watching TV with other people, but initial findings show that it exerts a big influence on the impact and effectiveness of TV’s advertising.
So, taking all this into account, perhaps it would be better for creative judging if ad judges convened at one of their palatial country houses to lounge around the living room watching Peep Show or The X-Factor, eating a takeaway curry and letting the short-listed ads appear serendipitously, just as the media planning Gods intended. Let’s see what works best then.