Three-Quarters of Americans Have Found a TV Commercial Confusing

New York, N.Y. – September 24, 2010 – Most everyone has felt it at some point. The commercial on television ends and there is still uncertainty about exactly what product or service that commercial was selling. You’re not alone in that feeling of confusion. Three-quarters of Americans (75%) say they have found a commercial on TV confusing. One in five (21%) often find commercials on television confusing while 55% say they find commercials confusing not very often. Just 14% say they never find commercials on television confusing and 11% do not watch commercials on TV.

These are some of the findings of a new Adweek Media/Harris Poll survey of 2,163 U.S. adults surveyed online between July 27 and 29, 2010.

Differences by Age

Age plays a small role in how confusing these commercials appear to people. Three in ten people 55 years or older (29%) say they often find the commercials on television confusing. The number drops for younger Americans as 17% of those 45-54 year old often find commercials confusing as do 18% of those 18 – 34 years old and 13% of those 35- 44. Those 55 and older are also less likely to say they never find commercials confusing (10%) and more likely to say they do not watch commercials on television (13%).

Differences by Education

Are marketers just trying to hit a more educated audience? If so, it is still not working. Looking at levels of confusion by education there still is not much of a difference. Three-quarters of those who have an education level of high school or less (75%), those who have some college education (76%) and those who have a college degree or post graduate education (76%) say they have found commercials on TV to be confusing. And, one in five with an education level of high school or less (21%), those who have completed some college (22%) and college graduates (19%) often find commercials on television to be confusing.

So What?

Commercials are supposed to be somewhat clear. Yes, they can be artsy. Yes, they can be clever. Hopefully they are both entertaining and informative as well. But, a commercial’s main focus needs to be selling a product or service. If consumers watching these commercials are unsure of that main focus, the marketers are doing something wrong. This is especially true in these trying economic times. People are cutting back on purchases so the advertisers need to do everything in their power to convince a consumer their product is the one to open their wallet for. If the ad is confusing that may dismiss that product from consideration.

 

TABLE 1

COMMERCIAL CLARITY

When watching commercials on television, how often, if ever, do you find them confusing?

Base: All U.S. adults

Total

Age

Education

18-34

35-44

45-54

55+

HS or less

Some college

College grad+

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Watch commercials on TV (NET)

89

90

90

90

87

88

90

91

Ever find commercials on TV confusing (NET)

75

75

75

74

77

75

76

76

Often find commercials on TV confusing (NET)

21

18

13

17

29

21

22

19

Very often

4

2

2

4

8

4

6

3

Somewhat often

16

16

11

14

20

16

16

16

Not very often

55

57

62

57

48

54

54

57

Never

14

15

16

16

10

13

14

15

N/A – Does not watch commercials on TV

11

10

10

10

13

12

10

9

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

Methodology

This Adweek Media/Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between July 27 and 29, 2010 among 2,163 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Where appropriate, this data were also weighted to reflect the composition of the adult online population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

The Harris Poll® #110, August 26, 2010

By Regina Corso, SVP, Harris Poll, Public Relations and Youth Research 

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