OK, I admit it — I’m a fan of “American Idol.” (Yes, I know, here comes the grief!) When I can’t make it home at 8pm, I record the show on my DVR and watch it when I have a free minute. Honestly, I prefer watching it at a later time so I can skip through the commercials to get right to the performances and the results.

During the last show, I stopped fast-forwarding and thought to myself, “What impact does my DVR activity have on an advertiser’s brand?” It seemed to me that fast-forwarding through a commercial would not impact the consumer as much as watching the 30-second spot, but I wondered if it had any effect on consumer behavior at all. And, how did this affect consumers’ brand perception? My first assumption was that all brand awareness was lost, but I wasn’t sure. So, out of curiosity, I did a little research and found some interesting information.

Breaking Through Fast-Forwarding: Brand Information and Visual Attention

A study by two professors from Boston College, S. Adam Brasel and James Gips, provides information on how fast-forwarding can affect a brand, the impact that this act can have on the consumer and their perception of a brand. The study offers key insights to how marketers might increase their overall effectiveness of their advertising.

In their research paper published in the November 2008 issue of the Journal of Marketing titled, “Breaking Through Fast-Forwarding: Brand Information and Visual Attention,” the professors conducted two studies based on eye-tracking that would show how fast-forwarding viewers paid attention during commercials, specifically to the center of the screen, waiting for a cue from the program’s bumper to stop the fast-forwarding action. Ads containing brand information at the center of the screen, even though these ads lost 95% of their frames and had no audio, still created brand recognition and brand memory. The professors later performed a third study that showed that fast-forwarded commercials with extensive central brand information can positively affect consumers’ attitude towards a brand, their behavioral intent and choice behavior.

What does this mean for marketers?

Based on this research, marketers of brands that advertise on TV should reconsider their commercials’ creative and have the brand prominently placed in the center of the screen for a significant amount of time. The research explained how fast-forwarding through commercial pods alters the visual attention of the viewer. As mentioned above, the viewer’s focus becomes the center of the screen waiting for the next bumper cue. Brand information placed at the center of the commercial can lead to increased brand attitude and purchase intent.

The study also revealed that advertisements with peripheral or limited branding had little effect on the viewer when they fast-forwarded through the commercial. Although certain commercials provide interest when watched completely for 30 seconds, marketers should reconsider “hiding” their brand-name or logo until the end of the commercial if they expect that the spot may be fast-forwarded through. Other important calls to action such as a website address or telephone number also needs to be carefully positioned in association with the other brand elements.

To fully understand brand positioning in a commercial takes careful and strong creative and copy writing. It takes a process that is thorough and goal-oriented. For marketers, it means that a television commercial should be held accountable to produce results. A commercial should be more than something that looks cool for 30 seconds because today with a DVR, those 30 seconds may only allow for one or two seconds of brand awareness.

Read the complete research paper