Commercial wear-out vs. stopping too early

Editor’s note: Jori van der Spijker is the global head of brand and communication at DVJ Insights.

“Is our commercial experiencing wear-out?” is a question I come across often. The threat of wear out is something that concerns marketers, and rightly so. No one wants to spend their budget on an advertisement that only causes irritation for the consumer. But due to this focus on wear-out, a bigger problem often remains undiscussed. While marketers are afraid that the advertisement will be on TV for too long, in practice, we see that advertisements are often stopped too early, before they even reach a level of maximum impact.  

What are the wear-out stages in advertising?

In the first stage of wear-out, the viewer stops paying attention. They have seen the commercial a few times now and think they know what it’s about. The second phase is the decline in learning effects. The viewer or listener doesn’t learn anything new from the commercial and now knows the message. The third stage is what everyone always thinks of when it comes to wear-out: People have seen the commercial so often that they start to find it annoying. However, this doesn’t occur all that often. 

Wear-out in practice: The real commercial experience 

So, how often do we stumble across this phenomenon? In our campaign effect measurement, we can determine how often someone has been in contact with the commercial and make a comparison between those who have seen the commercial often and those who haven’t. As it turned out, wear-out only occurred in less than 5% of cases. In only 3% irritation increased and the extent to which a commercial was liked decreased.  

What we didn’t expect to happen but is somewhat logical, is that the exact opposite occurred. The contact group that had seen the commercial more often liked it more. In the first stage of wear-in, people like the commercial more, they learn more about it and understand it better. Then we have the neutral stage where evaluation neither increases nor decreases. It’s only after this stage that we come to wear out. The study revealed that in 15% of cases the commercial was pulled off the air whilst still being in the wear-in stage and I can imagine why. 

The client sees and hears the commercial continuously in his or her work. They have gone through the entire creative process. When the commercial finally comes on the TV, they have watched it tons of times already. As a result, they are greatly influenced and overestimate the extent to which regular consumers experience the commercial.  

How does wear-in work? 

You can compare wear-in to the first time you hear a new song. You might not love it at first and have to get used to it. When you’re in the car and the radio plays that song again, you start to like it more and more. Things you recognise and are therefore easier to process in your brain, we tend to like more. In the academic world, this is called the mere-exposure effect. The mere-exposure effect is a phenomenon where people develop a preference for things just because they have been in contact with them. Another psychological concept related to this is processing fluency. Research shows that we like things more depending on how easily we can process them in the brain. That’s why we enjoy listening to songs, watching movies and seeing advertisements more when we’ve already seen them. 

Discovering a commercials airtime length

All these things make the wear-out discussion interesting. Based on a campaign effect study, we can very well determine at which stage an advertisement finds itself. More often than wear-out, we learn that an expression is still in the wear-in phase and that it is advisable to use it more often in a subsequent campaign. That is why it is good for clients to monitor this. Instead of wondering if a commercial isn't on TV for too long, we better ask ourselves if we aren’t pulling it off the air too soon. After all, your favorite film has definitely made an appearance more than once.