Wanamaker Project Will Put More Pressure on Madison Ave. To Cut Costs of Ad Making.

David Kiley

Advertisers are only just now able to measure what many consumers could have told them a long time ago. Many ads on TV are simply run to often or for too long.

MediaCheck reported the finding this week as part of its "Project Wanamaker," its ongoing test of advertising effectiveness in Omaha, Nebraska. It found that a significant number of TV commercials achieve saturation faster than most advertisers and advertising agencies realize and reach a maximum household audience in just a week or two. The company said they discovered that at least seven new commercials reached 95 to 100 percent of the test's HH audience within the first week of airing. The company said many advertisers are better off having a commercial air for no longer than two-three weeks followed by a week off the air and then running a few days a week.

Here's the problem for Madison Avenue. Many ad agencies are stuck in the 1990s when it comes to commercial production. The average budget for producing a 30-second ad is around $400,000. For that, advertisers don't want to hear the ad is only good for a week before it hits its milk-like expiration date. The price is so high because of huge fees charged by big-time directors and editing and production studios. It's also because many creative types argue persuasively for big budget productions to dress up their own sample reels.

Some agencies, though, are learning. One big agency I talked to recently said they were studying MTV's production system because of the huge number of videos and promos the network produces at relatively low cost. And the head of a big media buying firm told me he was looking at starting his own creative department to produce ads at a more affordable price than his clients' ad agencies could.

With the pressure to create more ads that run less frequently, look too for all production to increasingly move offshore to Canada, South Africa and even India where an advanced film industry operates for a fraction of the cost of Hollywood and New York, and production can be controlled via computer link-ups without a lot of agency personnel having to actually fly to Bombay.

A decade or so ago, advertisers began stripping their media buying and planning chores out of full-service ad agencies because they could get better prices and greater effeciencies. Then, the media people were often seen as the least creative people in the agency next to the accountants. No more. Not only are media buying/planning firms increasingly running the show on an advertiser's account (because there is more creativity required these days to figure out how to get a consumern to actually see the ad) but they are, like Pac Man, about to turn back on the creatives at traditional ad agencies who used to scoff at "the media people" by cutting into their business of creating the ads.

Talk about revenge of the nerds.

"For many executions, any schedule longer than three weeks wastes media dollars and diminishes ROI," said Lee Weinblatt, founder and CEO of MediaCheck's parent, The PreTesting Company, Inc. "Unfortunately, other executions did not get beyond 38 percent total HH reach, even after six weeks on air. Most of the problem had to do with the execution, although time slots also played a role. We also learned that prime-time isn't necessarily the best time for commercials."

Project Wanamaker is the first large-scale implementation of patented technologies that document who watched a commercial, how much of it they watched and when they watched it, and even a consumer's behavior at point of
purchase. The Omaha test has determined that television commercials are
more appealing and effective when tied to rewards and incentives available on the Internet at MediaCheck's GiftzClub web site. MediaCheck named the test Project Wanamaker in honor of department store magnate John Wanamaker, who said, "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don't know which half."

Thirty-eight national and local advertisers, including Colgate, Neutrogena, Pepsi, Subway, Chevrolet (Omaha), Burger King (Omaha) and pharmaceutical manufacturers, are comparing the impact of different commercial lengths and different time placements, the impact of frequency on zapping, and the effect of different executions. A number of the clients are measuring the desirability of different special offers. In nearly all cases, either MediaCheck launched and controlled the media/posting schedule or started at the same time as the national campaign.

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