Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hate the commercial. Love the interruption.

People will go to great lengths to avoid commercials. Many people illegally download their TV shows commercial-free. Others with TiVo take a legal roundabout by recording their show and starting to watch it 10 minutes after the start so they can fast forward through all the Pepto-Bismol and Ford truck commercials and watch their show virtually uninterrupted. Given the option for (legal) commercial-free TV, I'm sure most people would not only take that option, they'd probably pay more for it. Makes sense right?

Enter a recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research. Leif Nelson and his colleagues had participants in the study watch different types of TV with or without commercials. Contrary to what we might intuitively believe, the people who watched a rerun of Taxi with commercials enjoyed it more than people who watched it without. The same was true of people who watched an animated short with commercial interruption. When they showed people a nature documentary, not only did the presence of commercials make people enjoy the documentary more, they were more willing to donate to nature charity afterwards.

If all this leaves you scratching your head, there is an explanation. As you watch TV you become more and more adapted to the show leaving you enjoying each second less than the previous one. Interruptions, whether in commercial form or otherwise, break up this pattern and can renew your interest in the show. This also explains why shows that are more complex and difficult to adapt to don't show the same positive effect of interruptions.

So feel free to continue hating commercials as much as you did before, but learn to love the interruption.

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