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Where’s the cocktail party at?

A recent study conducted by Nielsen-funded Council for Research Excellence dispels several popular notions about video media use. Results of its Video Consumer Mapping study was just released a few days ago. Incidentally, this is also the largest and most extensive observational study of media usage ever conducted.

What they’ve found is interesting. Apparently, younger baby boomers (age 45-54) average the most daily screen time (just over 9½ hours). The rest of us average 8½ hours. What’s really thought-provoking is that despite proliferation of multiple screens into the household, most of this screen time is dedicated to the television (5 hours and 9 mins).

The TV is still the proverbial 800 pound gorilla in the room.

But where television bites the dust for advertisers is that when spots run on the TV, the “concurrent media exposure indices” go through the roof.

Which means that when ads appear for dish soap, consumers change their environment — go to the bathroom or kitchen, pick up a magazine, call someone on the phone, or toy with a laptop computer, things other than watch the 30-second spot on TV. “During commercial breaks,” the report says, “people were observed shifting their primary attention.” (via ThoughtGadgets, MediAssociates)

We’ve believed this for some time now; the human brain is not wired to pay attention to two similar activities at once. It was time until the cocktail party effect started working on the people. This cocktail party effect can be described as the ability to focus on a single speaker, even if there are many speaking people around. We listen to a single conversation at a cocktail party. All of the other noise is filtered out and largely ignored.

While this cocktail party effect does spell doom for simultaneous media consumption, another aspect that’s working against attention is the idea of communicating to people in their cold state. For example, when I tune in to SETMax to watch the IPL, I want to watch cricket. Why are you intruding and selling me a car on my cricket time? And if you show me Coke, that doesn’t mean I am going to run out of home and buy one right away. By the time, I go to the market tomorrow, I would have most likely forgotten about you.

Context is crucial.

Take for example, Joshua Bell. One of the world’s greatest violinists. His instrument of choice is a multimillion-dollar Stradivarius. If he played it for spare change, incognito, outside a bustling Metro stop in Washington, would anyone notice?


Just three days before this Metro performance, Joshua Bell played at Boston’s stately Symphony Hall, where good seats went for $100. In the forty five minutes that he played at the D.C. Metro Station, twenty seven people gave money, most of them on the run for a total of $32 and change.

If a great musician plays great music and no one hears him, was he any good?

Activity, not aligned with the context, fails to create impact.

Even more so, in light of these research findings, it is time to explore unconventional ways to reach out and connect with your consumer. What are you doing about it?

#cocktailpartyeffect #context #media

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