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TV Viewing & the Impact of Shared Experiences

What Marketers Can Learn About Our Bonding Ritual

In our always-on, always-connected lives, TV is a huge part of our cultural fabric and the art form and inspiration behind many of our daily watercooler conversations. From binge-worthy shows to live commentating the presidential debates, friends, couples and even whole families gather to watch—and discuss—what’s happening on the big screen. These programming-driven conversations are happening in the same room, in real time, between real people. And audience feedback continues to demonstrate there’s a hunger for shared experiences and emotionally engaging content that individual devices can’t offer.

Obviously in today’s world of smart phones and social media, our viewing habits have changed. We catch up on news on our phones during bus rides or in traffic jams, trade gifs, memes and cat videos, and tweet about shows to thousands of people we’ve never met. Yet we risk an experience that is potentially isolating and fragmented—to the extent that photographer Eric Pickersgill felt compelled to capture it in his eerily apt photo-series in The Atlantic called “Removed.”

TV as a Bonding Ritual

When couples share a social identity (for example, having the same group of friends or the same colleagues) they experience a stronger camaraderie. Research shows that this level of bonding can also be achieved between two people by watching the same TV show together.

According to a recent study conducted by Viacom, of the majority of couples who tune in together, nearly 80 percent of respondents said watching TV is a way to unwind and spend quality time with each other at the end of the day. Simply put, it’s easier to hang out with a 50-inch screen between you than with a 4-inch one.

The big screen bonding doesn’t stop there. Even if our roommate is a total stranger, we’re still more likely to enjoy sharing a pleasant experience with them—like watching a favorite TV show—than doing so alone.

Emotional Engagement = Recall and Persuadability

With TV creating such a strong shared experience, it becomes the best possible context for advertisers who also want to create an emotional connection with their audiences. Think back to the last great television commercial you saw. Easy, right? Now what about the last great display or video ad you saw on your mobile device? If that one’s a little tougher to recall, you’re not alone.

While it’s up to marketers to determine the most engaging ad content, a recent study by Boston-based Innerscope Research found that viewers felt TV commercials were four times more engaging than video advertising on Facebook. Focusing in on this means being able to transform attention into actual recall.

Nearly half of Innerscope respondents also said they skip or ignore Facebook video ads, and they reported being almost three times as likely to buy a brand after seeing it advertised on their TV screen compared to their Facebook feed.

These research results solidly align with additional recent findings presented by the National Communication Association. In a presentation on ritual television co-viewing events, data showed that watching a show with someone increases viewers’ emotional investment in the content. With emotions driving 50 percent of every buying decision, the premium context of television itself enables marketers to impact consumers’ behaviors and actions in a positive way.

The Millennial Impact

Like Gen Xers and baby boomers before them, millennials still use TV programs and advertisements to discover new products. After all, they were the first generation to grow up with entire networks like Nickelodeon devoted to their interests, 24/7.

This increased exposure to tailored programming and advertisements means millennials are savvier when it comes to marketing messages, and they have higher expectations for the way those messages are delivered. As surprising as it may seem, TV advertising remains as much a discovery tool for products and brands as word of mouth and individual research.

And when you consider the fact that millennials are the most frequent binge-watchers of TV, averaging six episodes per session, the opportunity to reach and engage with them becomes even richer and ripe with possibilities.

In the end, it all comes down to the visually compelling narrative that television offers and the unique interpersonal connection that we can’t always replicate elsewhere. Unlocking the power of this emotional engagement and transforming that attention into greater ad engagement is an opportunity that can be maximized by marketers, ultimately connecting their brand with consumers that count.

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Published: Nov 07, 2016