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Is TV Advertising Going The Way of The Yellow Pages?

Lawyers who have advertised on TV for a long time have noticed that it’s not working as well as it used to. Many lawyers have asked me why TV advertising is not what it used to be. I see some similarities with TV advertising to the Yellow Pages.

When the Yellow Pages worked well, there was only one yellow book. Years ago, there was just broadcast TV with just a very few channels. Most of the lawyer advertising was on just one or two channels. Now, there are over 1,000 channels; many different sources; and many different methods of watching TV content.

Just like with the Yellow Pages, TV shows and TV networks have to deal with increasing overhead costs and decreasing viewership. Even worse, viewership for commercials is decreasing faster than for shows because many viewers can now skip commercials.

The CBS Sunday Morning Show said on Sept 27, 2015 that Nielsen found that 86% of TV viewers still watch the old fashioned way.  However, that means 14% are watching with the ability to avoid seeing commercials.  This number will likely increase and level off somewhere.  That means your TV advertising dollar is now worth less, at least by 14%.

Dish Network’s video recording device, the Hopper, allows viewers to completely eliminate commercials instead of fast forwarding like other devices. Aero is a discount TV subscription service which allows people to watch broadcast TV on the Internet. Aero allows recording to a remote DVR and likely allows fast forwarding through commercials.

The Daily Mail stated that an estimated 15%-20% of television viewers often fast-forward through the commercials.  With the cost of the commercials going up and results going down, many lawyers and other advertisers are left wondering if it’s still worthwhile to advertise on TV.

For some advertisers which are content to just brand a logo, new commercials are being produced with a design that can be watched up to 12 times normal speed so that viewers who fast forward through the commercials will still see the logo.

Additionally, other venues such as video games have become a serious distraction from TV shows.  Regarding Pizza Hut’s attempt to reach consumers in a new way with an app on Xbox Live, Paul Tassi at Forbes wrote, “With commercials skippable on TV and ads blockable on the internet, it can be hard to break through to tech-loaded consumers these days.”

The problem has become so serious and imminent that at least two broadcast networks NBC and FOX are considering changing from a free over the air network to a cable network because of the difficulty making money with the onslaught of emerging technology.  The future could have all broadcast networks becoming paid cable networks.  Reuters provided a good summary on the changing broadcast TV model.

The newest entrant into TV content is Netflix which just created history with several firsts and immediately brought more competitors to the scene.  It’s the first time that a company is creating TV content which completely bypasses television networks and cable operators.  Not to be outdone, Amazon is scrambling to enter the field of original TV programming to compete with Netflix.  Microsoft acquired exclusive rights to an independent movie and will be providing TV content for its Xbox Live platform.

But wait, there’s more!  The emerging technology has even been changing viewing habits.  Viewers have now been “binge” watching entire TV seasons at one time.  Netflix noticed the change in viewing habits and their series “House of Cards”  is the first major TV series to release an entire season of 13 episodes all at one time.

Large advertisers like Fortune 500 companies will have to rethink strategies and methods such as designing commercials which can still have some impact while fast forwarding through the commercial; finding new venues like Xbox; social media; viral videos and even traditional in person marketing.

Smaller advertisers like lawyers will also have to rethink strategies and methods but will likely include different strategies such as social media or targeting a niche with “old-time” conventional face to face marketing methods. For my law firm, I targeted a niche group and developed a sophisticated traditional in person marketing campaign.



  1. I like the post about all the different ways to see TV programs. What do you think about running ads on the radio, along with having banner ads on the radio station website? I'm thinking more like 15 sec ads just to get the attention of listeners. Maybe even campaigns (like don't drink and drive, or don't text and drive).

    Comment by Dave Clemons — 4/25/2013 @ 8:32 am

  2. Radio works great for branding. Campaigns (like don't drink and drive, or don't text and drive) also work great for branding and cause marketing. Radio works well with direct response advertising (where the desired reaction is for the listener to call upon hearing the commercial) when the radio commercial incorporates a vanity phone number.

    For 30 years, I've heard lawyers advertising on the radio and quickly disappear when they were not using a vanity phone number but the lawyers with a vanity phone number has been advertising on the radio for many years. It's not surprising, because if the desired reaction is to call a phone number, it is very difficult for someone to remember and a phone number after hearing it on the radio.

    A study on the use of toll-free 800 numbers in radio advertising measured the difference between using an 800 vanity number versus an 800 numeric number and found that the 800 vanity phone number resulted in 14 times more phone calls.

    Comment by PhilEsq — 4/26/2013 @ 1:02 pm

  3. TV ads are still effective for some lawyers, but the effectiveness does seem to be declining with new media becoming more prevalent. Good article.

    Comment by Evan Guthrie — 5/13/2013 @ 9:36 pm

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