Best of 2010: Consumers Confused by TV Commercials

As the year winds down, we are taking a look back at our most popular posts of 2010. These are your favorites based on the number of times read, and they do a good job of telling us what you're most interested in!

We'll be back live on January 3. Thanks for reading us this year, and we look forward to bringing you more great info and insights in 2011!


It may be the last thing a marketer wants to hear. After a company spends time and money to promote a product or service via an expensive TV ad campaign, consumers are confused. They don’t understand what product or service the ad is selling. This consumer confusion is on the increase according to a recent Harris Interactive poll.

Here’s a general summary of what consumers have to say on the topic of TV ads:

  • Often find them confusing: 21%
  • Find them confusing sometimes: 55%
  • Never find them confusing: 14%
  • Do not watch TV ads: 11%

Researchers founds some association between confusion and age. For example, consumers in the 35–44 year old age group have the lowest very or somewhat often confusion rate: 13%.  Older consumers (age 55+) have the highest rate at 28%. Although the survey did not specifically address the issue, one has to wonder if some of the confusion is linked to new technology products or services that are adopted at higher rates by younger consumers but baffle older consumers. The related TV ad campaigns may be equally baffling.

There is almost no difference between confusion rates and education levels.  The numbers of people who find TV ads very or somewhat confusing by education level are as follows:

  • High school graduate or less: 20%
  • Some college education: 22%
  • College graduate or higher: 19%

Harris Interactive analysts note “a commercial’s main focus needs to be selling a product or service. If consumers watching these commercials are unsure of that main focus, the marketers are doing something wrong.”  As a media format, TV reaches 89% of consumers who say they watch the ads. Marketers cannot afford to confuse potential purchasers and further erode their customer base. They must walk a fine line between entertainment and education in their TV ad efforts.

[Source: Three-​Quarters of Americans Have Found a TV Commercial Confusing. Harris Interactive​.com. 24 Sept. 2010. Web. 4 Oct. 2010] 

Kathy Crosett
Kathy is the Vice President of Research for SalesFuel. She holds a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Vermont and oversees a staff of researchers, writers and content providers for SalesFuel. Previously, she was co-​owner of several small businesses in the health care services sector.