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Study: Edgier Shows Boost Brand Recall

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Racy might not be so wrong for advertisers after all.

For networks like FX, which develops high-rated, boundary-pushing series such as The Shield and Nip/Tuck, and TBS Superstation, which plans to bring Sex and the City (edited but still salacious) to viewers next year, good news comes in the form of a Comedy Central research study.

Results of the study, conducted with strategic consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates, suggest that ads aired during risqué or otherwise provocative programming are more effective in terms of brand recall. Additionally, the study indicates that the content of shows does not negatively affect advertisers. "We found that agencies needed more ammunition to show clients that there is a positive value to edgy programming," said Ray Giacopelli, vp of research and ad sales for Comedy Central.

Using a sample assembled by Magid that was weighted for age and gender and balanced in programming choices, Comedy Central sent 200 people a tape of what the network considered edgy programs and 200 people a tape of non-edgy programming. The edgier tape included three- to five-minute excerpts from eight shows, including The Shield, Comedy Central's South Park and The Man Show and MTV's The Osbournes. The other tape included Food Network's Emeril Live, TLC's Trading Spaces and USA's Monk.

The tapes included the same 16 spots for products in major categories, including automotive, beverages and telecommunications. (Giacopelli would not divulge the brands).

The subjects were interviewed via phone one to two days after viewing. In an aided recall exercise, viewers of the edgy programming remembered 10 of the 16 brands advertised better than the viewers of non-edgy shows did. Conversely, viewers of the non-edgy shows remembered only three of the 16 brands better.

"The methodology used in the study was sound—a balanced sample with a good representation of advertisers—so we believe the results are accurate," said Rob Frydlewicz, vp of research at Carat Insight, which advised Comedy Central during the initial stages of the study.

To gauge whether edgy programming reflects poorly on brands advertised during such shows, the study asked respondents in each group what they thought of the brands advertised. Asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 whether each product was a brand they could count on, those who watched the edgy tapes gave an average response of 6.78; the figure for the non-edgy group was 6.87. As for whether products were high on quality, the mean edgy response was 6.80; the non-edgy response was 6.84. The gap was similarly small in the responses to all other questions (see chart).