June 21, 2011

How Many Ads Are We Exposed to Daily??

The other day on a blog article I saw a commenter who said that they had heard that Americans are exposed to 5,000 advertising messages in an average day.    That sounded like an example of numerical fiction.   The number didn't seem close to realistic.   I figured I would do a little research into it and see where these numbers come from.

This Google Answer has a lot of research on the topic.   They cite many references that give numbers for how many ads we see daily.   One such example : “The average American is exposed to 247 commercial messages each day.” Consumer Reports Website

But the numbers just go up from there.   The various sources they reference give numbers of :
247, 600, 3000, 850, 3000, 3000, 600, 500-1000, 2500, 1500, 3000, 3000, 1600, 3000, 3000 and 1500 respectively

Couple points, first, thats a whole lot of variation and second the 3000 number is repeated many times.   I searched further on my own for that 3000 number.   I found the article Children, Adolescents, and Advertising from the American Academy of Pediatrics that says: "The average young person views more than 3000 ads per day on television (TV), on the Internet, on billboards, and in magazines" and it gives the source as : Goodman E. Ads pollute most everything in sight. Albuquerque Journal. June 27, 1999:C3

The Story of Stuff also references the same statistic from the same source according to Wikipedia.   As far as I can tell the 3000 figure comes from Ellen Goodman  I suspect she did some study that claimed that number and then it was cited and repeated across the other sources as fact.   I don't find anything directly from her that explains the figure.   In fact I don't see an explanation behind any of the numbers.

My Guess at a Number

In a given 24 hour period you do a lot of things that have no exposure to advertisements.  You need to eat meals, shower, sleep, dress yourself, etc.  You probably spend a good 10 hours doing such activities.    In a given workday you will also spend 8-10 hours at work and commuting.  

Lets say I browse the web for 2 hours.   Thats 120 minutes of web surfing.   If I spend about 1 minute per page and visit about 120 pages.   If I see 2 ads per page that would be a total of 240 ads in a 2 hour period. If I watch TV for an hour then about 22 minutes of the hour will be advertisements.  In a given minute you generally get 1-2 commercials.   That will result in seeing about 44 commercials in an hour of TV watching.   Watching 5 hours of TV would give you 220 commercials.  If I spend 7 hours on the internet and watching TV then that still only adds up to around 460 advertisements.  You can of course also see advertisements in other places like reading a newspaper, reading magazines, listening to the radio, or seeing ads on billboards and the sides of buses.  

If you add it all up then I think that a figure closer to 250- 500 is realistic.

Now that is just my opinion based on my very quick guess.   However I think it is a lot more realistic than a figure like 3,000 or 5,000. 

Why the 3000 or 5000 figures are exaggerated

OK lets think about this.  Theres 24 hours in a day, 60 minutes in an hour and 60 seconds in a minute.   That gives us 86,400 seconds in a given day.   If you're exposed to 5,000 ads a day then that means on average you see an ad every 17.28 seconds for every single second of the day.   If we assume you aren't exposed to ads while you sleep 8 hours then that makes it even worse at 11.52 seconds per ad on average.   Even if you're watching a pretty heavy barrage of commercial TV you only get about 1 ad per minute.   Worst case if you did nothing but watch TV all day you'd see only around 700 ads.


  1. I was exposed to 5 ads on your page just by clicking here. I didn't consciously *notice* any of them till I finished your article.

  2. Not just television ads are applicable here, but all kinds of advertisements. Logos, for example. How many logos, ads like the one just above this comment section, commercials, billboards, and other things does the average American see per day? I'd be willing to bet the number was in the thousands.

  3. T-shirts.. baseball caps.. athletic shoes.. it's not just "advertisement" as we first think. It's the sneaky form.. the advertisements we wear, drink, eat (Coke anyone? How about Reese's Pieces? Even ET likes them!). These are also strategic marketing techniques, just not loud ones.

  4. DeniseZ, yes that form of advertisement does add up. I really wouldn't equate it the same as a 30 second TV commercial. I mean if I'm driving down the street and glance a Pepsi vending machine in front of a gas station is that an 'advertisement'? Seeing the name reminds me of the product but I wouldn't count any exposure an advertisement as such. But if you see the Coca-cola or Nike names plastered on clothing and such everywhere you go then that certainly has an impact too. Its a good point. I'd probably put these in different categories of outright advertisements and simple brand name exposures.


  5. Guys, an advertisement is an advertisement! Whether it's on the shampoo bottle you're using as you lather up, on the box of cereal you're eating, on the trunk of the car in front of you, on the 'this mile of highway adopted by [LOGO], on the buildings you pass, and of course on all of the commercials and newspaper ads and internet twirling dervishes and everything else -- ADS ARE EVERYWHERE!!! Most of them we just filter out and never see consciously, but are still being bombarded by as we go along in alpha mode (auto pilot). But they're there and we still soak them in! At least 3,000 easy!

  6. Denise is right - t-shirts, brand names, product placement that is in every piece of media, everything! By the way check out "Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" which is all about product placement. The list goes on and on! I'm typing on a GearHead keyboard and there's my Samsung monitor raised up by a ream of International Paper Hammermill paper. Plus how many times do we Google something every day? Google ads are everywhere too, not just on Google! It's all advertisement! Ok off my soapbox now :)

  7. I work for a growth consultancy (marketing). Trust me when I say that companies treat brand recognition and brand penetration just as seriously as what you see on a billboard or TV commercial. I tend to go with what they go with so that I know how I'm being targeted.

    Denise and James are right; you see at least 1,000-2,000 a day if you count every label you saw. There's even some overlap. You're counting formal TV commercials; well, what about product placements within shows? It's that mini commercial you get when your favorite detective uses their new high tech camera phone and some other actor says "oh you can do that? Tell me about it?...Cool!" Bam! You've just been marketed to. It's mind-boggling when you think about it.

  8. Colby, product placement within TV shows or movies certainly does add to the total. I would generally consider that a form of advertisement. But I personally still don't think simply seeing a brand name or company logo is equivalent to an advertisement.

  9. Thank you for the thoughtful post on this topic. I've been a marketer for over 30 years and I'm appalled at the random data assertions made by marketers. David Ogilvy taught our industry long ago that our work means nothing without research backing it up. I'm searching for current research on the topic because I'm seeing way too many assertions with the 3000 and 5000 number still...in April 2014! I love your bottom up logic. Do we actually see an ad every 11-12 seconds? Highly doubtful. I spent over 5 minutes on your page and saw one of the many ads here, the Amazon widget. This reminds me of the "subliminal advertising" myth that still pervades our profession, even though it is now known that Vicary faked his data and may not have even conducted the research. Stop going for the shock factor, people, and use real numbers.

    1. Sharilee,
      Just what I would expect a marketing person to say. No, no, no! Your brain has not been hijacked by us. Of course not! You bought that "mood ring" because you needed it! Ha! Ha!

  10. To think you only see 250-500 ads a day is foolish.


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