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.

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