Media Business Strategies

The Blog of David Polakoff

A Commercial Message

Posted by David Polakoff on April 6, 2009

The Windmills of My Immediate Mind

Media Business Strategies – David Polakoff

A Commercial Message

Twitch your nose and let’s discuss the advertising environment without recessionary concerns (we’re talking advertising, here folks, so anything is believable). Today, the effective use of advertising dollars has the advertising industry and all who rely upon it feel like they’re in a Marx Brothers movie.

The television world is chaotic over the DVR and ad skipping, as well as eyeballs and advertising dollars shifting from television to the internet. Some studies note that households without DVRs skip more commercials than those with DVRs. That notwithstanding, most households with DVRs skip the commercials. And other studies note that even fast-forwarded spots still capture viewers’ attention; most viewers skipping ads can still recall brand names and logos.

The internet world is flummoxed about pre-roll, mid-roll, and post-roll; 30 second vs. 15 second vs. 10 second spots; and one, two minute ad vs. four thirty second spots. While many program viewers watch via the internet because of convenience (i.e., video on demand), many do so for the lighter commercial load than via traditional television viewing.

The latest debate is the revenue model of alternate means by which consumers should access television programming. The networks have been showing much of their programming free, via advertisements, on their own websites or via Hulu, TV.com, etc. Interestingly, to keep internet access “free,” most people are willing to be subject to a reasonable degree of advertising. Cable programmers have largely not made their programming available other than for purchase (via iTunes and Amazon, etc.) and are now testing the idea of allowing that programming accessible via the internet (or mobile) only if you’re already paying a cable, satellite, or telephone provider. Paying heed to the lessons of the music, newspaper and magazine businesses, the concern is maintaining existing revenue stream volumes, whether advertiser, affiliate fees, or both. The key on the advertising side is assuring any lost television ad dollars are at least matched by internet ad dollars, which is today’s challenge.

As always, my outlook is driven by the consumer experience and vis-à-vis video advertisements, whether piped through a television or the internet, it’s all about content. It is a puzzlement how lame commercial content is produced. There is a paucity of clever, provocative, entertaining, attention-drawing, and consumer behavior influencing commercial video content. No wonder we skip and seek to minimize viewing of commercials.

Johnny Carson had a desk bit where he would show commercials that aired outside the US (mostly European). Why? Because they were clever, noteworthy, and entertaining. In the pre-You Tube days, I would receive Emailed viral videos of clever commercials, mostly from Europe, that were actually enjoyable to watch and which I’d Email along to others. Now with YouTube and other video sites, it’s easy to find re-watchable commercials (still, mostly from outside the US)! There are websites that only feature clever video commercials from around the world. What is, to some, the reason to watch the Super Bowl? It is the anticipation of unique commercials, some produced solely for a single airing. Read the post Super Bowl papers and you’ll see articles critiquing and ranking the commercials aired during the game; it’s a sport unto itself.

There is capacity to produce commercial fare that holds viewers attention and that generates water cooler talk. However, most commercials are skippable. All too often I watch an ad and wonder who at the agency and client thought that was an effective ad? Who approved THAT? Effective commercials need not be expensive; many of the viral ads I see are simply produced, provocative, unique and unusual (at least “unusual” relative to 95% of what is shown).


The advertisers, the programmers, the internet publishers, and the consumers would all be much better served if commercial advertising production drank from the innovation cup and also stopped treating the viewing public as idiots. Then, we’d actually have a higher degree of desire to watch them.

It’s not by chance that I opened this article asking for some magic via the twitching of the nose. After all, Bewitched’s Samantha was married to the mortal Darren, an advertising executive. Aaah, clever!

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