On Commercials, Virals and the Legacy of Conditioned Expectations

Marketing leaders spend a great deal of time worrying about the changing media landscape these days, and an article on MediaPost by Gavin O’Malley this morning will only further their agita.  According to a Princeton Survey Research study, 90% of young adults use video-sharing sites.  Well, no kidding.  The only reason that figure is not 100% is that broadband has yet to penetrate the entire country.

One of the marketing leaders’ principal responses to these changes is their insistence on renaming television production as “content” production.  In their minds, “content” or “video assets” can be endlessly re-purposed with different edits of different lengths for different platforms beyond merely television.

That is good planning, even if it is nothing particularly new.  Candidly, framing a shoot as “content production” helps agencies sell something that every creative on a shoot always wants:  options and additional scenes.  Production experience will quickly teach you to get alternate takes, particularly alternate endings.  With so much of a commercial’s impact and engagement dependent on the actors’ performance, the cost of getting options on set is relatively low.  If you experiment a bit, the actor might deliver a different and better performance than you planned- -which explains roughly 75% of creatives’ bristling at dogmatic pre-testing.  An animatic is but the palest imitation of fully produced film with human performances.

Viral?  Or TV Commercial?

Viral? Or TV Commercial?

Consider the videos that have clogged your inbox over the years: Bud Light’s “Swear Jar”, the non-sanctioned VW “Terrorist”, and arguably the granddaddy of all internet virals: John West Salmon’s  “Bear”.  People forward clips like these to their friends and family because they’re entertaining, surprising and fun.  And yet, every one of these began as a television commercial, albeit an outstanding television commercial.  These may have also worked in a longer format, but thirty or sixty seconds often proves ideal for their impact.  And our attention spans.  Why?  Because we have spent decades absorbing commercial messages at these lengths; we have been conditioned to expect these clips in these concise formats.

All of which means that the changing media landscape will not suddenly render the way we have learned to tell efficiently-structured stories as meaningless.  We must still engage consumers with worthwhile messages presented in a rewarding fashion.  Technology will continue to change, but story endures.

So yes, the marketing landscape is evolving and will continue to evolve.  Change will continue to be a constant.  And so creativity must adapt to embrace and leverage new platforms but never at the cost of classic storytelling.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

A Huge Television (and Online and Mobile) Audience Is There For Your Ad, But You Still Gotta Earn It

We’re still watching.  Actually, we’re watching more than ever.  The three-screen audience for video content has never been larger or more active, that is, if you define ‘active’ as sitting still and watching other people do things.

...And Everyone's Watching

...And Everyone's Watching

For advertisers, that’s terrific news. But candidly, it’s even better news for traditional ad agencies that long specialized in television production. Because despite the flurry of new formats and technologies, the fundamental consumer desire to watch video thrives unabated in a platform agnostic manner.  Clients who ran to new media shops based on the strength of their technical prowess alone may want to reconsider; the viewers are there, but you can’t assume they’re an eager advertising audience.  It takes compelling content to earn an audience, and that starts with story.

Two recent posts on this subject actually make for an interesting compare and contrast. Last week, Chris Rohrs, the president of the Television Bureau of Advertising (find their rather hideous website here), posted a persuasive editorial in Adweek where he cited recent Nielsen       time spent data that registered the highest numbers in their nearly sixty-year history.  Nielsen suggests the average American household spends eight hours and twenty-one minutes in front of the TV every day, with the precious Teen demo logging nearly three and a half of those hours.

He went on to cite a March study from Ball State’s Center for Media Design, hailed as the “largest observational look at media usage ever conducted.”  Rohrs takes great delight in that study’s finding that ninety-nine percent of TV viewing in 2008 was done on a “traditional” TV with less than 5 percent of that viewing using DVR playback.  Web video from YouTube, Hulu and all other Web/cell phone media accounted for less than one percent of all viewership.

Obviously Mr. Rohrs has a bias to present but still, he uses these facts well to rebut the conventional bromide of so many new media advocates: “television is dead.”

Of course it isn’t Chris.  Say it with me, won’t you?  “Television is not dead, it’s just diversified.”

And that’s the point Gavin O’Malley made yesterday on MediaPost: viewership on all three screens has never been higher.  Special events added extra fuel to online viewership numbers as people watched the Inauguration and the Final Fours from their desktops.  Again citing Nielsen, US online video usage grew thirteen percent year-over-year while mobile jumped more than fifty percent.

The two mens’ numbers around DVR use seem to conflict but the undeniable truth is that we are watching more video than ever…which must have something to do with this great nation’s rampant obesity, but that’s another blogpost.

Call me self-interested but my takeaway from all of these findings is that agencies deeply schooled in television production can no longer be cast as behind the times.  The collective skill and experience all that commercial production engenders gives us a leg up over any putative content provider, particularly if we’ve moved aggressively into new media anyway.

Like so many things, the means don’t matter nearly as much as the ends.  Facile skills on specific platforms mean nothing if the content isn’t there.

Stories, drama, ideas always come first.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79