Digital and TV sitting in a tree K.I.S.S.I.N.G.

Image courtesy of Jaki Good

People tend to rather bang on about the death of the 30 second television commercial.

It is unclear which bit they hate the most, the 30 seconds, the television or the commerical.

Obviously I am a big fan of the commercial element, I like being commercial.

I’m still rather unsure about the television component of course. I think that we have to accept that the potency of commerical messages added to the broadcast stream is being significantly challenged – by technology, by consumer behaviour and by media fragmentation. That said there is plenty of evidence that telly is in rather rude health at the moment – time shifting may spell trouble for advertisers but it is making TV a rather more enjoyable pastime. Indeed Nielsen have recently reported that in the 2005-2006 season television usage hit an all time high in the US at eight and a quarter hours a day.

But today I want to have a go at the idea that somehow creating 30 second bursts of ‘broadcast’ communication is at best moribund and at worst sexually deviant.

I want to argue that while digital media are beginning to offer brands an unparalleled means of immersing consumers in rich and often interactive brand experiences there is nothing quite like the 30, 40 or 60 second blast of message and meaning that comes from what we used to call a television ad.
Don’t getting your knickers in a twist that they are linear in form and that they represent the brand in ‘broadcast’ mode – sometimes brands and consumers both need that. And sometimes it does the digital experience no end of good into the bargain.
I will stop going on about the Old Spice campaign shortly. But I strikes me that the reason that I persevered with the whole online experience was because I got what they were up to. And I got what they were up to because I had been subjected to their ad, once on a blog and once on the Old Spice site. In 60 seconds a single linear, non-interactive ad had primed me to forget everything I understood about a brand, put aside a truck load of cynicism, deployed a brand idea accurately and delivered up a brand personality all of which are essential to ‘getting’ and sticking with the online experience. Oh and I laughed too, not bad for 60 seconds work.
I think the PC and Mac ads work in a similar way. In the UK Apple have celebrated the launch of Windows Vista by reworking their combative US personification of PC and Mac with the comedians Mitchell and Webb.

Its not entirely clear why this was necessary as we Brits expect Mac to have a US ‘accent’ as provenance is part of the Apple story. Any road up here is a brand famous for design led communications that said little but made you feel good, resorting to good old didactic advertising that lands a punch with every outing. Our relationships with the Apple brand are extremely rich and complex but sometimes there is a place for communications that tell it like it is. And the added twist is that the regulatory environment in the UK prohibits these ads being shown on TV and so the promise of seeing them at all is being used to draw people to where the viewer can be subjected to the full on charms of Apple’s online experience.
In a way short form ads, however they are delivered, are working not as a window onto the entire brand (like say CDP’s classic Hovis work) but as the brand’s storm troopers – going in fast and executing a specific task with ruthless efficiency. A sort of primer for the online experience to come and which promises to explain it all in more detail.
Ads do what digital experiences are poor at, delivering quick, accurate and often emotionally rich communications. Digital does what ads are bad at, immersing the consumer in the brand world and facilitating two way conversations between people and that brand.
Time to stand up for the 30 second commerical even if you are may be more likely to see it online than on the telly and time to recognise that ads and digital enjoy a marriage made in heaven.

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11 Replies to “Digital and TV sitting in a tree K.I.S.S.I.N.G.”

  1. Hi Richard,
    This post relates to a very similar discussion over at ‘Brand New’ a few weeks back about content vs delivery.
    I don’t think there’s much wrong with good TV commercials from a content perspective (i.e. the insight and execution idea), but I sense there’s a building stigma around the ‘TV medium’ generally (especially for today’s youth) that is casting a shadow over the content.
    For example, I’m conscious that people are finding something interesting online which would evoke a more cynical reaction through the TV set. We need to bear in mind that content is not ‘decoded’ universally in a media neutral vacuum. It’s decoded in a social context and that’s why the media vehicle is influential, since it ‘frames’ the meaning of the content if you like.
    My conclusion is similar to yours in that I actually foresee a rather happy marriage between the two in future. Specifically that, as media converges – especially the TV with the phone/blackberry/computer – it will allow motion advertising to shake off the handicap of the television context, and allow it to reap the rewards of a more cutting edge media platform, more relevant viewers, social networking effects, and the opportunity to save/replay/send on any ad (pro)actively at one’s personal leisure.

  2. I think the issue should never have been fought along the “Is 30second tv advertising dead?”; what should have been the question is “Now that PVRs are common and internet media is growing, is 30second tv adverising the most appropriate media for your brand?”
    What will keep tv relevant is live events, sponsorship, and communication that demands attention. Sony, Honda and even PG Tips are good examples of this.
    Also, notice the increasingnumber of ads that are promted with their own ads in tv guides: Pot noodle miners, pg tips to name just 2…

  3. But what do “quick, accurate and often emotionally rich communications” actually achieve? Is it awareness? And what does that actually mean?
    Was going to ask such questions at coffee morning but sadly I can’t make it, so may I consult the oracle? Assume I know nothing about this (a fair assumption), how would you justify interruptive visual messages?

  4. BTW, I did not know that the Apple ads were not allowed to be shown on TV. I thought that we were allowed head to head competitive advertising now?
    I really dislike the new ads. As a Mac user I find them patronizing and arrogant. Mac is smug and self consciously cool and PC is up-tight and straight.
    Maybe it’s just that I associate both Mitchell and Webb so closely with the characters that they play on Peep Show, but both of them are twats. Puts me off upgrading and buying a new iBook.

  5. Amelia – saw your post on Mitchell and Webb and I guess there is alot of negative stuff being mapped onto Mac – if you are a peep show fan.
    I still piss myself laughing though. And I get the point.

  6. John – I am not necessarily justifying interruptive visual messages. Interruption has a fine communications legacy but in many arenas it is significantly challenged. What I am trying to champion is the role that short slugs of moving image, with all the richness of that medium, have to play in getting people up to speed with a brand’s intentions and in allowing people to understand its other activity and want to play with it.

  7. Richard – I agree but what is the pathology. Are we talking something like AIDA which implicitly suggests to me that the product/service is paramount or does the concept of “play” imply some sort of transformative power within the visual message?

  8. I’m open minded.
    Old Spice is about deploying a new idea about the brand’s qualities and ensuring that the personality is understood.
    Apple is about sharpening the rational advantage of Macs over PCs (in a situation ulike Ipod where the brand is a challenger).
    Bravia is about simply creating attention for the brand.
    All represent a prelude to a more involved conversation between those interested and the brand.

  9. Hi Richard.
    CIK is making the most important point here. Because the power of context, we cannot separate the content from the delivery. People have grown to hate TV advertising first because most of them suck and irrelevant. Secondly, now that they have the choice they find commercial breaks at best like a good opportunity to go to the loo and at worst extremely annoying. (it is only on these rare occasions that we see a great, relevant ad that does all the things that you mention – “quick, accurate and often emotionally rich communications” that we forget for 30-60 seconds how we loath TV advertising)
    At the same time, when we receive a link from a friend for a great piece of content – sometimes commercial and sometimes not, we like to take a 30-60 seconds break mostly from work to indulge ourselves in a quick escapism.
    That’s why the only future for (short slug of moving images type of) advertising is to be great or die…

  10. Have you heard about the new ad model that is being beta-tested on Google/YouTube?
    On premier content you will have to watch an online ad, if you dislike it and close it down the advertiser pays more, if you like it and watch the whole thing the advertiser pays less.

  11. I think I get the idea that the very same ad can draw a different reaction when seen on a television set in the broadcast stream and streamed on a website belonging to the advertiser.
    It makes sense though I’d like to see some data on this.
    And I suspect that interuption is a greater irritant online (i.e. where a commercial message is served not requested) than on commerical television as we know the deal with the latter.
    But I still wish we were all capable of divorcing short form advertising using moving image from the broadcast TV medium. They are still universally seen as one and the same thing.
    As for advertisers paying more for poor ads – for me this is the holy grail.

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