In Depth

Does TV Have Time for Two-Minute Ads? 120 Precious Seconds Don't Tick Too Easily

By Brian Steinberg
Advertising Age

Has the clock struck for the regular appearance of TV ads that are a whopping two minutes in length -- or more?

With the emergence of super-sized commercials for Chrysler and Chipotle Mexican Grill in two prime pieces of broadcast-TV real estate, one wonders if the networks are hungering for more, despite some of the wonky obstances such entities might pose.

Yes, after shrinking for decades, ads seem to be readying for a growth spurt. For two years now, Chrysler has managed to place a showstopping commercial two minutes in length into the Super Bowl, bumping up against the National Football League's standards for duration of the ad breaks during the game (no more than two minutes in order to keep the game's pace moving).

Chipotle did something even more surprising. The company, which is not known for its TV advertising, ran an ad two minutes and 15 seconds in length in CBS's recent broadcast of the Grammys, purchasing five consecutive 30-second berths to accomplish the feat.

"We liked the Grammys as a way to really increase [the ad's] exposure and simply set about negotiating the block we needed with CBS," said Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold, via email. CBS ad-sales executives "were easy to work with and seemed to like the spot." Executives from two different TV networks suggested they would welcome the prospect of selling more of this type of commercial, while noting that they haven't seen any sort of increased demand.

In an era when more advertisers are trying to use the web to goose interest in commercials slated to air later in specific TV shows, there would seem to be a least the stirrings of a push for this ad format. After all, one could make the argument that many of the ads running in this year's Super Bowl were a lot better in the minutes-long versions aired as previews through digital media. One Chevy commercial, an ad called "Happy Grad" featuring a boisterous young man thrown into a paroxysm of delight when he mistakenly thinks his parents gave him a yellow Camaro for graduation, was filled with nuance and clever storytelling touches when aired as a preview online. Cut down into a 30-second spot for the Super Bowl, the commercial lost so much of its flavor it seemed more akin to a piece of chewed-up bubble gum than a full meal for ad freaks.

Before we get too enthused about the concept, let's take a timeout. Keep in mind that a two-minute ad costs a fortune compared to its slimmed-down, contemporary 30-second counterpart. And not every ad message or creative idea warrants an extension beyond the norm. Yes, we might thrill to see Clint Eastwood talking to us in our living room for 120 seconds, but would we say the same about Mr. Clean or Progressive's "Flo" character?

Let's conveniently forget that direct-response ads have run at longer lengths for years on cable, with Guthy-Renker placing two-minute ads for Proactiv last decade that took up an entire pod on MTV and other outlets. We're talking regular ads on prime-time broadcast television.

Ad executives on both sides of the negotiation table suggest TV policies could prevent these hefty commercials from taking over more of the prime-time schedule. How does a network grant, say, Procter & Gamble a two-minute ad in a 30-minute sitcom and expect rivals like Unilever to get the same results in brand recall with a 30-second spot? Would General Motors want its ads to appear in the same episode of "CSI" or "Grey's Anatomy" or "Fringe" that contained a two-minute spot for Chrysler or Toyota?

Of course, a TV network could charge a premium for putting a two-minute ad into its schedule, but that could make the cost even more prohibitive. For now, it would seem, there are too few ad ideas and too little demand to contemplate a TV world filled with these commercial mega-blocks.

For the right advertiser, however, the idea still holds promise. Some marketers should probably consider flirting with time.