The TV Ad of the Future Begins Now

Nov 30, 2008  •  Post A Comment

It makes me smile when I read about how the era of the 30-second TV commercial is ending.
I have been in the television industry since I was 15 years old and I have been hearing about the death of television advertising ever since. (Interestingly, the articles making this claim usually are written by folks outside of the industry.)
In TV advertising, the only real constant has been the omnipresent claim of impending extinction and, then, revolutionary brilliance.
Think about it. In the 1970s we had three dominant TV networks and when you worked at one of the “Big Three,” you had a job for life. Then in the ’80s we began to hear, “Niche cable TV networks will end the reign of the Big Three and their mass-market 30-second TV ads.”
They didn’t.
Soon after that, we were warned that VCRs would end the days of the mass-market 30-second TV ad. Who, after all, would continue to watch TV shows live when they could record the program and skip all of the annoying ads?
We watched live anyway.
Later in the ’80s, when an upstart broadcast TV network named after a sly animal appeared, no one took it very seriously. Well, we do now, of course, so much so that the Big Three now are called the Big Four.
In the ’90s we were warned that the Internet would eliminate the need for mass media and the 30-second TV commercial. Who in their right mind would watch commercials on TV when so much free, one-to-one entertainment was available online?
But we still watched.
As Americans continue to reduce their reliance on daily newspapers, phone directories, FM radio in the car and direct-mail, there exists a larger opportunity for TV, a medium consumers can use on the go.
Television advertising is evolving into a 360-degree medium that follows consumers wherever they go.
For example, you may see a certain commercial message during a morning news program, then again in Web video pre-roll, once again on your iPhone while seeking sports scores, then finally again that evening during a prime-time series.
Moving with the consumer today is critical for marketers to build effective frequency, the key to an effective sales-generating campaign.
Marketers also know that only a very small percentage of a large audience is going to buy their product. Sometimes that percentage is as small as 1%. Yet they buy 99 times more audience than they need because no one knows who these buyers will be, so reaching all of the potential consumers ensures that you reach all of the actual buyers quickly.
In times of economic challenge, marketers abandon “niche” media such as magazines and Web directories because the cost efficiencies just are not competitive.
I recently spoke with a client who was spending all of his advertising budget on direct mail.
When we ran the numbers on shifting those dollars to television, the client had to double-check the numbers because he could not believe that, by moving those dollars to spot television, they would reach 50 times more people. It would appear that the high cost of print-medium mailings has finally surpassed the commercial value to be found in mailing them.
No, it’s not the TV ad that’s doomed; what’s doomed is the old-fashioned thinking that no matter how poorly designed, a TV ad will generate sales results simply because it is reaching a lot of people. The days of getting a free pass for a bad TV ad are over. An ad’s message needs to be on point and quick to establish brand value, placing more responsibility on the media planner and the client. Television should be regarded more as a retail medium and less as a branding medium.
The television industry will not only survive, it will thrive in the face of the massive changes taking place in media consumption by the American consumer. And the mighty 30-second TV commercial will retain its place as a crucial component of the advertising landscape.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t time for the television commercial to shed its skin and innovate once again, incorporating Web interconnectivity and real-time instant feedback for advertisers and live social networking.
My money’s on the people in this industry who boldly embrace exciting change.
Adam Armbruster is a senior partner with Red Bank, N.J.-based retail and broadcasting consulting firm Eckstein, Summers, Armbruster & Co. He can be reached at adam@esacompany.com or 941-928-7192.


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