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TV Commercials Changing Right Before Our Eyes

From December 29, 2013 – San Francisco Chronicle – TV Commercials Changing Right Before Our Eyes – By Caleb Garling

“The best advertisements are ingenious at leaving impressions,” notes brand guru Nigil Hollis. That’s why most television commercials traditionally use an engaging story and then nail us with the “reveal” at the end, that moment when we’re finally shown the product in its glory.

And even though last year Motorola found that about two-thirds of DVR owners use the device to skip commercials, not too much has changed about the mechanics of the adverts themselves. Apple, for instance, spent a decade using “Wasn’t what you saw amazing – of course it’s by Apple” in its commercials, capping them with the stand-alone Apple logo. But when this formula is done in fast forward a jumbled slideshow ensues. The reveal is nothing but a blip. We may recognize products in the fray – was that an iPhone or a Galaxy S3? – but the persuasive power disappears.

“Advertising is changing at a pace that is even faster than most advertisers want to admit,” says Karel Vinck, managing partner of Duval Guillaume, a Belgian ad agency. “At this moment this disruption in our society is still small, and what most advertisers see is people starting to skip video.”

Nielsen estimates that half of the homes in America have DVRs, a number that’s increased steadily every year since the devices hit the market. That trend is reflected in a 6.2 percent decline in television advertising budgets from 2012 to 2013, according to the Television Bureau of Advertising, the industry’s nonprofit trade association.

Networks including Fox have tried the legal route (in vain) to prevent commercial-skipping, but the tide is decidedly not in their favor. Now some advertisers are trying to cope. Notice that many television spots for big-budget movies have the name and release date stamped in text at the top. Those are the important details. The text doesn’t change and is the only intelligible part of the fast-forwarding experience.

Others are adapting – and that means spending those ad dollars in the digital mix. The real power shift seems to be from brands that depend on repetition and simplicity to get their message across (“Buy Mennen!”) to a new model where stories drive those impressions.

Ads are entertainment

John Mescall, executive creative director of McCann Australia, notes that advertisers used to have it easy by messaging a largely passive audience. But now “we must attempt to be a valued part of the broad entertainment platform, rather than simply a paid interruption to it.”

Online advertising certainly has its weaknesses. Digital billboards are also easy to ignore as we cruise through our favorite Web pages, zeroing in on the content we want and shutting out the adverts on the sides. “If you see the decline of effectiveness in Internet banners, you know that this is only a short-term solution,” Vinck says.

Fast Company cataloged the 10 most “world changing ads,” which featured ads from both Vinck’s and Mescall’s firms. All used an engaging story; each was a high-budget, mini-show.

If you aren’t completely sucked in by Duval Guillaume’s 105-second spot for TNT’s upcoming season, you may need your head examined. It’s engaging and intense and funny. You want to know what happens next. These aren’t clips of TNT’s dramas – in fact, the ad doesn’t mention a single show’s name. Instead, they created a whole new show for the ad.

Super Bowl set pace

Many of the dollars spent on commercial breaks have now shifted into production costs. The content of the commercial is good enough that viewers voluntarily watch and share the clip. The TNT commercial has garnered more than 58 million views on YouTube.

The Super Bowl may have been on to something, leaving viewers more excited about the creativity of the ads than the game itself. “When you get it right in a world where the lines between advertising and entertainment and content are completely blurred, you actually find yourself with greater influence than you’ve ever had before,” says Mescall.

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