Wednesday, May 18, 2011

4 Possible Trends for A Post-Commercial TV Advertising Age

In a digital cosmos of 500 + channels and distractions like the web, iPads, Wii, social media, etc, traditional television commercials have no choice but to change their boring ways. Granted, Upfront 2011 broadcast ad volume is upwards of $10 billion, but for some time now marketers, media companies and agencies have been trying to figure out how digital technology fits into their strategies on various digital platforms. Television ownership is slightly but significantly down. This Upfront Week comes as the mini-trend of "cord-cutting" -- people who get their video from the web instead of pay TV -- is being hotly debated.

While consumers have problems with traditional broadcast companies, there will probably always be commercials of some sort (political ads at election time come to mind). From mediabizbloggers:

Digital ad revenues are forecast by Myers to grow from a 3.3% share of total cable network TV advertising revenues in 2010 to 18.5% in 2020. For both broadcast and cable TV, while digital is a fast growing segment of their revenues, the engine that drives their business forward will continue to be traditional 30-second commercials. Yes, advertisers are shifting budgets to online, mobile and social marketing. But advertisers continue to rely on network and syndicated television to provide high quality series programming and reliably large audiences for their brand messages. The networks' future digital ad revenue growth depends on a solid foundation of successful quality programming.

That having been said, the nature of traditional televisions ads is going to have to change. With this year's Upfronts we are seeing how broadcast and cable networks and most importantly their ad units are dealing with this increasingly digital landscape. Take ESPN. "And new ad formats are coming to the network's coverage of Nascar's Sprint Cup. Starting Sept. 18, the network will debut a Nascar Nonstop commercial format, which will feature split-screen coverage of major races, with half advertising and half live coverage to avoid interruption during the second round of major races," says the Wall Street Journal's Andrew Hampp yesterday.

Therein lies the rub. The interruption factor. Commercials are interruptions in a digital universe where holding the viewers attention is of the utmost importance. Interruptions causes eyeballs to go elsewhere. I tend to check my email, my Twitter feed, facebook when commercials come on if I'm watching a television show on its scheduled night (which, with DVR, is an increasingly rare occurrence). Media organizations failing to minimize the interruption factor of traditional commercials will find it almost impossible to deliver an effective commercial reaching the desired eyeballs.

Here are 4 Possible Trends for A Post-Commercial TV Advertising Age:

Branded Content

Could branded content make it beyond the web on television?

Jason Bateman and Will Arnett's DumbDumb, an advertising and production company, is an interesting experiment in "branded content." It makes commercials fun; it makes commercials into actual, watchable content -- something somewhat vital. Their debut video -- for Orbit gum -- made its debut on YouTube. It is not inconceivable that in the future, branded content starts on television, then spreads virally from there.

There are, of course, obstacles. Right now only "edgy" companies will participate in this. Jason Bateman and Will Arnett can deliver edgy, funny content -- great for new companies looking for buzz -- but older, larger, publicly traded corporate entities probably won't want to give up control to largely untested comedy writers.

But I believe that the idea of branded content could be incredibly attractive to the younger demographic.

Product Placement

Let's hope Morgan Spurlock's product placement film is not something of a barometer as to how much PP a viewer can take.

Product placement is tricky and is best executed when least intrusive. This rule holds true for anyone but Steven Colbert, who, insofar as his show is entirely built around irony, it is the perfect medium for -- wink, wink -- product placement. Colbert is so brilliant that he can place a product and smile at the audience about the fact that he is doing so, never undermining himself in the embarrassing, mercenary process.
Irony is not just a generational maneuver in which to view the world, it also happens to be a marketer's dream. Think of it as honey to go along with the medicine. Steven Colbert's Colbert Report also does a great job at product placement (Doritos, Mountain Dew).

Bravo does a fantastic job at product placement, particularly in Top Chef (unironic), the rare reality TV show brimming with prestige. Bravo has always been something of a pioneer in product placement -- at least reality show product placement -- tastefully pairing premium food and media brands with their competition.

Product placement is an idea that will not go away. It is most effectively done when acknowledged either through irony or when organically integrated into a program of above-average quality. Regarding product placement on HBO's The Sopranos; back in 2002, Michael McCarthy wrote in USA Today:

For marketers, it's an offer they can't refuse. Getting a poster for fitness chain Crunch on the wall of Meadow Soprano's dorm room was a high point for Mark DiMassimo of DiMassimo Brand Advertising. Product placement on The Sopranos is "the best of all worlds," he says. "You have no commercial messages to compete with. People watch the episodes over and over again. Then they buy them on videotape and DVD — and watch them again.

Premium content on places like Bravo have significant product placement advantages. And HBO, which is elegantly migrating onto other digital platforms, looks to be a marketers dream.

Game Mechanics

Promotional sweepstakes are so yesterday. Game based marketing, however, are on the rise.

Top Chef is sort of a nice segway into the idea of gaming mechanics to move beyond traditional television commercials. Top Chef incorporates brands into their competitions ("use Quaker Oats to make a dish!").

Why don't television show use game mechanics in their campaigns? It has always irked me that game shows -- Who Wants To be A Millionaire? -- use gaming mechanics in their digital incarnations. What could be more attractive than playing, say, Jeopardy on the mobile competing against the players on television as well as players online on a sponsored leaderboard? And have prizes and promotions from those sponsors for the high scorers?

Publishers, in a tight competition with digital brands, are looking at social gaming experiments -- so why not television shows, particularly declining shows with nothing left to lose. Instead of -- or in concert with -- developing sweepstakes particular to social media platforms like Twitter, companies should move their campaign's center of gravity from web sites onto television programs using gaming mechanics.

For emediavitals, which focuses on the publishing industry, I have written: "Small publishers should experiment with aspects of social gaming in their overall strategy, encouraging the reader's natural urge to compete, thereby increasing engagement and loyalty. Virtual social goods are a rapidly growing industry, yes, but the key components to social gaming ultimately are competition, engagement, and loyalty."

Live Sponsor Ads

Internet TV hosts do livereads. TJ Walker, reviewing Jason Calacanis' buzzy This Week in startups wrote:

He Reads His Ads. Why is this a plus? Isn’t this what old time journalists consider un-dignified and unethical? With Calacanis, he claims to only promote advertisers he personally uses and that he thinks would be helpful to his clients. His not afraid to personalize the ads by even doing chimp noises to promote his advertiser Mail Chimp. Furthermore, his ads aren’t disrupting the viewer or the show because they are relevant to the show and his viewers. I would argue that Calacanis is MORE ethical than a CNBC host who is content to take a pay check while cutting to a commercial from BP or the Doritos Company, ostensibly with his hands clean.

Walker's conclusion? He predicts: "Shows won’t be able to sell interruption based TV ads; shows will need hosts who have an intimate relationship with the advertisers and the audience/community."

Live reads are more a staple of radio than of television but --as I've argued -- radio is television without the video. And all talk shows are more or less similar. Live reads could work on television talk shows, particularly if the brand being advertised allows for some improvisation. Back when Howard Stern was on terrestrial radio and they has 20 minute commercial blocks for every hour of content most listeners tuned out. But when he did live reads -- incorporating the shows narrative with the commercial -- we stayed and listened to it because it was content. A little improv in a live read goes a long way if allowed.

And that, to paraphrase Martha Stewart, is a good thing.

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