A New Era for TV Ads?

September 10, 2009

People aren’t watching TV the way they used to. In this regard, the US market is ahead of us here in Ireland, but the pattern is clearly set – increasingly, people are using PVRs to record their favourite programmes and watch them at another time, when they then fast- forward through the ads. There is some evidence  that by placing key brand information in the centre of the image, the ‘fast forward effect’ can be circumvented to a degree, but it’s a very small comfort. 

Now, an ambitious new campaign in the US is attempting to prevent viewers from fast- forwarding through the ads at all. The mobile network Sprint has teamed up with ABC to create eight 35 second spots that will air, one each week, during the first 8 episodes of the new season of Desperate Housewives. The spots will form a serial which will be written and produced by the same team who produce the show. None of the show’s stars will feature in the spots, but the storyline will be connected to the Wisteria Lane that we know, and will follow similar themes. In turn, the primary characters from the ads will cross over into the show as background extras, which will, no doubt, serve as a convenient little reminder for the consumer. Very clever indeed.  

Ad serials have been done before, and done very well. In the late eighties, Nescafe ran their own ad serial in which a couple got to know eachother through the medium of coffee.

That campaign ran over 5 years, until they finally got together in time for Christmas, 1992. This project from ABC is much, much more concentrated, running for just 8 weeks and targeting an extremely specific audience. What’s really clever, if it works, is that because they’re creating an appointment to view within an adbreak, these spots will also increase the value of the adbreak for all the other advertisers in it, and therefore, for the network selling that break. It certainly is a bold move and makes for a very interesting experiment.

I’m sure there will be people for whom this is just a step too far. It probably threatens the artistic integrity of the show etc. Personally, I think it could be great; it’s a new avenue for us to explore and it’s a great opportunity to think about how we create a personality for a brand and tell its story. But then, I’m something of a commercialist. Ok, so a line must be drawn somewhere, but I’m not one for rejecting an innovation purely because it could be the beginning of a trend that might end up going somewhere we won’t like anymore. I’d love to do this here. But blatant, unabashed branding goes down better in the States than it does here, and the line between promotional and editorial content is already much more blurred there.

Our consumers’ lack of exposure to such blurred lines represents both challenge and an opportunity. Granted; those inclined towards being shocked and outraged will probably be extra shocked and outraged. For everyone else, it’s a leap, to be sure, but it’s an exciting leap. It’s fresh and it’s new and I’d go as far as saying it’s welcome. I believe that the opportunity that exists in blurring the lines is much bigger than the threat. Convincing the broadcasters and regulators of this is, of course, a different issue.  



One Response to “A New Era for TV Ads?”

  1. Neasa said

    We just looked at “Brand Created Content” in the last wave of ID. The young consumers don’t seem to mind this blurring of lines between brand and editorial content at all – but they’ll ruthlessly demand the highest quality regardless of who produces it(You being a young commercialist fall into this category!!). So brands need to match the standards set by all other media owners from MTV to E4 to grab their attention.

    Interestingly, it seems O2 have just launched a similar idea in the UK – a brand created soap to go out in the adbreaks of Hollyoaks.


    Looked on the C4 website and it seems to be really well put together. I think that could be the way forward for younger audiences anyway – much more interesting than price or functional advertising!

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