Life After Television

In most categories, market share can no longer be built effectively through TV advertising.

Heretical? Perhaps, since TV ad spending is $40 billion a year. But we’re not saying TV isn’t effective for some things. Trying to create brand awareness? Deliver a timely message about a special offer? Great! TV reaches more people faster than anything else. Looking to deliver the kind of information that makes consumers change their brand preference in a stagnant category? Better look elsewhere.

It is part of the evolution of media: As more involving forms emerge, they become the primary vehicles for communicating the benefits that are at the core of persuasion. Older forms are relegated to sending other messages, such as price or calls to action.

The first newspaper ads were information-intensive pieces with a lot of copy. Sometimes, though not often, they included a price. With the introduction of radio, which offered the power of the human voice to deliver real emotion, newspapers became a vehicle for “retail” ads—price-oriented messages intended to generate quick sales, not build brands.

Thirty years later, TV one-upped the emotive power of radio by adding film. Radio became a haven for retail, sale and promotional ads as advertisers moved branding messages to TV.

What’s happened to TV in 50 years? Besides the dilution of network audiences, the biggest change has been in message length. The standard used to be 60 seconds. Now it is 30, with a liberal dose of 15-second units.

Trying to deliver an effective, persuasive message in 15 seconds is difficult. Doing it in a way that will persuade someone to switch brands is nearly impossible. Embed that message in a pod with six or seven others, and the chance of success shrinks to just about zero.

What is happening to TV? Increasingly, it is becoming a place for—here we go again—retail, sale and promotional ads.

This is not a slam against retail ads. They move product. But what is needed to deliver the kinds of messages that build market share is time—more than 15, 30 or even 60 seconds. Only recently has technology begun to make this possible.

We are on the verge of an explosion in the availability and power of viewer-controlled media, broadly defined as short-film pieces that viewers choose to watch, or not, when they have the time and interest. It is being driven by three rapidly emerging factors: broadband, personal video recorders and video on demand.

About one-third of U.S. households with Internet access now have a broadband connection. PVRs like TiVo are projected to be in 30 million homes in three years. And video on demand is being rolled out with digital cable and will also be available in millions of homes. All are capable of delivering short films about products.

Will consumers voluntarily watch commercials? In a recent test by Lowe in London, when given the opportunity to watch, at their discretion, commercials housed on an ad channel, 30 percent of consumers did so. According to TiVo, average viewership for advertising films on its service, the Showcase, is also 30 percent.

Coincidence? Maybe. But it shows that people will, given the option, watch commercials voluntarily, as long as they can do so on their terms and they are interested in the subject.

What better time, then, to tell them what they really want to know? Why is this product better? Why is it different? What’s in it for me? The answers are the essence of building market share.

The buzz right now is branded entertainment. This is different. Call it branded involvement. Viewer-controlled media makes the brand essence the focus of the story, not an add-on.

It gives marketers an opportunity that is not available on TV, at least not in a way that is fiscally sound. In many of the media noted earlier, especially the Web, deals often can be struck on a pay-for-performance basis instead of a CPM basis, so media waste is eliminated. Given the depth of data available from PVR hard drives and VOD systems, those emerging media are likely to start charging in a similar manner.

So here is a medium that has all the emotional power of film, that the consumer chooses to view, that can reduce wasted media dollars and that will soon be available in most U.S. households. The only question is, how long will it be before marketers embrace it?