Don’t Call It Advertising

Consumers have long expressed annoyance with TV advertising and are now showing the same feelings toward pre-roll and other interruptive ad formats online. The discussion has reached a fever pitch over the last few years as DVRs have become the great disruptor and the raw amount of advertising that people are exposed to has increased.

An hour-long program can be as short as 38 minutes when you subtract 22 minutes of advertising. We all understand advertising underwrites the content, but there’s a point at which the value proposition breaks. And the situation is all the more annoying when most of the advertising is completely irrelevant to most of the audience.

The tricky part is interruption can work. And many marketers point to the fact consumer annoyance with advertising isn’t a new phenomenon. “Consumers may be annoyed,” they say, “but it doesn’t mean that they’re going to stop watching ‘Lost’ or that those Mac vs. PC ads are ineffective.” Both arguments are true enough, but I’d like to think we as an industry can do better than, “Yeah, it’s annoying, but it works.”

Technology Lets People Opt Out

DVRs are a funny thing. I probably got my first TiVo through satellite. It took me months to convince my wife that we needed it. I connected that bad boy and geeked out on it for a couple of hours, then we watched our first time-shifted program later that night. It took until about the third commercial pod before she started kicking me if I didn’t hit the fast-forward button three seconds into the pod.

Shortly after that came the iPod and the iTunes Store. Suddenly, broadcast media were dead to us. We time-shifted all our TV programming. Music came from iTunes, ad-free Web radio (now including things like Pandora), and ad-free satellite radio.

In my household, then, interruptive advertising simply doesn’t exist. Marketers literally can’t reach me, my wife, or our dog via interruptive models. We just don’t see that stuff. And I’ve talked to countless friends outside the advertising industry who report similar experiences.

The DVR growth curve is something we must consider. The flip side of that relatively slow growth is the nearly immediate elimination of TV commercials in a DVR household. And the desire for that kind of control over all media spreads like wildfire.

I read with much interest recently about a Fox experiment that created microprogramming within the commercial pods, seven or eight seconds that appeared among the commercials. The idea was people would be so intrigued by this content that they’d watch the commercials just to see what’s going on with the microprogramming. It debuted during “24,” one of my favorite programs. Trouble is, I fast-forward through commercials so I had no idea that it’d happened. I only knew it was there because I read the trades and saw the story later that week.

People Don’t Hate Relevant Advertising

This is so simple, and we’ve known it since the ’50s, when my buddy Howard Gossage put it simply: “People don’t read advertising per se. They read what interests them. Sometimes, it’s an ad.” It’s a powerful truth in print, Gossage’s primary medium, but it’s been sorely missing from broadcast media as we know them.

Gossage eloquently pointed out that when a person sees an ad for something that interests him, it ceases to be advertising. For example, I play guitar and am passionate about music. I follow certain guitar heroes and discuss techniques with my buddies. I’m a big fan of home recording gear and am obsessed with how cool things like Pro Tools and Logic Pro are. To me, most of the ads in the music magazines I read aren’t ads at all. They’re stuff I want to read and learn more about. And if guitar manufacturers were producing videos showing the unique aspects of their guitars and demonstrating playing techniques, I’d watch that content all day long.

It’s not limited to those evergreen passions, either. When I’m in the market for a car, I love to watch long-form video covering models or manufacturers I’m considering. I want to know them beyond the showrooms and glossy brochures.

Pre-roll (and mid-roll, to a lesser extent) is the door-to-door salesman of the online video world. I recognize that we’re stuck with it for now because advertisers and agencies know how to produce it and it’s easy to adapt from existing assets and campaign production processes. It provides revenue for publishers as they begin to build their video content models.

But innovation around video advertising is absolutely critical to its long-term success online. Why be satisfied with annoying but effective? Why not experiment while the audiences are ramping up and clamoring for new and different experiences?

I can’t tell you the number of calls I get from technology vendors or publishers who are proud to exclaim that they’ve invented a new way to force people to watch advertising. “Thanks but no thanks,” is about all they get from me. We have the technology and the energy to completely reinvent these ad models. Let’s not accept “good enough.”

Join us for the ClickZ Specifics: Advertising in Social Media seminar on May 21 in New York.

Related reading

Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.