Must-See TV Spots

Even ad-skipping DVR users can be induced to watch commercials. But will they deliver?

I’ve been a DVR addict since the early days of TiVo. As a result, my house is almost complete devoid of broadcast advertising.

For years, we’ve zipped gleefully through TV spots at the highest fast-forward speed. That’s why I was shocked to recently discover a completely new phenomenon related to DVR ad avoidance.

Since the beginning of the DVR debate, there has been a question as to whether or not TV spots have any impact at three times normal speed. I confess that on occasion, if I see a spot I’ve watched online and enjoyed, I’ll actually stop and watch it.

Or, on rarer occasions, something intriguing catches my eye and again, I stop fast-forwarding and back up to watch the spot. I’ve done that for years, too. So, to a certain extent, I buy the argument that fast-forwarding TV spots doesn’t completely destroy their media value.

I recently uncovered something surprising in this “ad rewind” behavior. My wife and I were watching recorded TV. The commercials started, and I started zipping through.

Somewhere in the middle, I saw what seemed to be paper bag puppets dressed to look like Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield (John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson, respectively) from “Pulp Fiction.” My wife saw it, too. She burst out laughing.

As I went through the motions of rewinding, I remembered having seen this type of paper bag puppets in Fandango advertising. We both anticipated the humor that was about to ensue.

I’m a master of the DVR remote, yet we still wound up watching the last seven seconds or so of the spot that preceded Fandango’s. By the time I had it cued up, we’d spent a good 20 or 30 seconds running through the thing in our heads and building expectations for what was about to come.

Paper bag puppets that resemble neurotic gangsters from a cult classic film? That has to be funny.

Giddy with anticipation, I play the spot. Nothing funny yet. Ten seconds in, still nothing. Fifteen, nada. The “Pulp Fiction” segment seemed to be near the end of the spot, so I was willing to wait. Twenty seconds — here they come.

And what? Nothing remotely funny. Not even a chuckle or a smirk. My wife had the same blank stare.

I was stunned. Flabbergasted, even. How can you take such a terrific idea and make it not funny? I focused on how this made me feel as a consumer instead of as a marketer. It was a bad, unsatisfactory experience.

But it went further — I actually felt wronged by the brand. In many ways it far more interruptive than a normal TV spot. The visual was so compelling I actually chose to stop fast-forwarding and return to watch the spot. I expected big things, they let me down.

Perhaps other people found it funny — humor’s subjective, after all. But it didn’t resonate with me, and I was miffed at having been duped into watching something that provided no value. It resulted in negative feelings toward the brand, and therein lies a new phenomenon in DVR advertising.

We all know the technology speeds up your spot and mutes it, too. Yet, people might stop and watch it. If you manage to make something visually intriguing enough to capture their interest, make sure you live up to the expectation you’ve created.

Rewinding for ads may not happen all that often, but the point is bigger than one isolated DVR oddity. It speaks to a need to constantly provide value to the audience, particularly when you’ve merited attention and incited action.

You must reward viewers for their attention across all advertising channels, particularly those that are inherently interactive. If you haven’t noticed, more and more media channels are going digital and interactive, magnifying the importance of that point.

We’ve certainly seen this online. Interactivity is a double-edged sword. Yeah, people can click and interact and engage, but they can also leave just as quickly.

There’s a temptation to think getting people to click or to interact is the goal, and the experience that happens after you’ve managed to get someone to take that step isn’t as important. They’ve clicked, clearly they’re interested, so they’ll tolerate a less-than-stellar site or interactive ad.

In reality, the opposite is true: you’ve interrupted someone and gotten him or her to take the first step, but the task is far from over. All you’ve done is set the bar high. Now you must exceed expectations.

The site must load quickly, be intuitive, and whatever you’ve told people they’re going to get must be front and center. If you don’t deliver, those people you fought so hard to attract will move on in a matter of seconds, likely with a lesser opinion of your brand.

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