Thirty Schmirty

Many companies have said it for years. Perhaps their bullhorn wasn’t as loud as Hal Riney’s. In a recent Ad Age article, the well-known ad guy and American Advertising Foundation Hall of Fame inductee, said the 30-second television spot is dead.

Riney stepped down as chairman of Publicis Groupe’s Publicis & Hal Riney earlier this month. In the article he states, “After two generations of television bombardment in the U.S., the magic of traditional advertising is no longer magic.” He continued, “The Internet offers a better and far more extensive resource of information than the costly, predictable, and virtually ineffective 30-second commercial.”


As an online media person, I immediately thought this was a coup for our team. Then, I wondered what the offline folks thought. I asked media and creative types. To my surprise, most of them agreed with Riney.

Most creative teams said they prefer 60-second spots versus 30-second. They want the creative freedom of the longer format.

For those of you with an exclusively online background, the market is sold in 30-second units, then split into other units later. I consulted offline resource TV Dimensions. I wanted to get a good look at the percentage of units by spend in the U.S. I was unable to get the proper stats for 2001, as the book is published annually. But lo and behold, it does seem a trend is underway. In 2000, 64 percent of TV commercials were 30-second spots. Take a look at the data in the table below.

Distribution of TV Commercials Aired by Length of Message, 1965-2000


:60s (%)

:30s (%)

:15s (%)
Other (%)
1965 77 23
1970 27 72 1
1975 6 94
1980 2 95 3
1985 2 84 10 4
1990 2 60 35 3
1995 1 65 32 2
2000 3 64 31 2
Source: “TV Dimensions 2001”

When I asked media people, responses were a mixed bag. I spoke with planners and buyers alike. Buyers seemed to think 30-second spots rule the market. They were hyperfocused on the numbers. Planners naturally have a different take. Their roles and responsibilities put them more in line with the creative folks. Both agree advertising is changing.

Many shared a firm belief that online “just wasn’t there yet.” This was meant in a creative context. Let’s face it, TV ads evoke emotion. How many times have you laughed at an ad, remembered a holiday was approaching, or spaced out on an anniversary gift? You may not have remembered the jewelry store, but you remember the soft music and the couple running on the beach as the camera panned to show her sparkling earrings. You felt young again when the dad showed the little kid how he licks the center of an Oreo cookie then dunks it in milk. Ever had a jingle stuck in your head? “I am stuck on Band-Aids, ’cause Band-Aids stuck on me.” How about a tagline? “Wassup?”

You get the drift.

Now let’s think about great online ads. Still with me? It’s hard, right? My guess is your response is probably spurred by technology (most likely rich media) and size of the ad units (probably bigger ones). Giving it more thought, maybe it was viral. It could have been an email you received… or an instant message. Maybe an e-coupon forwarded by a friend. Most people probably don’t think about contextual relevance right off the bat. For a media person, this is one of the most critical elements of a potentially successful campaign.

It’s noon, and you’re at work in front of your PC. Your stomach is grumbling as you try to crank through some work, checking the market on a news site. Voilà! An ad for a local restaurant rotates on the screen. Would your eyes widen? Might you possibly grab your buddy down the hall and go out for some lunch?

I think yes. Satiating hunger is evoking emotion. True, tiny pixel and file size limitations don’t allow the same creative and production freedom as TV. So what?

Think of the second half of Riney’s comment. Internet advertising has potential. Let’s get off our sofas, stop staring blankly at the tube, and push the edges of the creative and technical envelopes. Someone’s got to come up with something better than that damn dancing baby!

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