Time to Take the “TV” Out of “TV Spot”

If you’ve had your head down or were focused on client deadlines, new business pitches, or plans for the rest of 2004, take a breather and look up. The traditional 30-second TV spot is barreling it’s way down the “the latest and greatest online ad innovation” highway. If you don’t get ready, you’ll be run over.

Just peruse a couple of the many ClickZ columns covering the topic, such as “Ready for Online TV Commercials?” and “Video Commercials: Online Advertising’s Superhero?

Are we really ready to slap one more “commercial” paradigm on top of another? Does this not smell like the other mistakes this industry has made? We’ve tried trumpeting principles of direct response, sponsorship, push, branding, reach and frequency, super targeting, contextual relevancy, content integration, advergaming, behavior targeting, promotion, and more. I’m sure we could all add 10 more to the list.

A marketing manager feels more comfortable applying the TV approach — something he’s familiar and comfortable with — to the online medium (something that probably makes his head spin).

I have to hit the instant replay button here and throw up my red flag. If we don’t think this through, we’re gonna screw it up.

What am I so worked up about? I love TV spots. How else can you fuse the aspects of sight, sound, motion, and emotion into one powerful package? Great TV creative can make you laugh or cry; it can make you question, challenge, or readily dismiss a brand in 30 or 60 seconds. Why not just leverage this power online?

I like the idea of delivering a TV-like object to an online user. Unicast has figured out how to deliver TV creative the right way. Almost. What I don’t like is we’re not readily integrating the one critical attribute that makes online unique: interactivity!

Hello? Is this thing on? Anyone awake out there? Please, oh please. Don’t plop a linear 30-second creative online.

Take a step back and compare:

  • TV is a passive, eight-feet-away-from-the-screen communal medium.
  • The Internet is an active, 18-inches-away-from-the-screen individual medium.

We all like to gather around the tube in a group to enjoy an episode of “Friends.” But when’s the last time you saw four people gather around a PC for 30 minutes to watch someone surf?

Users must interact with online, not just sit back and take it.

What to Do?

We must examine how we implement creative. Who’s answered the following?

  • What’s the right length of a spot for a computer experience?
  • Must it be the same video seen offline?
  • Should it take up most of the screen, or does it fit into an existing IAB big-box just as well?
  • Should it always be user-initiated, or do we spring the spot on unsuspecting users?
  • Must audio be a component, given the sensitivities with the workplace environment?

Here’s an example of what I mean. Take in-flight TV. Great medium, captive audience, high-income business travelers as the target. I’m constantly surprised how many marketers just plop their creative right into rotation with no consideration users must wear headsets to hear the audio and get the message. Look around the cabin on your next flight. Very few do, especially now that most airlines charge for headsets.

Where’s This Going?

Think about the user experience before you send your spots out for online digital compression. Will the message work well in an online environment? Will the audience be receptive to the surfing interruption?

What Would I Do?

I’d start at the beginning — the conceptual development of TV creative. Consider a custom edit of the spot:

  • An online-friendly edit.
  • Something with supers to strongly support the voiceover.
  • An edit that reduces the amount of principle talent so you don’t take a bath with online residual payments (anyone budgeting for that yet?).
  • An implementation with a transparent interaction layer. In a Gap spot, I can click the dancer’s sweater and shop for my size.

Are we OK just using TV spots online? Or, should we think about developing the online spot?

Let me know.

James is off this week. Today’s column ran earlier on ClickZ.

Nominations are open for the 2004 ClickZ Marketing Excellence Awards.

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