TV Spots Are Dead

Stop shooting TV spots. Right now. I’m serious.

But don’t panic: this isn’t one of those the-sky-is-falling, end-of-TV-advertising-as-we-know-it columns. Or, at least not in the way you’re probably expecting. I’m not suggesting you should stop advertising on television. But you do need to stop thinking of it strictly as a TV spot.

As the upfront season goes in to full swing, there’s been a thunderous amount of media noise on this topic. You hear a lot of this: DVR usage continues to grow, and they zap ads. People are spending less time watching TV, and when they do watch they’re increasingly likely to be doing something else at the same time. Big advertisers like Johnson & Johnson have proclaimed they won’t buy TV time during the upfronts (but Johnson & Johnson did cut an interesting deal with TiVo). Coke is very publicly on the fence; and three of four teenagers can’t name all four major broadcast networks.

Meanwhile, online video continues at a torrid pace. Consumers are spending more time looking for entertainment online — and lots of that time goes to video. Anyone with content is rushing to get it distributed digitally somehow, whether via iTunes, on a site somewhere, or something else. Companies you don’t normally associate with video are getting into the game as well; witness “The New York Times.” Big name advertisers are cutting deals to experiment with online video ad placements in network video trials.

Plus, practically every publisher out there is bringing multiplatform deals to the upfronts. It’s an acknowledgement that viewers don’t just watch video on TV anymore. Perhaps more important, the channels through which they consume content are rapidly shifting. They want more than news, sports, and information, and they want it on more than just TV. It’s the culmination of the whole “what I want, when I want, how I want it” thing.

Online video is huge, and I believe it’s critically important to experiment with it now. It can be very effective. But it feels as if we’ve all been saying for years that taking your TV spot and running it online isn’t the right solution. I wrote on this back in 2002, and I probably wasn’t the first. The fact remains most TV spots aren’t interactive, and they’re often hard (if not impossible) to adapt well for a medium that begs for a different experience.

So what do you do? I don’t have the complete answer. I don’t think anyone in the industry does… yet. But one thing is certain: you must stop producing TV spots, plain and simple. You must change the way you think about the video content you’re producing. You must stop producing TV spots and start creating multiplatform video commercials, for lack of a better term. Now, more than ever, you must ask yourself: why is the viewer going to watch this? You’re not blasting a message to a captive audience anymore; you’re serving an empowered consumer. They will ignore your ad if you don’t provide some relevant value.

We’ve all been trying to wrap our heads around the right way to integrate advertising strategies and assets across media channels. In places, we’re doing OK. Video isn’t one of them, and it’s quite possibly the most important.

You need a fully integrated video strategy. It’s critical as an interactive, digital extension of your marketing strategy. Ideally, you’d create a truly interactive video experience for your online commercials. It’s certainly possible with technologies and delivery vehicles that exist today, but I recognize it’s not necessarily what publishers are selling. At a minimum, you need to think about how you can leverage the same shoot for both online video placements and traditional broadcast placements.

When a medium goes digital, the transformation brings key advantages, from both a media and a creative perspective. It’s the stuff that made online advertising successful, even during the post-bubble times: targeting, trackability, on-the-fly optimization, interactivity, and so on. TV the way it’s done in most cases today simply does not address those benefits.

So stop. Whether or not you have immediate plans to run video online, stop producing TV spots. Make sure your digital agency is at the table during strategic planning sessions. Get it involved in any and all offline advertising plans, especially when it comes to shooting original video. The amount of money you’re dumping into that :30 spot is significant, and it’s likely that for a very small incremental spend you could shoot additional material to make your ads work the way consumers expect them to: how they want, when they want. Work with the digital experts in your own organization and at your digital agency to formulate your integrated video strategy, then go in to production.

Not planning this way is just getting too risky.

Join us for our Online Video Advertising Forum in New York City, June 16, 2006.

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