Why TiVo-Proof Is a Flawed Concept

I’ve read a bunch of articles in the last couple weeks that refer to an ad format based on whether it’s “TiVo-proof.” As you can likely guess, TiVo-proof specifically refers to a way to get DVR users watching TV spots. But I’ve also seen it in broader usage, such as describing floating ads as a way to grab the same sort of attention pop-ups once did. But these ads effectively get around the pop-up blockers found in most modern browsers. In that context, floating ads effectively TiVo-proof an intrusive ad against pop-up blockers.

One article I read described a new experiment in which broadcasters are selling :05 spots at the end of commercial pods. The logic here is when you hit “play” to come out of fast-forward, the DVR automatically backs the video up a few seconds to account for viewer reaction time. So you squeeze a :05 spot into that time, effectively tricking people into watching the ad.

There’s a fundamental problem with this. It’s not necessarily squeezing those little spots in there but rather the way some people talk about it. Some consumers don’t like advertising (perhaps more to the point, they don’t like bad or irrelevant advertising, and they can’t stand clutter). That’s why they bought DVRs in the first place. True, there’s some evidence that as DVR adoption gets past the early adopter phase, we may see less ad avoidance. And I absolutely recognize the need to experiment with new models to adjust to a changing media landscape. I fully support and respect companies currently pushing this envelope; we experiment ourselves. But I’m concerned with the way many marketers approach it. The phrase “TiVo-proof” has such negative connotations from a consumer perspective. It’s no wonder they hate us.

Allow me this fictional, over-the-top conversation between a marketer and a consumer:

Consumer: I don’t like the fact that there are so many TV ads anymore. Every episode of “24” is supposed to be an hour. But it’s really like 42 minutes. So all that stuff Bauer does is really crammed into 16.8 hours, which is much less impressive — and would make a stupid title. I’ve worked 17-hour days in my time. It’s no big deal.

Advertiser: OK, I hear you. We’ll try to make TV advertising more entertaining.

Consumer: No, that’s not good enough. I’m gonna get a TiVo and fast-forward through the ads.

Advertiser: What? No, wait. Let’s talk about this some more.

Consumer: Too late. It’s done. I’m in control now.

Advertiser: OK, fine, we’ll figure something out. We need you to watch our ads, so we’ll find a way. How about the return of commercials in the movie theater? Huh? Didn’t see that coming, didja? What if we start messing with the way commercial pods are constructed? Instead of network promos always being at the end of the pod, we’ll put ’em in the middle. Ha! Made you hit “play.” Product placement? Yeah! Ads right in the middle of your programming! How’s that feel? Jack Bauer loves his BK chicken. Oh, here’s another one: we’ll put a :05 spot at the end of every pod so you’re forced to watch it even with a DVR. Ha! How do you like them apples?

Consumer: The heck with you. I’m going to go read a book.

Advertiser: Fine, maybe you’re not our target anyway. Enjoy the book.

Silly, but language like “TiVo-proof” doesn’t feel that far away. People love their DVRs. They downloaded pop-up blockers like mad. Many even download applications that block all online advertising. It’s like they’re fighting a maddening virus that keeps invading every part of their lives. At some point, they’ll just snap.

At the same time, studies continuously show consumers are willing to trade attention to advertising for access to content they value. But they want that advertising to be relevant, targeted, entertaining, and delivered in a reasonable ratio between ad time and content time. They also expect it to provide some kind of value in return for their attention. By and large, the TV experience doesn’t deliver on those expectations.

Here’s the kicker: I’ve been talking with a lot of our media folks about how they go about evaluating ad opportunities in emerging media. What’s the number one thing they ask about? The consumer experience, the value proposition for the consumer. They don’t care the thing is another way to break through the clutter or to make more money for the agency or the client or the publisher. They legitimately care about how the consumer will react.

All with good reason. They were burned by pop-ups and pop-unders. They’ve been burned by other experiments with intrusive formats that crossed the line. And they’ve learned from it. So they’re respecting the consumer. As one of our planners put it, “Ultimately, there’s no advertising opportunity unless there’s a consumer opportunity.”

So with that in mind, I’m taking the phrase “TiVo-proof” out of my vocabulary. I suggest you do the same.

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