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Beyond 30 Seconds

Matt Solomon
Beyond 30 Seconds Matt Solomon

“The way people are watching television is changing. …Putting our content on as many platforms as possible is the key to our future."  
-- Jeff Zucker, NBC Universal Television Group President

With Apple’s launch of the video iPod, the death drum for the 30-second spot just got louder. For $1.99 a pop, consumers can download the latest commercial-free "Lost" episode and watch it where they want, when they want.

Bad news for the advertising industry? Not necessarily. 

For decades, brand messages have been shackled by 30-second handcuffs. True, traditional 30-second spots are great for shouting “Look at me!” and “Hey everybody -- President’s Day sale!” But as far as establishing meaningful dialogue and building lasting relationships with consumers? Thirty seconds just doesn’t cut it.

More content, on demand

Sure, fewer eyeballs are watching 30-second spots. But the same new media that are diminishing traditional spots present fantastic opportunities for brands that want to talk to their customers for longer than 30 seconds.

Take video on demand (VOD). If you’re wondering whether VOD’s time has come, look no further than a recent report from Comcast. The regional cable provider announced in November that more than one billion programs have been viewed this year on the company's VOD service -- well ahead of expectations.

Large national brands have already jumped on board. Footwear marketer programs featuring NBA star Allen Iverson, along with hip-hop musicians Jay-Z and 50 Cent in April. Now, Reebok sponsors free on-demand hip-hop programming.

But you don’t need big marketing dollars to take advantage of VOD. I’m now working with a local health care provider in Madison, Wisconsin, to combine the best of traditional television advertising and VOD. A series of 30-second spots currently in production will feature physicians, nurses and other care providers participating in informal roundtable discussions, talking about topics important to local health care consumers -- technology, cancer treatment and personal care.

At the end of each spot (and in companion print ads), consumers are directed to tune to a digital channel where “the conversation continues.” Interested consumers can then learn more about their topic of choice via four- to five-minute videos -- perfect for consumers with relevant health concerns. The audience for these videos are admittedly smaller than those for spots purchased during a prime-time hit -- but because viewers choose to pull the content (vs. having it pushed at them as an interruption to a favorite program), they’re infinitely more qualified as potential customers.  
In effect, the 30-second spots are “movie trailers” for the on-demand content.

Quality, not quantity, is the promise of video on demand.

Streaming success

Long-form video messages on the web didn’t make sense until recently, with the spotty performance of streaming video and the snail-like pace of dial-up internet connections. That has changed, of course.

More than 90 percent of people at work have broadband access; the number is now more than 50 percent in the home. And AdAge reports that Democrats in the House of Representatives have proposed an "innovation agenda" calling for affordable broadband access in every home within five years.

So it’s no surprise that another client (an online sports gaming site) discovered success by streaming long-form content on the web. While other online play-for-fun websites are advertising via TV and radio spots, our client tried a different tactic -- a weekly cable television program featuring four guys arguing about the week’s football action.

The show was a modest success on cable, but then we discovered something unexpected: An online, streaming version of the show was outdrawing the cable version, garnering more than two million unique hits during the show’s first few weeks online.

TV spots would have let people know about the existence of the site (hey, look at me!). “The Odds Squad” TV and web show goes one better, establishing a relationship with consumers by providing long-form content with real value for those interested in online gaming.

The handwriting on the wall was clear to my client -- the cable version of their show is currently in limbo; a popular online version lives on.

So long, 30 seconds

Radio didn’t destroy the movies, just as television didn’t destroy radio. The advent of digital technologies such as streaming video on the web and VOD won’t destroy the 30-second advertisement either -- but they should help eradicate some of the old thinking about how video advertising works.

Consumers don’t want more commercials. But they do want more information that has value to them. The brands that provide that engaging content, unencumbered by time restraints, are the brands most likely to last longer than 30 seconds.

Matt Solomon is creative director for JRP, an Emmy Award-winning video and film production company. He has developed award-winning creative for clients such as McDonalds, Miller Brewing Company, Kraft Foods, Lands’ End, Johnson Controls and the Green Bay Packers. Matt is a graduate of Warner Brothers’ exclusive comedy-writing program. He holds a masters’ degree in communications with a focus on humor theory.


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