January 12, 2011

Brilliance of the 30-Second Spot

Woody Allen once said that 89 minutes is the perfect length for a movie.

I think the ad industry may have accidentally stumbled upon the perfect length for a video message when it decided on the 30-second TV spot. It's just enough time to establish a premise, deliver a sales message, throw in a gag, and get out.

Of course, there is no more maligned artifact of "traditional" advertising than the 30-second TV spot. According to the new masters of the marketing universe it is the embodiment of everything that is wrong with marketing and advertising.

The fact that so many feckless new age marketing gurus agree that the 30-second spot is dead, leads us here at Ad Contrarian World Headquarters to assume that there must be something uniquely wonderful about it.

When the convergence of the Internet and TV finally occurs (which the same gurus have been predicting relentlessly and incorrectly for over 10 years) neither may survive in its current form. But here's one thing I'll bet on right now -- the 30-second spot will.

In our never ending search for truth, we have been scouring the web looking for examples of the fabulous videos that were supposed to have displaced the allegedly moribund 30-second spot by now.

Our research has lead us to the following conclusions:

1. Most commercial web videos -- whether of the "viral" or paid variety -- are just longer or shorter versions of forms and structures found in traditional TV spots. In fact, most are merely re-edited or re-purposed 30-second spots.

2. Those that are not, tend to be awful. It's as if agencies have taken teams that used to write table tents and meta-tags and said, "Okay, nobody's gonna see this shit anyway, go ahead and make a video."

3. While YouTube reports 2 billion views a day, it seems like not many of these 2 billion are views of online commercial videos. There are dancing cats with millions of views and, to be fair, some very well-produced commercial videos with millions of views. However, the vast majority --  I am tempted to say somewhere in the 90+% range -- of commercial videos posted online appear to have about no one looking at them. It seems that the only people watching these things are the sorry fools who paid for them and SAG reps searching for contract violations.

4. The farther from traditional ad structures the videos stray the more likely they are to be terrible. Here is an example. This interminable, stunningly unfunny video is part of an online video campaign for HungryMan. It features an actor who can't decide if he's Chico Marx or Borat. It reaches its comedic apex when he visits the Technological Institute of Technology (T.I.T. -- get it?)

I don't know what this video cost HungryMan but it's getting a whopping 5,000 views a month.  Sometimes this stupid-ass blog of mine gets more views than that in a day.

Let's not bury the 30-second spot quite yet. 

By The Way...
...if you've been writing table tents and meta tags and you get the opportunity to write a spot, here's some very sage advice from Vinnie Warren.

Just One More Thing...
My semi-gorgeous face adorns this week's print edition of Adweek. It's on the "Feedback" page, in which they print reader reactions to stories and columns they've run, including my piece entitled Big Brother Has Arrived, and He's Us which ran in Adweek's online edition 2 weeks ago.

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