Why TV advertising will never die

Times are changing, but the doom-mongers predicting the imminent death of the TV spot are undere stimating the medium. Larissa Bannister gives some reasons why TV ads will survive in the PVR age.

Prevailing wisdom has been predicting the death of the 30-second spot for years now, based on the expansion of alternative media, the proliferation of digital TV channels and the growth of new technologies, not least the personal video recorder.

The doom-mongers would have it that the end is pretty much nigh for the traditional advertising agency too.

According to Joseph Jaffe, a former director of interactive media at TBWA\Chiat\Day and the author of the recently published Life After the 30-Second Spot: "The traditional creative agencies have absolutely lost their way and their relevance."

It's a strange fact of life that the advertising industry is peculiarly keen to predict its own demise - can you imagine a bevy of lawyers conversing quite happily about the imminent extinction of their profession?

But it is equally obvious that advertising is facing a period of fundamental change. Dr Douglas Holt, the chair of marketing at Oxford University, says the revolution isn't false, but it has been mischaracterised - and change in itself does not spell the end for TV.

"We may well see a dramatic impact on the market for television spots if ad-skipping technology catches on among consumers," Holt says. "It does not follow, however, that the generic form of the 30-second television ad will fade away." The question we should be asking is not what will replace TV, he says, but what kinds of TV ads will work in the future.

Richard Huntington, the planning director at HHCL/Red Cell, says change tends to be greeted by the ad industry in one of two ways. "First, there are the ostriches who bury their heads in the sand and insist that nothing fundamental is going to change," he says. "Then there are the lemmings, leaping off the cliff shouting 'content, content, it's all about branded content'. The idea that TV advertising is dead is a mantra peddled by the least imaginative people in our industry."

There's no reason why advertising cannot adapt to meet the challenge, as it has done many times in the past, by producing TV ads that work effectively alongside other media in the new environment.

"TV will survive because advertisers need it too much, but it will have to change," Huntington says. "There are few clear answers at the moment but we have five years to figure them out. After that, it gets scary."

So TV will have a different role. It may be a smaller role, but it will remain a vital one. Here are the reasons why.


Honda is a prime example of a brand that has been transformed by its TV ads. "Cog", "grrr" (pictured) and the whole "hate something, change something" concept have turned a cheap Japanese car brand into something aspirational. Similarly, the 118 118 launch campaign transformed a service with very little to distinguish itself from the competition into a market leader.

The threat posed by PVRs focuses on viewers fast-forwarding through TV ad breaks. The prediction that the 30-second spot will die assumes that no-one will watch any TV ads if they are given the option not to. The truth is that viewers will still watch the ads they like. Would you fast-forward through Guinness "surfer"? Or the latest Stella Artois spot? The challenge will be to produce ads that consumers actively want to see and to get consistently better at interruption.

"The kinds of ads that will work are the ones that the audience chooses to watch," Holt says. "These will be ads that have the quality of short films. Advertising must become more like art."


The effects of PVRs are as yet unknown and may not be as dire as predicted. PricewaterhouseCoopers' recent report, Economic Analysis of the TV Market, predicts that TV advertising revenues will grow from £3.16 billion to £4 billion over the next ten years, despite the potential threat should PVR ownership become the norm.

Even assuming widespread take-up, it's not all bad news. According to recent research from Starcom, advertising awareness is only 17 per cent lower in PVR households than in non-PVR households. Sponsorship awareness falls by just 4 per cent. And owning a PVR actually tends to make people watch more TV - 16 per cent more according to UK studies and 20 per cent more in the US. Meanwhile, a recent US study showed that 57 per cent of people given a free PVR trial returned them for reasons including expense and hassle.

The media agency puts this down to the fact that people don't actively dislike TV ads, they just want to be able to control which ads they watch and when they watch them. "TV advertising is more resilient than expected," the report says. "Consumers will only give time to ads that are relevant to them ... so that the ads that are seen are therefore more likely to be recalled."


The vast majority of brands are still built using TV, and that's because film can have a greater impact on consumers than any other medium.

As Holt says: "Film is the best way for a brand to tell a story, and its possibilities have only just begun to be explored." The kind of story that can be told using the medium is unique and TV delivers consumers in an environment in which they are comfortable, relaxed and receptive.

TV ads can also generate buzz far beyond the slots into which they are booked. During this year's Super Bowl, for example, Heineken ran an ad featuring Hollywood superstars including Brad Pitt, who was going through a very public split from his wife, Jennifer Aniston, at the time. Although the ad only aired once, it received editorial coverage and publicity way beyond its 30-second spot life. The Lynx Pulse campaign (pictured) and VW's "singin' in the rain" ad had a similar effect in the UK, with the Lynx single getting to number one in the charts.


Most interactive TV is still boring to look at, but the medium offers real potential once advertisers and agencies start to invest in creativity.

There are plenty of issues that need to be sorted (such as stopping viewers treating the "red button" like wallpaper) but there are also impressive examples of how interactive can work, such as the recent Kit Kat campaign where consumers spent an average of 13 minutes interacting with the brand.

The Chemical Brothers launched their latest album, Push the Button, with a TV ad (pictured) that had a call to interact built into the creative.

The ad ran only a few times but more than 250,000 people pushed the button to interact and nearly a quarter of those bought the album.


New technology means there's no need to think solely in terms of the 30-second spot any more. Longer ads are a possibility, although Starcom's recent PVR report suggested that awareness levels for longer films are not significantly higher. But in the same report, sponsorship slots were shown to be almost PVR-proof, probably because viewers use them as a navigation tool to tell when the ad breaks are coming to an end.

There are other options too: in March, Ford teamed up with ITV to broadcast what it said was the world's first live ad. The 30-second spot for the Ford Focus (pictured) was followed by another ad asking viewers questions about the first one. Viewers could then text, call or e-mail their answers in for a chance to win the car. Last Friday, Virgin Mobile followed Ford's lead by running a series of live ads - one 90-second, one 70-second and one 20-second spot - from the V Festival in Chelmsford, offering the chance to win 40 pairs of weekend tickets to the event.


The US broadcaster Time Warner Cable is about to start testing a new system that will enable advertisers to target individual consumers through their TVs. The system uses digital set-top boxes to track what every TV set in a house is showing, and over a period of time can work out the age, gender and likely interests of the people who live there, according to Invidi, the software company that developed the technology.

Apart from the obvious advantage of avoiding wastage, advertisers would also be able to personalise their TV ad directly to the consumer - so TV could become as targeted as direct mail. A bonus for broadcasters would be that instead of selling just five ads per break, they could sell any number, on the basis of smaller but better-quality audiences. And if the number of commercial messages received by viewers declines but becomes more relevant, there's always the chance that consumers might actually start to like TV advertising again.


Last month, TiVo (pictured) - the US equivalent of Sky+ - introduced a new service aimed at encouraging people to watch TV ads. Viewers are now able to send their personal information to advertisers through their set-top boxes, telling them what products and services they are interested in. They can also choose to watch longer-form versions of TV ads they like by jumping from the traditional spot to a one- or two-minute version of the same ad.

The changes came as a bit of a volte-face for TiVo, which had previously been promoted to consumers for its ability to skip ads. In the UK, Sky+ has traditionally been more advertiser-friendly - at least on the surface - and now similar innovations look imminent here. At this year's ISBA conference, Dawn Airey, Sky's managing director, said that the broadcaster was about to launch its own interactive TV "credit card" that could be linked to an existing loyalty card scheme and would reward viewers for interacting with TV ads. "What I need is a deeper dialogue with you about how you want to use this technology to drive advertising forward," she said at the time. "It's simply not in my interest to compromise an important profit source and thereby damage advertiser relations."


Clients should certainly be experimenting with branded content solutions, HHCL/Red Cell's Richard Huntington says, but "associated involvement", as he calls it, will not replace TV advertising.

"While content solutions are clearly enjoying a purple patch at the moment, it is sheer folly to imagine they are the answer to the challenges that advertising is facing," he says.

The concept of branded content is nothing new - in fact, all great brand advertising is necessarily branded content. But the phrase is now typically used to refer to product placement, Holt says, which is a very different thing. "Product placement is a parasitic strategy in which marketers give up on creating their own content and instead rely on inserting their brand into content created by others. Consumers won't reward the brand for riding the coat-tails of culture that others have produced."

He criticises Volkwagen for its recent US deal with Universal NBC, which gave it first rights to its film placements. "Here is a brand that, in the US at least, was created by great films," he says. "The company seems to be giving up on the communications that have built the brand in the hope that a strategy with no track record will work instead."

There is a role for placement if its aim is simply to build awareness, he adds. But often, the decision to use it is based on "faddish desperation".

"Most marketing companies do not know how to make great ads; in fact, they are very talented at killing them. Yet they blame their failure on the media environment rather than seeking to improve their own organisational capabilities," he says.


Ad-blockers haven't halted the growth of the internet and aren't expected to in the future. Posters rely on the premise that you notice them even if you are driving past them at speed. The same goes for TV - just because you fast-forward through an ad doesn't mean its message isn't getting through.

Advertisers and their agencies could even start choosing to make ads that work at x30 speed, though broadcasters would have to sell at an appropriate value for what would be a very different type of medium.

In any case, there will still be plenty of spots that will not be fast-forwarded. Live TV, particularly sport and Big-Brother-style reality show finals (pictured), will command a higher cost of entry as the environment they provide becomes increasingly rare.

Conversely, big-budget drama along the lines of Channel 4's recent acquisition Lost is the most likely to be time-shifted. That change will become a big issue for broadcasters if the standard of TV programming is to be maintained as the price of spots around such shows drops.