Live Commercials Work Because They're Entertaining

from the advertising-is-content dept

One of the points we've been making for years is that advertising is content. That is, as people have more and more media options, advertisers can no longer assume they have a captive audience who will watch ads because they have nothing better to do. Rather, advertisers have to make their ads entertaining, so that people will want to watch them. The latest example of this is a New York Times article about how TV networks are bringing back the live commercial. For example, Jimmy Kimmel has been doing amusing live pitches for Nikon, Pontiac, and Quiznos on his late night show, and Jay Leno hosted a silly American Gladiators segment on his show to sell Klondike bars. Hollywood executives have a bad habit of viewing commercials as the spinach viewers have to eat in order to get the content they're actually interested in. But these examples illustrate that commercials don't have to be boring. With a little ingenuity, and funny pitchmen like Kimmel and Leno, commercials can be made interesting enough that consumers are actually interested in watching them. Part of the reason people hate commercials is that they're so repetitive, but live pitches can help break up the monotony by performing the pitch differently every time. And once commercials are actually interesting, the TiVo "problem" goes away, because even most consumers who have PVRs with commercial-skipping functions won't use them because they're actually interested in watching the commercials.

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Filed Under: ads, advertising is content, commercials, entertainment, live commercials, television

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  1. identicon
    Paul, 22 May 2008 @ 8:17pm


    Leo Laporte and the entire TWiT network, as well as a bevy of podcasters, have been doing live (straight to tape) ads for a while now. Leo does a good job of tying the ads to the content, and when he doesn't do a good job of it, its usually pretty funny as everyone makes fun of him for it. There are good ways to integrate ads that aren't intrusive or abusive.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Devang (profile), 22 May 2008 @ 9:41pm

    Colbert Report

    I enjoy the "Hail to the Cheese Stephen Colbert's Nacho Cheese Doritos 2008 Presidential Campaign Coverage" very much, as long as he makes fun of how unhealthy they are once in a while.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Joe, 22 May 2008 @ 11:15pm

    nothing new (yawn)

    Back in 1951, fresh out of high school, I went to work in Hoboken for Lipton (tea, soup, etc). I worked in the Sales Dept of the home office. Through the late 40s and on through the 50s, Arthur Godfrey - a mean-spirited, lowlife who masqueraded as a jovial radio guy, the Howard Stern of his day, became rich and famous for his "spontaneous" rants that ridiculed the invisibility of the chicken in the powdered soup mix. He and Lipton became rich off of that. Actually, he'd begun a few years earlier out of desperation, a total lack of sponsors, by making believe he had a sponsor, a well known soap of the day, that he mocked. That attracted so much attention, the soap company actually did hire him. He then built a long and profitable radio and television career around the sponsor-mocking gimmick. But he still remained a nasty son of a bitch. In one incident that was never made public until this moment, he went out of his way to be cruel and insulting to children at a school based near his Falls Church, VA home that sheltered crippled orphans. I was there when the complaints poured in from the shelter staff. Lipton paid out some serious money to hush them up.

    Point is, live commercials, with a little or a lot of sponsor mockery, are not really new.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2008 @ 11:27pm

    Live ads,

    Here is Oz (Australia) we have known that for years. Starting in the 1950's and going right through to the early 1970's Aussie Tv was ruled by a guy called Graham Kennedy. He was a rather disgusting person in real life but his live adds were a highlight on tv most nights. At one stage the live advertorials were rating higher than his show.

    If it's done properly, and if the pitchman is willing to push things, it works well. Mind you anyone who has watched the shopping channel can tell you that there are times where it doesn't work too well at all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Art L, 23 May 2008 @ 2:03am

    Colbert Report

    The Colbert has been using this technique for Doritos for some months. The chips are brought in for segments of his show such as being thrown into a water purifying machine to test it and to mock (I believe) Ted Turner's cannibalism comments by having human flavored Doritos. I must say, the product placement is quite entertaining and not "hidden" in any way. Colbert actually highlights and even glorifies the fact that he is doing product placement. Its reminiscent of the placements in Wayne's World. Everyone accepted the tacky placement because it was integrated into the act. And I still remember most of the products in that scene!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Brian, 23 May 2008 @ 4:09am

    I'm not terribly keen on the idea. Ads would have to be pretty damn entertaining for me to tolerate them during whatever show I'm watching. I'd be surprised if many writers and producers who care about their art didn't object to dirtying their work this way as well.

    I'd almost rather them lump the commercials together like they do now so that I can ignore them completely and all together (which I realize is not conducive to effectiveness of the ad industry). However, that doesn't mean I don't think the idea presented in the article wouldn't work well if it was pulled off right. I do see a couple potential issues, though.

    First, companies tend to like to manage their own brands. In order to maintain fluidity through a TV show, advertisers would have to give up some, if not most of their content management rights. I'm sure there's a happy medium, but I doubt most companies will be able to find it. Brands will also likely have to find "partners" in shows who fit them well, too. This will limit choices.

    Second is cost. Advertisers still have to pay for time on air, but now both production teams (ad and TV show) have to work together in finding a way to constructively display an ad. No matter how I think of this, I can't imagine it being a quick and easy process.

    Anyway, before I write another essay, I'll close. I think this idea could become worthwhile, but it would personally piss me off. I also think advertisers would have to ingrain the idea into the next generation's brains. Make them think it's business as usual.

    -Brian, not involved in any aspect of entertainment, so go easy if you're some freaky obnoxious guru.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 May 2008 @ 4:13am

    Live pre-recorded commercials.


    Add on top my PST view of broadcast TV, and one can see why I take this a bad joke.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 May 2008 @ 5:02am

    Re: nothing new (yawn)

    No, it's not new strictly speaking, but for at least the last 20 years or so we've had repeated, manufactured commercials stuck awkwardly in the middle of our shows -- annoyingly usually at the best parts, so that they're sure you don't just walk away.

    It's not new, but it's also not common, and it's better than the standard fare.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Nasch, 23 May 2008 @ 9:51am

    Re: Colbert Report

    Don't forget the Doritos Spicy Sweet Pennsylvania Primary Coverage Live From Chiladelphia: The City of Brotherly Crunch. It's over now, but I can actually say it worked. I've bought two bags of the stuff and I didn't know it existed before the Doritos Spicy Sweet Pennsylvania Primary Coverage Live From Chiladelphia: The City of Brotherly Crunch. They're pretty good. :-)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Ben, 23 May 2008 @ 9:52am

    Live ads existed pre 1950s

    Live ads have been around for a LONG time. Ed Sullivan started running them in his live show in 1948 and I'm sure they date even farther back than that.

    I must say though, they are very effective. They are somewhat of the viral marketing nature and fit in well with how people do and do not like to view advertisements today.

    Check out this blog that expands on how live ads are being used more fully:

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), 23 May 2008 @ 12:00pm

    Please, Just Charge Me

    The only reason we have to have ads at all is because people are too darned cheap to just pay for shows. How much would each viewer have to pay for a half-hour of TV to replace the revenue of sitting through ads? 20 cents? Less?

    But no, people value their time and free thought so little that they'd rather be told to go to Subway by Jared 4 times a night and save their 20 cents.

    I wish there were a business model where people who actually valued their time could simply pay for content the simple way...using money instead of eyeballs. Oh, wait. There is. The Internet has enabled it.

    Finally, we have things like Amazon Unbox, the Apple content stores, DVDs. The price is a little high, but I'm happy to pay to avoid ads.

    I've got a Tivo Series 3, which means I already skip commercials. I see how that fails to support the content. But the solution of slipping crap into the 'art' scares me (this sentence brought to you by Carl's Jr.) Instead, my Tivo 3 also connects to Amazon Unbox. I missed a couple of episodes of "House", so I bought them on Amazon Unbox using my laptop and "patented one-click technology". 5 minutes later, they were available on my Tivo -- all 40 minutes of them, with no ads!!

    In ongoing praise of this service, let me add: no ads, no previews, no trailers, no coming attractions, no FBI warnings. Just the content. Take a second to think of how rare that user experience is.

    Heck, it was worth the $2 per episode, and was a better experience than having to "drive" with my Tivo remote in order to skip ads.

    Sadly, I am the minority, and the pay-for-content business model will not fully replace the lost revenue of PVR ad skipping. The "ad as content" effort will grow. I will have to sit through crap, because that's what Americans will vote for with their wallets.

    On the other hand, it won't be the worst thing I've had to endure because the majority of Americans voted for it...twice. And TV is substantially less important than the other thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Katharine, 24 May 2008 @ 2:44am

    Re: Re: nothing new (yawn)

    I do not watch television. Maybe I OD'ed on it when I was a girl, but when I see it now in public places like McDonalds or Dunkin Donuts I found it both loud and dull.

    A book I read about 10 years ago (sorry I can't remember the title) said that no advertiser wants to sponsor a program vastly more arresting than its own advertisements. If the show is more interesting than the commercials, viewers are guaranteed to tune out the commercials.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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