Written by: Patrick Kelly, CC2K TV Editor
In an effort to capture the attention of the attentionless, and also to combat the prevalence and effectiveness of Tivo/DVR, television advertisers have been forced to think outside of the box. Since this “skill” of thinking creatively is generally reserved for those making good TV shows, the suits, obviously and predictably, have no idea what to do with the air time that have so generously bought. Seeing as “new media” — the internet, the DVR, video-on-cellphone, on-demand— has slowly grown over the past 10 years or so, you would think that the admen would have had ample opportunity to adjust to the new markets. But, still, they struggle. Instead of adapting to the new media of the world, the collective advertising suit has tried to shoehorn the TV ad formula into every other multimedia-driven advertising arena (Why, on earth, would you try and bring in an idea that you know is already disliked?). And result is predictable. It’s weird. Annoying. Awkward. And ineffective.
What makes the least sense to me is the adman’s complete unwillingness to want to make money. Was I completely wrong in assuming that cold hard cash is the only motivator for ad execs? Have they been acting justly in the interests of the viewer this whole time, and they’ve just gotten a bad rap because of a random set of unrelated factors? No chance. They are just completely missing it. Instead of assuming the role of entrepreneurial innovator (the all-or-nothing role that the adman typically plays) and leading the entire industry into new money-making territory, the entire gaggle waits for our multimedia to just magically turn into what it once was. But, there’s no going back to static. What happened to that “can do” spirit that ad execs are supposed to have (I assume this is what Mad Men is about), that cutthroat, money-hungry trait that is supposed to drive the ad execs to innovative ideas and unlimited clients. Is there no glory in the ad game anymore?
And in case you are wondering, “How do you have such insightful knowledge into the personnel of the vast and expansive advertising sector?” I, of course, don’t. I just know that if there were someone who had their eyes on the ball, we would have a completely different advertising platform. It would be unrecognizable. We wouldn’t have 15-second commercials preceding CNN news clips. Nor would we have commercials built into online programming (new or repeated). And we, sure as shit, wouldn’t have today’s “interactive” commercials, the reason for this whole seemingly random rant.
An example. During commercial breaks of this season’s episodes of How I Met Your Mother, an annoying little lady pops onto the screen. Surrounded by random baking trinkets and a wood-fire stove, she sits at a table, either eating or baking (I can’t tell). She decides to take time from her personal life to talk to us about something. She starts, “Lilly and Marshall. Ted and Robin. Barnie and Robin? With so many loves and laughs, it’s fun trying to keep up with the romance on How I Met Your Mother.” She is then followed by a message: “This special insider treat has been brought to you by Bertolli.” This segment is then followed further, by a traditional commercial advertising Bertolli as the best pasta maker ever. What the hell was the point of the first segment? It was neither insight nor a special treat. The women told us nothing, she added no expert advice or inside gossip about the actor’s lives, the show’s characters, or its plotline. She simply gave us her opinion on what she thought was fun, which, apparently, includes telling us about the show’s basic facts and certainties.
What bothers me isn’t the unattractive/annoying commercial (because, as we all know, they are the standard); it’s the advertiser’s desired outcome that I can’t understand. Do they honestly think that the average viewer will feel closer to/more likely to buy Bertolli’s pasta because some woman on the screen plainly and matter-of-factly said the name of the show they were watching? In ad polling, do the numbers really tell the execs that if they talk about the show, even in it’s most basic terms, people will start associating Bertolli’s with How I Met Your Mother for the rest of the show’s existence (what food does Seinfeld make you think about—-ohhhh—the admen missed one there)?
Even though I weep, there is hope. We can only wish that more shows start taking cues from LOST and it’s advertising partners. Through new media and a little brainstorming, they (the producers and ad execs, I’m assuming) have managed to create a near-empire of ad-riddled online games, mini-episodes and interactive webhunts that actually add value for a large number of watchers/consumers. Imagine that: Someone figured out that in order to grab someone’s attention you have to offer them something of value—what a novel idea! And seeing that kids are talking about the show (and it’s theories) actively during the show’s off-season, it means that people are actively searching out these new media forms, which means that people are watching the advertising. You would think that the masterminds that came up the dancing Vitamin Water iguanas would be able to figure out the difference between telling the audience something they obviously know and providing them with new information (no matter how trivial—which is what, I guess, fictional TV is).
Even though the LOST “interactive” advertising obviously, and completely, trumps How I Met Your Mother’s, it still got a ways to go. The LOST gameplan might fade as its fans get hungry for wholesome content (it only consists of supplemental, non-essential information—-like searching out for the special sword in Final Fantasy) and the content doesn’t make the fans want to watch the commercials, it just makes viewers tolerate them. Also, what works for LOST won’t work for The Office: the fans’ need for the extra information derives solely from the show’s mysterious nature.
The question we should be asking is, “Why aren’t advertisers making a valiant effort towards garnering our attention?” If they really do pine over our insatiable appetite for product consumption (give me something new, anything!), why is the LOST model atypical? I, honestly, cannot believe that the admen, as a whole, would not be vying for every single viewer’s undivided attention. I also do not believe that the collective advertising suit is too dumb to realize that they’ve been stuck in the mud for 10 years. This, then, presents that the creepiest/most-disheartening question: What the hell are they planning?