It’s no longer enough for commercials to just bring money to linear television, they also have to be clever and memorable enough to bring TV outlets repeated viewership.

Serafini

What is the most annoying content on U.S. television? I’d say it’s a toss-up between commercials about medical drugs or those for perfumes.

The former are TV spots, often broadcast during primetime hours, that describe the benefits of an unpronounceable drug, while also reciting all the illnesses, maladies, side effects, and other assorted problems that the medicine can trigger in patients, including death. (Indeed, the voiceover often cautions that a given medication “could be fatal,” all the while showing images of people laughing, having fun, and generally enjoying life while on the possibly lethal drug.)

The latter are those sophisticated and slick commercials that will make sense only to those consumers willing to shell out hundreds of dollars for something that, at least for me, sucks out all the oxygen from the area surrounding the wearer.

Granted, those two genres generate a large amount of money for TV stations, but so do car commercials. These genres are rarely interesting or amusing, but are highly rewarding for TV outlets.

Other annoying commercials are for broadband services, where creativity is really a narrow band; and for food stores, which tend to use rather generic slogans like “all about you.”

Now, considering that the medicine and remedies sectors invested $10 billion in advertising in U.S. media in 2016 (the largest being Pfizer with $2.1 billion), and the personal care companies invested $6.2 billion (the largest being L’Oreal with $1.9 billion), it can be concluded that companies spend more for TV spots, and less for the appeal of the commercial.

According to some reports, pharmaceuticals and personal care products are actually increasing their TV ad presence. Basically, the lack of creativity has been supplanted by the sheer amount of money spent.

Of course, this is something that we already knew about in the 1980s, when U.S. marketing science pioneer Margaret Henderson Blair examined TV commercials, and found that “the overall persuasiveness of an ad declines exponentially” the more that consumers are exposed to it.

Similarly, recent research confirmed that consumers have grown wary of traditional advertising. Beth Egan, an associate professor of Advertising at Syracuse University, wrote that when subjects were exposed to branded content, prominent mention of the brand increases viewers’ suspicion of the message.

“No Choice for Marketers But to Rethink TV Ads,” reported The New York Times in May, and even though the article referred to the decline in TV broadcast viewing, it also implied the need to change TV commercials.

According to Stuart Elliott, who wrote the Advertising column for the Times from 1991 to 2004, American “infatuation with advertising peaked around 1971 with the spot for Coke, ‘I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.’ ”

On top of that, there is now the “epic disruption of the ad business,” as U.S. media critic Ken Auletta mentioned in his latest book, Frenemies, to indicate companies that do business together (as friends) and, at the same time, plot against each other (as enemies).

VideoAge will review Auletta’s book in one of its next issues because, as he wrote in the introduction, “Trying to understand the media without understanding advertising, its fuel supply, is like trying to understand the auto industry without regard to fuel costs.”

The point of this short diatribe of mine is that TV outlets shouldn’t just take the money — from advertisers who produce unimaginative, annoying and disruptive ads — and run, but instead work with them (as they do with content suppliers) to encourage ads that could even become the theme for a movie.

This was the case with Uncle Drew, a U.S.-made movie built around the NBA star Kyrie Irving and based on a series of Pepsi commercials. The Uncle Drew story begins in 2011 when Irving, then a 19-year-old NBA player, appeared in a Super Bowl Pepsi commercial. After Irving, the ad agency conceived the idea of a geriatric player.

In conclusion, advertising nowadays should not just be traditional TV’s “fuel supply,” but also its viewers’ supply, and not its scarecrow!

(By Dom Serafini)

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