Hostage marketing comes to an end

Dish Network just introduced its Hopper technology that enables customers to skip through the ads in shows they’ve recorded on their DVR.  It’s causing uproar in TV land as producers worry that with no ad revenue there’ll be no way of funding their shows in the first place.  The ‘old’ TV model relied on customers being held hostage and thus being forced to watch ads.  With the advent of VCRs and then DVRs, customers could, with some luck, skip most if not all the ads by fast forwarding through them.  The Hopper technology simply improves on something we all try and do anyway so it’s hard to see why there’s such a fuss.  Businesses that rely on taking customer’s attention hostage are doomed.  Let’s imagine that you couldn’t skip the ads just for a minute.  If that were the case and there was a two minute break in your show, isn’t it likely you’d use that two minutes to visit the bathroom, check email and or make a cup of something to drink?  In other words customers have choices that don’t involve watching annoying ads, so trying to find ways to prevent them from skipping them is like shutting the proverbial stable door…  Wouldn’t it be better if advertisers accepted that the old ad model was broken and instead focused on creating content that people actually wanted to see and engage with?  Ad agencies are very capable of creating such content but they need to be given the latitude to do so.  That said, they also need to propose a new approach to their customers rather than proposing the ‘old way’ yet again.  Advertisers and TV producers may complain about customers skipping ads but they should watch those ads and as themselves how many of them would they ‘choose’ to watch if they were given that choice?  My guess is that, if they’re honest, they’ll answer a big fat zero.  So instead forcing a diet of content on consumers that they don’t like, marketers need to focus on giving the customer content that they want to engage with.  If they do people will start looking for technology that gives them ads rather than the opposite.

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Why are only Super Bowl ads funny? Why are companies so serious online?

If you Google the best Super Bowl ads, the one thing that all the lists of ads have in common is that majority of so called ‘top ads’ are designed to make us laugh.  I’ve been involved in marketing for several decades and at no point have I come across research that says if you make people laugh they will then go out an buy your product.  Which then begs the question do the agencies create funny ads because these ads work, because they enjoy making funny ads, or because such ads win awards?  I suspect the answer is ‘all of the above’. 

The fact that the most expensive ads of the year are also the most amusing does make me wonder if marketers are missing an opportunity for the other 364 days of the year (actually 365 this year).  Why isn’t humor used routinely?  Why instead do most ads try and stimulate some other emotion such as fear (ING – what’s your number, All State’s Mayhem ads)?  Watch the Acura ad from this year’s Super Bowl that featured Jerry Seinfeld and the car barely gets a look in.  This may be because you can’t yet buy the car, or because they paid so much to get Seinfeld that they want their money’s worth.  Whatever the reason, the humor makes you remember the ad.  This is more likely the reason. Again though, why don’t more ads make you smile? 

I don’t watch much live TV.  Indeed the Super Bowl is one of the few times I watch a live broadcast and even then, I’m hardly gripped.  I am British after all.  I know the ‘live’ piece is a major reason why the ads are so highly priced.  You have a massive audience that is watching live, rather than recording it to watch it later.  This means that few people are doing what I do normally – fast-forwarding through the ads.  But would we fast-forward through ads if they were a part of the entertainment in the same way Super Bowl ads have become?  I suspect many would not.

Back in the late 1980s I recall going to movie theaters at least 10 minutes before the start time so I could watch the adverts from people like Levi’s.  This was a golden era for advertising.  Adverts were made by the likes of Ridley Scott and they were visually stunning and generally entertaining.  They were in short a part of the event, not an annoyance you sought a way around.

As marketers look to embrace digital channels I wonder if there is a lesson in here.  Should we be ensuring that we make the marketing channels as engaging as the content the customer is really looking for when they go online?  You bet.  This is of course why so many brands are trying to crack social marketing.  Again though, I do wonder if brands are missing a trick.  So many brands that have engaged through channels such as Facebook and Twitter do so in a relatively serious way.  I’d urge these brands to think again and look at those funny TV ads.  After all, we like to remember the good times.  So if brands want to be ‘Liked’ perhaps they need to focus more on making us smile 🙂