Over the last 60 years, the way we consume and even define TV has changed immeasurably – is TV just the ‘box’ in the front room, or is it the content we consume wherever and whenever we want across our multiple devices?
There was a time when the TV set was the social hub of the house. People used to gather together for their favourite shows, and believe it or not, paid attention to them and the ads in between. Part driven by lethargy (remember when you had to get up to change the channel?) and part driven by fantastic creativity, the ads were actually watched.
Whether the ads, as often cited in many a pub conversation, were better than the programmes, is of course debatable – “Dad, do you know the piano’s on my foot?” (below) – but they certainly contributed to the evening’s entertainment, built brand fame, and even helped shape popular culture along the way. In 30 seconds, ads could reinforce or break social and gender stereotypes (Oxo), shape the musical taste of the nation (Levis), and help define its comedic culture while they were at it (Tango).
Things are a little different now.
Today, even if a family manages to gather in front of the TV, the chance of it being the only screen in town is very slim. Increasingly TV ‘viewing’ is accompanied by the simultaneous use of phones, tablets, and laptops; sometimes at the request of the programme maker, but often not, diverting attention and reducing focus. This makes it even trickier for the poor old TV ad, as viewers become passive and think: “I’m here to relax, not to get information or be sold to, I have the web for that.” Combine this with the increasing ease with which consumers can edit their viewing (voice command technology anyone?) and it is incredibly difficult for ads to stand out. But does this matter?
TV is still largely considered to be the most effective channel for long-term brand building activity, and if combined well with other digital platforms, TV can produce fantastic results in the short term as well. Recognition of the way we now consume TV ads and how they integrate with other channels should shape our creative approach.
Marketers and brands need to accept the fact that today’s viewers are unlikely to be held in rapt attention by the main screen, and must shape their creative strategy accordingly. Rational messages are easier to screen out than emotional ones, and marketing on an auto-pilot requires much less attention and active interest on the part of the recipient. Rather than trying to stand out and interrupt, they should focus on emotional priming, which can help develop feelings and memories that will stand the test of time.
Robert Heath (Seducing the Subconscious, 2012) argues that there is a benefit to low attention levels among viewers, as appropriate creative and emotive content can be processed automatically by TV viewers and enter their consciousness without challenge. TV is arguably the most passive of all media and, as such, offers the best opportunity for such communication, by brands which can crack this creative code.
That said there is clearly still potential to grab attention with a TV ad, creating brand fame and an appointment to view. It’s just not that easy to do and often multi-media campaigns involving PR and social campaigns are required to build the hype and interest necessary to inspire consumers to search on YouTube, or stop fast-forwarding in order to watch an ad.
Even rarer, is the genuine event spot, which draws people to a particular place and time to view the TV, just like the old days. But, just like the old days, the creative had better be good. The John Lewis Christmas commercials can sit in this space, but another great example is the Lego ad break. Created for the release of the Lego Movie, the whole break was taken over and willing participants including BT, Premier Inn and Confused.com had their ads given a Lego makeover – my kids were looking forward to it for a week.
Will ‘TV’ be around for another 60 years? It’s a question with no simple answer. The ‘box’ in the corner of the room that we all gather around to share experiences and have a bit of fun, maybe not. The content we all love that helps us relax and take time out, of course. Where there is content, there will be ads, but they may need to look, feel and work a little differently if they are to retain their importance and impact over the next 60 years.
Andrew Brown is head of marketing and communications at Cubo Group