Life after the 30-second advertising spot
In response to ad-skipping technology, advertisers are turning ads into a storytelling medium.
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Cellphones are also being mined for their ability to leverage a consumer's lifestyle. A surfer on his way to the beach in Malibu can now use his phone to check wave activity. As he does, he logs into an online surfing community run by a local retailer, Beach Bum Surf Shop, and supported by AirG, a mobile service provider. He swaps tips with fellow surfers and, more important, maybe buys a board and hat during the call. Up in Palo Alto, a new company named Mozes has made it possible for phones to be used "almost like a remote control," says CEO Dorrian Porter. Users can save and retrieve a TV show or any other digital information from businesses that partner with Mozes.Skip to next paragraph
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Ads designed for commercial breaks are being retooled as well. A company named 1800GotJunk recently launched a national campaign for its junk-removal services. But it was not particularly successful. That's because it was driven by what ad maven Simon Sinek calls legacy-thinking. "It was full of information about their services, but nobody really cared about big shiny trucks and junk removal. They didn't understand what that meant for them," Mr. Sinek says.
Sinek worked with the company to create a campaign from the consumer's perspective. Instead of a standard "informational" ad, he turned it into a lifestyle question and came up with what Sinek calls the "nagging" campaign. "We had to re-create the spouse saying, 'Get that junk out of here,' " says Sinek, who teaches marketing at Columbia University in New York. Four single-screen, five-second ads said simply, "Did you clean the attic yet?" Each popped up once throughout a standard commercial break, concluding with a fifth screen that simply said, "Just Get it Done," with the 1-800-GotJunk phone number.
But while consumers may be getting savvier about skipping the 30-second spot, "smart targeting" and the saturation of commercial messages comes at a price, say some observers. "We're living in a prechewed world," says Matt Felling, media director of Center for Media and Public Affairs in New York. In the fight for our dollars and eyeballs, he says, the media has turned us into commodities. Mr. Felling says we're all being categorized and then directed toward thinking that reflects our own. "Don't know what to think about the world? Just turn on cable news," he says. "Americans are being called upon to fight for their own independent thought. We need to get back to kicking tires on everything."
The CW, a merger of the soon-to-be-defunct networks The WB and UPN, kicks off on Sept. 20 with a two-hour special episode of "America's New Top Model," introducing what executives call the next wave in TV ads: "content wraps," which are sponsored minimovies that both tell a story and push the sponsor's product.
The "cw's," as entertainment president Dawn Ostroff calls them, will replace the regular 30-second spot and appear sequentially so that viewers must stay tuned to the end of the hour to get the whole story.
"We've had a great response from the advertisers," says Ms. Ostroff. "They're always looking for new ways to engage viewers and get their messages across."