Large advertisers faced with technology that allows TV viewers more control than ever over what they watch are turning to longer ads than the traditional 30-second and 60-second commercials to attract consumers' attention.
Longer-format ads started showing up in the last decade in response to cable channels, satellite TV and digital video recorders that give consumers more viewing options and the ability to skip commercials.
One 2-minute ad for consumer products giant Procter & Gamble Co. features women talking about the benefits they received from P&G's Olay Regenerist skin-care products. Consumers are urged to call a toll-free number to get a product coupon.
Advertisers want new ways to provide consumers with more information about why they need a product, said Anne Chambers, chief executive of the Cincinnati-based Red marketing firm which developed the ad and specializes in 2-minute TV commercials that ask viewers to respond directly. A Web site or phone number allows advertisers to track results.
"With the media exploding into tinier pieces and the realization that traditional advertising is not working as well, more marketers are scrambling to find out what does work," said Roland Rust, chairman of the marketing department at the University of Maryland. "Anybody just doing classic TV in 30-second spots is missing the boat."
Procter & Gamble Co., Ford Motor Co., Anheuser-Busch Inc., Home Depot Inc. and Sears and Roebuck Co. have all used the longer-format ads.
Some of those ads offer consumer testimonials about a product and provide consumers with a phone number or Web site -- similar to but more sophisticated than the lower-budget infomercials that have been around since the early days of TV.
"The way we are using TV is changing," Procter & Gamble spokeswoman Tami Jones said. "We are constantly trying to determine how and when consumers will be most receptive to our messages and what formats will be the most effective for engaging the group we want to reach."
No one is predicting the end of shorter, traditional ads.
"Anyone who thinks 30-second TV spots are dead is naive, but those relying only on traditional marketing are way behind," said Gary Stibel, a marketing executive who heads the New England Consulting Group in Westport, Conn.
Ford sponsored an episode of the television show "24" on the Fox cable channel last season, giving consumers 54 minutes without commercials but adding a 6-minute, adventure-themed ad broken up into two segments at the beginning and end of the show.
"What we tried to do was give viewers more of the show uninterrupted while integrating our product with the show's adventure theme," said Rich Stoddart, former marketing communication manager for Ford.
Josephine Etter, 61, of Cincinnati, says that very few commercials appeal to her.
"I might be more inclined to watch a longer one if it was just at the start and end of the program and if it told me something about a product that interests me," she said.
Sharon Kelm, a retired teacher in Cincinnati, remembers the Oil of Olay commercial and the Ford commercial. She said she went to the Oil of Olay Web site for a coupon, and thought the Ford commercial was entertaining.
"I did not get out and walk out of the room when those were on," she said. "I wouldn't watch even a 60-second commercial if it didn't attract my interest."
Stephen A. Greyser, a Harvard University consumer marketing professor, said advertisers going to longer-format ads are trying to find the best approaches to connect with potential customers.
"This has become particularly important in the past five to 10 years as more advertisers have realized that they no longer can get as full a bang for their buck from buying media by the ton," he said.
Since advertisers do not release financial details or results of their marketing plans, marketing experts say the success of the longer, nontraditional TV ad formats will be judged by whether advertisers stick with them.
"It's all about extending your company's brands or icons as far as possible, and using long-form, short-form or some other form of advertising that can reach increasingly diverse consumers," said Bob Lachky, vice president of brand management for Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis.
Lisa Cornwell, Boston Globe. February 4, 2005
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