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As 30-Second Spot Fades, What Advertisers Will Do Next

It finally sank in on Madison Avenue in 2005 that the 30-second commercial is fading as a means of hawking products and services. Ad executives will be busy in 2006 trying to figure out what to put in its place.

Good luck to them: Audiences are splintering off in dozens of directions, watching TV shows on iPods, watching movies on videogame players and listening to radio on the Internet. All these activities cut out the usual forms of sponsorship and take place when and where consumers -- not media executives -- choose.

The upshot is that any advertiser with an urgent message needs to start planning now to reach consumers in new and unexpected ways. Some already have. Here are some of the strategies more advertisers will be trying in the coming year:

Everyday Encounters: Why limit commercials to TV, radio and billboards? Ad space can be found in many other forms of real estate. For example, the Nokia Theatre, which opened in New York City's Times Square last year, was filled with opportunities to build advertising into the concert venue's structure. Heineken NV sponsors three bars in the theater, with the brewer's bottle and red-star insignia incorporated into the watering holes' design. And as technology makes it easier to track shoppers inside stores, advertisers will be there, too, sending more promotional messages and monitoring the response.

Smaller Screens: Mobile devices such as cellphones and video iPods are fast emerging as new ad vehicles. DaimlerChrylser AG's Jeep is running ads on MobiTV, which provides programming from MSNBC, ESPN and Fox Sports to Sprint and Cingular Wireless cellphone subscribers. Jeep has its own MobiTV channel running short films about a fictional family, the Mudds, who drive a Jeep Commander. "We had a number of advertisers call and say they would like to put ads on MobiTV," says Dave Whetstone, the company's chief marketing officer. Among those planning to do so, he adds, is Unilever, for its young men's deodorant, Axe.

Selling Showbiz: Advertisers seeking to market new TV shows, movies and songs are exploring other media. Walt Disney Co.'s ABC network bought newspaper ads in the form of political cartoons for "Commander in Chief," its TV series about a female president. E.W. Scripps Co.'s HGTV cable channel made a "teaser" episode for its new home-oriented program, "My First Place," available on the Web to spark interest.

Meanwhile, advertisers continue to link new music and hit songs with their ads. "I've been on a quest," says Josh Rabinowitz, director of music at WPP Group's Grey Worldwide agency, to "make a hit record" out of a song that appears first in a commercial. Music sales could be a new source of much-needed revenue for agencies.

Spreading the Word: Marketers have become obsessed with finding ordinary people to endorse, criticize or simply spread the word about new movies and new products on blogs or other consumer-created media. When the teen stars of the latest "Harry Potter" movie met with reporters in London last year, the press contingent included Matthew Vines, a 15-year old high-school student from Wichita, Kan., who wrote an account of the event for his Web site, www.veritaserum.com (named for the truth potion in the Harry Potter series). A few weeks later, Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Brothers invited Mr. Vines to the movie's New York premiere. (He paid for the trip himself.)

But advertisers accustomed to wet kisses and positive hype may not be prepared for the unvarnished opinions and uncensored gripes of the same people they want to attract.

Buy the Whole Thing: Going well beyond buying a single TV spot or ad page in a magazine, advertisers want ideas that bind their messages inextricably with the media outlets they choose. Last year, Philips Electronics NV bought up all the network ad time in an airing of "60 Minutes"; American Express Co. did the same in an episode of "The West Wing." Target Corp., meanwhile, bought up all the ad space in an issue of the New Yorker and filled it with commissioned art work featuring its red bull's-eye logo.

"Texaco Star Theater," from TV's early days, doesn't seem quite so quaint anymore: PepsiCo Inc. last year financed the snowboarding film "First Descent," hoping to curry favor with young, male extreme-sports fans. Attractive as such deals are, however, they are delicate, too, requiring a lot of money and patience to put together.


Brian Steinberg and Suzanne Vranica, The Wall Street Journal. January 3, 2006

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