It may take longer to read this sentence than to watch one of Honda's recent mini-commercials.
In just five seconds, the TV ad shows features of its new Fit hatchback, followed by a computer-type voice saying: "The Fit is Go."
Honda's TV tidbit, along with a five-second AOL commercial earlier this year, are examples of one concept marketers are trying to get more bang for the ad dollar in a crowded, on-demand media environment. Done a few times in the past as mainly a stunt, mini-ads placed at the end of commercial breaks are now being tried as a strategic tool against ad-zapping on digital video recorders (DVRs). They take advantage of the fact that when a user stops fast-forwarding on many DVRs, the machine backs up a few seconds to compensate for the user's reaction time.
"As you're getting right back to the show's content, (the DVR) does that little jump-back feature which grabs you a few seconds back into the commercial," says Tim Spengler, national broadcast director for Initiative Media, which came up with the AOL ads to run at the end of commercial breaks. "That's fertile ground for advertisers because it's TiVo-proof."
TiVos and other DVRs are a growing issue for marketers. At the end of 2005, 12.2% of U.S. households had DVRs, Forrester Research says. By the end of 2010, that's expected to be 50.5%.
"We're always looking for things that will be TiVo-proof," says Brett Bender, management supervisor at Honda ad agency RPA. "You obviously can't communicate as much as you can in a 30-second ad, but your dollars get extended."
Even on radio, where TiVo is not a factor, short ads are showing up: Clear Channel Radio is running five-second ads, called adlets, for products including Afrin nasal spray. The nation's largest radio company even has created sample one-second ads, called blinks, to offer to marketers.
Consumers "are bombarded with messages on a daily basis ... (so) we were looking for ways to use our medium that were fresh and of interest," says Jim Cook, head of Clear Channel's creative group. "Shorter lengths are the way so many things are being consumed today in an overcommunicated world."
Clear Channel created a one-second McDonald's ad with its "I'm Lovin' It" jingle and a Mini Cooper ad with a honk and a voice that says, "Mini." McDonald's and BMW did not create the samples, which haven't aired. And Cook insists the company won't overwhelm listeners with wee ads. "We have limits on how many and how often any of these shorter ads will appear."
The few earlier pint-sized plugs have been mainly PR ploys. A one-second TV ad was aired by Master Lock in 1998: a tiny version of its "Tough Under Fire" ads showing a lock surviving a gunshot. It needed little introduction: Similar, regular ads had run since the 1970s.
Early last year, Cadillac ran five-second ads as a stunt to demonstrate how fast its cars could accelerate to 60 mph.
Also last year, Antwerp ad agency Duval Guillaume launched a one-second ad in Belgium showing a woman putting a One Second breath freshener in her mouth, followed by a whisper: "One Second." The ad ran once in every ad break on Belgian TV for a day — more than 500 airings.
So far, cable networks have been more accepting of mini-ads, but revenue-hungry broadcast networks are taking a look. Fox agreed to an "experimental" test run for the five-second AOL ads — as long as AOL also bought a 30-second ad in the same commercial break, Fox spokesman Scott Grogin says.
Ad buyers such as John Moore, group media director of MediaHub at Mullen, says to expect more combining of short ads with long ones. "You have to (use short ads) in a way that reinforces the brand benefit. You can't use them just for the sake of using them. ... They could never stand on their own."
Some ad critics think they just add to what they see as an already too-cluttered ad environment.
"People have TiVos because they're fed up with ads," says Gary Ruskin, head of watchdog group Commercial Alert. "These mini-ads are just going to make people more annoyed and drive more people away."
Short ads, he says, are "part of how the advertising industry is its own worst enemy. They can't seem to show respect for consumers."
Laura Petrecca, USA Today. July 6, 2006
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