Thursday, October 25, 2007

How Long Should A Commercial Be?

I find this to be an interesting question in lieu of emerging digital platforms.

It's not a question advertisers have to worry much about on linear platforms. On linear platforms, commercial length is set. The choice is pretty much fifteen, thirty or sixty seconds.

But on digital platforms, it's a different story. Oh, we know that intrusive commercials——pre-roll and in-stream——will stay short and only get shorter as advertisers continue to mistakenly believe that if they intrude for less time, perhaps viewers won't think that they are intruding at all.

Fifteen-second spots are already becoming fives. And five-second spots are becoming one-second spots. (I'm sure that you share my fascination in seeing where it goes from here.)

But it's on the non-intrusive side of the digital platform where it's starting to become really interesting. The side where viewers can opt-in to advertising about products and/or brands they are curious about. As well as leave when they want.

On this side of the platform, where length is not mandated by schedule, how long should a commercial be?

I've been asking this question to a lot of people recently and the answer I get the most often is, "As long as it takes."

Perfectly good answer. But, of course, it then requires me to ask another question. As long as it takes to do what?

It seems to me that the only right answer here is, as long as it takes to achieve the objective of the commercial. And it seems to me the only people that can tell us how long that needs to be, are the people at the ad agency that will be creating the commercial.

Let's say the objective of the commercial is to convince BMW owners that Mercedes is a safer car. Well, Mr. Agency, how long will it take to do that? Not how long will it take for your agency to work on it to accomplish this, but rather, how long will you need to communicate with a consumer to convince them of such?

I can only imagine that most agencies will find this to be a rather awkward question to answer. After all, they've never had to do it before.

What's worse, they can have as long as they want to get the job done. They will just need to decide and tell the client how long that is.

Now let's say, in this case, the agency said that they would need two minutes and seventeen seconds to convince BMW owners that Mercedes is a safer car.


The agency goes and produces a two-minute and seventeen-second spot and the advertiser runs it on a digital platform where viewers can opt-in to watch.

The data comes back saying that of the viewers that clicked-in to watch, average viewing time was seventeen seconds.

What does this tell us?

Well, one could argue that it tells us that the objective of the commercial wasn't achieved. After all, didn't the agency say that it would take two minutes and seventeen seconds to achieve the objective? If they could have achieved it in seventeen seconds flat, then they should have done a seventeen-second commercial.

It certainly would have saved the advertiser some production dollars to produce a shorter commercial. And let's not forget, the agency was allowed to have as much or as little time as they thought they needed. The final decision was theirs.

Should the advertiser hold the agency accountable for delivering or not delivering the objective? You would think that they would want to, wouldn't you?

Can they?

Well, that's how Viewer Time Spent Compensation works.

By paying for content creation based on the amount of time the viewer spends with the commercial, the advertiser can hold their creative agency accountable for achieving the objective of the commercial.

Or not.

If viewer time spent averaged only seventeen seconds, the agency would lose money on the job. Which only seems fair.

But if the agency crafted a spot that engaged and involved viewers for most, if not all, of the spot, then they would end up making more then they would have if paid on an standard hourly-fee basis.

And worth every penny.

Imagine your an advertiser. And a viewer has just opted-in to watch something about your product or brand of their own volition. It doesn't take a large leap of faith to imagine that the longer that this viewer is involved with your brand messaging, the more impact your brand will have on this viewer.

If for no other reason than this viewer is there of his or her own volition.

Viewer Time Spent Compensation allows an agency to be paid based on their creative ability. A handful of agencies will like this a lot. After all, they'll see it as a way of allowing good work, i.e. involving/engaging work, to be worth more than bad work.

Less creative agencies will find fault with the idea.

At least, initially.

Because down the road, as agencies start to divide up between those who believe in their creative ability and those who don't, advertisers will be able choose the type of agency they want to work with.

And how they want to pay.

If I was a betting man, I think I know on what side I'd put my money.

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