Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Lie We All Buy

We have all been sold a lie, perpetuated by most everyone in the ad business. The lie is that people have to watch commercials to be able to keep getting free programming.

Many of you will say, “C’mon, that’s not a lie. People either have to watch ads or pay for the content. Everyone knows that.”

But, let’s examine.

Say you were watching TV last night in a non-DVR format. When the commercials came on, did you watch them all? Did you watch any? Or, did you surf over to another channel?

If you didn’t watch the ads that ran with the program that you were watching, did you say to yourself, “huh, better put some money aside to pay for that?”

Didn’t think so.

Which means somebody is lying to us.

The truth is that advertisers pay the networks whether you watch their ads or not. What they’re actually paying for you to watch is the program, not the ads. Program viewership is measurable on TV. Ad viewership is not. Sure, advertisers would like for you to hang around for the ads, but c’mon, who does that?

The networks know this. And yet, for some reason, the lie continues. Maybe they figure that if Washington can get away with tying together Iraq, terrorists and 9/11, heck, this should be easy.

ABC used the lie just recently defending why they made their pre-roll ads unskippable on VOD platforms “Everyone knows,” ABC said, “that if people don’t watch the ads then they’ll have to pay for the programming. So, viewers don’t mind that we made them unskippable.”

Is that so?

Three things, ABC. One, we do mind.

Two, the reason that you made the ads unskippable is because both you and the MSOs know that viewers do consistently skip pre-roll ads when given the option.

And three, which might be the most damaging point of all, on digital platforms, advertisers will be privy to this type of information. Which means they’ll know exactly how poorly their advertising is working.

It’s difficult to look at data that says that people aren’t watching your ads and still cough up the millions of dollars that networks are asking advertisers to pay to run those ads. Makes the old sphincter muscles tighten up just a wee bit, doesn’t it?

Networks didn’t have this problem on analog platforms. Oh, sure, everyone knew that most people weren’t watching the commercials. But advertisers never had the data to back it up. And because denial is such a wonderful thing, advertisers simply bought into the fantasy that program ratings and commercial ratings were one and the same.

Welcome to the Digital Age of Reality.

‘Course, can’t blame the networks really. It is survival mode time. Can’t afford to lose any more advertising dollars. Instead of admitting to what they know is the truth, better to disable the fast-forward button so that the truth can’t get out.

“Wow, look at that,” they can now say. “Eighty percent view rates.” Indeed.

Advertisers, in the past, have only paid for the chance to expose their messages to viewers, nothing more, nothing less. Even if the networks allow viewers to fast-forward through the commercials, that exposure opportunity still exists.

What’s more, allowing the viewers to do so would actually give the advertiser four data points that they aren’t getting now.

1. The acceptability of the message and format.
2. The quality of the creative
3. The receptivity of the audience
4. The level of engagement with the message

You would think that advertisers would be the ones to say to the networks, let viewers fast-forward if they want. After all, by doing so, they would be able to learn the truth about what is and isn’t working on digital platforms, make changes, and be more effective in the future.

But instead, we buy the lie.

Question.

Why?

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