Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Price Of Persuasion

What does it cost to persuade someone?

Or, to put it another way, what does it cost to create a great commercial? Some will argue that the most we can hope for from a commercial these days is to create awareness. That persuasion is a talent that died out with the likes of Bernbach and Riney. But I think that’s giving short-shift to the talents of those in today’s most creative agencies.

Besides, in my opinion, the job of creating awareness really falls in the lap of media. After all, awareness is about how many. Persuasion, on the other hand, is all about how long. The reason being that commercials come with something called “view duration.”

There is a time element to a commercial.

In other words, commercials don’t just accrue eyeballs. Commercials also accrue time-spent. Or, not.

If someone watches just five seconds of a commercial, chances are they will be as equally aware of the product as if they watched all thirty seconds. But, by no means, as equally persuaded.

If awareness is the objective, five-second spots should suffice.

But with thirty seconds, or sixty seconds, or even longer, the objective is something beyond awareness.

A sale, perhaps?

Ultimately, yes. But most advertising serves as a guidepost on the road to a sale. Unless it’s a form of direct marketing, the advertising is usually not designed to be the end of the road itself.

I had one creative person, one of the two that I respect in the business, tell me that the purpose of each second in a commercial is to make the sure that viewers want to watch the next second.

After all, if a commercial has any chance of persuading anyone of anything, logic seems to indicate that it will more successful if more of it is watched rather than less.

So, back to the original question. What does it cost to persuade someone? First, we need to break persuasion into its component parts: Manufacturing and distribution.

While it seems anyone and everyone is talking about distribution costs, little is mentioned regarding the cost of manufacturing. True, people are talking about how digital technology is making it much cheaper to physically create thirty seconds of content.

But the physical cost of creating thirty seconds of content, and, actually creating persuasion, are two very different things.

As the viewing audience continues to fragment, or self-select what they want to watch, advertisers are hoping to reduce the physical cost of creating commercials for those smaller viewing audiences. It’s difficult to justify a $500,000 production budget for only 200,000 actual viewers.

But, at the same time, advertisers should not assume that the cost of creating persuasion comes down as well.

In fact, it could be argued that it should go up.

You see, persuasion is an opportunity cost. Viewers today can self-select the product and brand, and therefore the commercials, that they’re interested in.

So when someone clicks in to watch your commercial, the opportunity to convince them to head further down the road to purchase is enormous. After all, they wouldn’t have clicked in if they were initially interested.

In other words, it is their intent that is moving the process forward, rather than the advertiser’s.

Important? You bet.

How do advertisers know if their commercials are actually persuading anyone? They don’t, really. All they know is that the odds increase as more of the spot is watched.

And, perhaps that is where advertisers should start. By rewarding their agencies based on how well they create viewer time-spent with the commercial.

Ultimately, the agency will be sacked if sales don’t increase. And, rightly so. But that’s a long-term adjustment.

Short-term, digital view-duration data allows advertisers to reward those agencies that seem to be better at taking advantage of the opportunity presented to them.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that just because a commercial is watched, sales will increase.

But, I would say, a watched commercial certainly improve the odds over a commercial that isn’t watched.

Wouldn’t you?

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