J.C. Penny Co. recently produced a four and a half minute video to sell jewelry over the holidays. It’s a great piece of advertising – funny, strategically-focused – quite a step out of the box for J.C Penny. If you haven’t already, take a look at it here.
I say if you haven’t already, because apparently it has been viewed over 1.4 million times on YouTube in the past four weeks. Now this piece of advertising was directed by an Emmy-winner director. Whether an Emmy means the director is talented or not is debatable. Whether it means that the director is expensive, is not.
In other words, a four and a half minute commercial, directed by an Emmy-winning director is not done for chump change. After all, the average :30 national TV spot costs in the neighborhood of $366,000 to produce (without an Emmy-winning director). Four and a half minutes will cost considerably more.
Due to its length alone, this piece of advertising was never designed to appear on broadcast or cable. So, the question becomes, what numbers did the agency use to sell this idea to J.C. Penny?
And, does J.C. Penny feel that 1.4 million views justifies the cost of production for four and half minutes? Did the agency say something along the lines of, “Listen, J.C. Penny, what you’ll save by not having to buy media will be put into production. That way we’ll be able to make the spot so entertaining that viewers will syndicate the commercial for us virally?
And, it seems that in this case, it worked. But how about next time? The current industry mindset is that the only way that we can justify the enormous cost of production is through the enormous number of people who will have the opportunity to see a commercial. We used to be able to semi-guarantee these viewership numbers through ratings. I know, not everybody watched the commercial, but high ratings certainly made clients feel better when it came time to sign those production dollar checks.
The ends justified the means.
But ratings are going south in a hurry, and so in this case, I'm guessing that J.C. Penny and their agency, Saatchi and Saatchi, worked out a different bargain. Transfer media dollars to pay for production. And then make the commercial so compelling that viewers will want to share it with others.
There have been a few other examples where this has worked well. BMW Films, a few years ago, was the first. Nike’s 2005 viral video of Ronaldinho, a Brazilian soccer star, has had more than 26 million views on YouTube. Unilever’s 2006 Dove “Evolution” video has received more than 10 million hits. And now, J.C. Penny’s piece of advertising called “Doghouse.”
Four examples in the last 6 years of creating viewership through great creativity. I know, numbers like this don't inspire much confidence that this may work on a more consistent basis. But my belief is that this is exactly what we need. The fact is, I would take it even one step further. Rather than basing the success of the commercial on the number of views, base success on the time spent with the piece of advertising.
The numbers weren’t not released in regards to how long those that started to watch the four and half minute J.C. Penny piece continued to watch the spot all the way through.
But my guess is that J.C. Penny has those numbers. Or, at least, their agency does. A view counts as a view whether 10 seconds were watched or, all four and a half minutes. Which makes “a view” a rather a relatively unimportant number.
After all, I would argue that a four and a half minute view is more valuable than a ten-second view.
J.C. Penny paid for four and a half minutes to be produced. No doubt, Saatchi and Saatchi thought four and a half minutes were necessary to tell the story properly. Otherwise, they would have made the story shorter. Perhaps Saatchi told J. C. Penny that, “Heck, since we’re not going to run in broadcast or cable, we’re not restricted to :30 or :60. We can make it as long as we want.”
And, that’s true. But there has to be some accountability somewhere.
After all, there is this element of production dollars. Four and a half minutes does cost more to create than thirty seconds. Viewer involvement and attention through those four and a half minutes is the responsibility of someone.
I would argue that that someone is Saatchi.
So, J.C. Penny, how did Saatchi do?
Did you get your money’s worth? Having seen the commercial, I’m going to bet that in this case, you did. You paid for four and a half minutes of viewer involvement and I’m guessing that you got most of that.
Whether it led to sales of jewelry or not, I don’t really know.
But what I do know is that J.C. Penny’s is four and a half minutes closer to people thinking better about their brand. And that four a half minutes of branding is better than thirty seconds of branding.
If you go to the extreme and say that all 1.4 million viewers watched all four and a half minutes, then what Saatchi delivered to J.C. Penny’s was 4,375 days of involvement with their brand. (270 seconds x 1.4 million viewers.)
And for that, J.C. Penny should pay Saatchi very well.
Yes, very well indeed.