In a world with Tivo and an ever-increasing amount of online programming, advertising agencies are struggling to find ways to get viewers to watch commercials. As more viewers actively avoid traditional ad breaks, companies are looking to stick ads anywhere they can (and I mean any-where).
They’ve already begun pushing the limits of sites like Hulu, gradually inserting more and more commercials before and during shows. YouTube even plays ads now before many of their featured videos. Pop culture websites – even classy, brilliant ones with talented writers, the best Lost recapper on the ’net and charming hobo mascots – are willing to whore themselves out for the right price. (Seriously, my artistic integrity is surprisingly affordable.)
Ad agencies hold brainstorming sessions and look to focus groups to find “outside of the box” solutions to consumer apathy. But they are overthinking things. I’ve figured out the answer (and I’ve watched every single episode of Mad Men, so I think I know what I’m talking about here). Grab a pen and paper, Madison Avenue, because I’m about to rock your world. It turns out the solution to your problem is actually quite simple …
Stop making shitty commercials.
Revolutionary, I know, but hear me out …
I was in a movie theater the other day with a group of friends. As we were waiting for Kick-Ass to start (which is a fun little comic book movie – I recommend it, Nick Cage and all), we were forced to watch a ridiculous number of advertisements before the previews even began. To help pass the time, my brother pulled out his iPhone to show me a YouTube video. Ironically, the video was a montage of Old Spice ads.
That’s right – to avoid watching the commercials being shown in the movie theater, we watched a bunch of different commercials. Just stop to think about that for a second. I’m someone who bitches anytime I watch a show live and have to sit through a ton of ad breaks, someone who practically has an aneurysm whenever Chuck turns into a hour-long Subway commercial, and yet there I was watching a series of ads for fun.
The ads, if you haven’t seen them, feature a shirtless, red biker shorts-clad Terry Crews promoting Old Spice Odor Blocker body wash in the most absurd ways possible. In one spot, he is sitting on top of a screaming tiger. In another, he talks about the body wash’s ability to block out the sun. They are all ridiculous and hilarious. (If you haven’t seen them, here is the video we were watching in the movie theater.)
These ads are definitely effective. They make it clear what the product is, hammer home the point that it offers “16 hours of odor blocking power” and manage to do it in a way that actually entertains. Often, commercials either soullessly pimp their product in a way that comes off as grating or they are so bizarre or outlandish that the actual product gets lost in the shuffle. A perfect example is Axe body spray. Old Spice is attempting to reach the same target demographic as Axe, but unlike Axe’s ads, which feature annoying zombie-esque nymphets and horrifying chocolate golems, Old Spice gets their message across in a genuinely enjoyable way. (And they have a history of doing this, dating back to their great Bruce Campbell “Hungry Like A Wolf” ads from a few years ago.)
It’s like anything else in life. Make something worth seeing and people will tune in. Make a good enough commercial and you won’t have to worry about Hulu or Tivo. People will seek out your ads. There have been plenty of times where I’ve been fast forwarding through a commercial break, only to stop halfway through to show someone else an ad I like (or to drool over that little minx Flo from the Progressive ads). YouTube is filled with user postings of TV commercials (and, at times, YouTube probably makes you sit through an inferior commercial to get to them).
If you don’t believe me that all it takes is a good commercial to overcome these new technological obstacles, I have two words for you – Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is the highest-rated program of the year and a large chunk of the audience tunes in just to watch the commercials. People discuss their favorite ones the next day at work. Websites post the ads online and people go on to rewatch them and to vote on their favorite ones. It’s Don Draper’s wet dream (well, his wet dream not involving a couple of stewardesses and that teacher from his kids’ school).
So get creative, people. I want to live in a world where I wouldn’t dream of hitting that fast forward button on my DVR. Make your ads so good that I’m sitting through shows wondering what will unfold when they hit a break. Make me dread bathroom breaks and trips to the refrigerator. Give me more screaming tigers, more double sun action and definitely more Flo. In fact, let’s see if we can get her in a pair of those red biker shorts. Now that’s progressive.
Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.