The TV Commercial is Dead


The traditional 30-second storytelling video model is dead. ReFUEL4 CMO Vernon Vasu’s outlines how social video ads are different, and what goes into developing them successfully


Or rather, has the traditional model for creative development bit the dust?

The sublime Dead Parrot sceneOpens a new window from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which has John Cleese repeatedly state the obvious to a deliberately obtuse Michael Palin, never fails to reduce me to tears.

Through more than five minutes of excruciatingly funny caricature (supposedly based on a real salesperson Palin had met), Palin’s character attempts to, quite successfully, deflect every argument that Cleese’s character throws at him that the parrot he had recently bought from Palin had died. Palin never flinches, even when Cleese started to thump the shop counter with the dead parrot. Hilarious!

For some reason, I always think of that scene when thinking of TV commercials. There is always some exaggeration about the state of the commercial model for interruptive ads. Indeed, the industry itself doesn’t seem to be pulling any punches with calling time on its own model. Joe Marchese of the Fox Networks Group was recently reported by the New York TimesOpens a new window saying that ‘The social contract is broken with the consumer — they don’t want to watch the ads’.

It is not for me to judge the commercial model of TV. I think all the networks are moving as quickly as they can to address the ad dollar migration to digital, by innovating content.

Singing with the Choir Invisible

My point is different – I think the traditional 30 seconder storytelling is as dead as John Cleese’s parrot. And as frustrated as advertisers are, the gatekeepers (marketing teams, creative agencies and production houses) are sticking to their game plan as obstinately as Michael Palin’s character.

We have noted beforeOpens a new window that Facebook’s newsfeed is a crucible that separates performing ads from the non-performing ones, quickly and efficiently.

Any video that is made for TV will not work in the newsfeed. There are no ifs, ands or buts. Autoplay, silent play, a view time of less than 3 seconds are only three of the factors that force advertisers to rethink how to tell stories with video. 

And yet, evidence seems to present the contrary. The classic challenge-solution-reveal format is a holdover from the TV era that will not die the death it needs to.

Look on the Bright Side

But here’s the thing – the made-for-TV ad is a great resource to work from, as long as you are clear who you want to address and what you want to push them to.

The Pillars for Developing Video Ads

1. Start strong

It’s a crowded place, the newsfeed. Make your brand known and relevant up front. There is no place for the coy brand reveal 25 seconds in. That is 22 seconds too late! Pushing your brand up front opens a window of opportunity for relevancy.

2. Keep it short

Even if you establish relevance in the first three seconds, the window can slam shut if you take too long to make your pitch. Remember the broad audience is generally younger and that most video is watched on the move.

3. Make your point clearly

A smoothly integrated call-to-action will improve ad performance. Be clear what you want the viewer to do – click to view, download a coupon etc.

4. There is no perfect ad

Sorry, but that’s the truth. Loads of marketers are still trapped into TV-thinking, which is to test in production, then go live with a final version. This doesn’t have to be the case, don’t just take the final version, use whatever footage you have and A/B test all you can – different titles, starts, middles and CTAs. You will be surprised by what you discover and what actually works!

5. Shoot with the (mobile) newsfeed in mind

When commissioning videos, bear the above points in mind. Everything is smaller on mobile, so do not be too subtle – zoom in as much as possible!  Anticipate the need for different CTAs, and supporting scenes. Set aside production budget to create different versions. Be prepared to test and, if possible, make mid-campaign changes with the data you have garnered.