Now, who knows? Certainly, the broadcast upfront throws that into question with networks reporting record volume gains and impressive CPM jumps.
But back during those ancient times when advertisers were looking for ways to break through the clutter and grab viewers' attention in newfangled ways, Garmin approached the networks for help.
"We challenged all the networks to come up with something unique," a spokesman for the navigation device marketer told the Kansas City Star. NBC proposed a "live commercial" on "The Tonight Show" and "we heard it and we said 'sold.'"
It was easy to see why when it ran on June 12: From host Jay Leno's lead-in to the laugh track, it just felt like part of the show--content, not commercial.
On the show, Leno plugged the spoof for the in-car GPS and then turned it over to announcer John Melendez, who appeared with a spokesmodel from "Deal or No Deal." Dressed in a white coat, Melendez then spoke about an affliction known as "Direction Disorder."
It's "a condition that affects many men, a condition that strikes a blow at the very source of a man's pride," he says. "They're often too embarrassed to ask for help."
Behind him was a screen with shots of a man lost and in desperate need of help. In that vein, the script seemed to be inspired by the many Viagra spots over the years, certainly the decade-long onslaught of ads for prescription drugs. "Direction disorder" can "leave a man feeling lost, frustrated and confused, not knowing where to turn--but now there's a cure," Melendez says.
He then plugs the Garmin nuvi and the spokesmodel holds it up, "Price is Right"-style (one of the top-ranked product placements of the week, according to measurement firm iTVX.) At several points, the laugh track kicked in and the tone and tenor of Melendez's delivery smacked of the usual "Tonight Show" spoofs.
For Garmin, the tactic also had many side benefits, including coverage in The Wall Street Journal and Leno touting the live commercial in the days leading up to it. At one point, he told Melendez: "If you screw up and we lose this account, you're in big trouble." "The Tonight Show" is taped, so Melendez may have had a few takes, but he nailed it.
After the gig, the show then cut to a more traditional Garmin commercial.
As Leno turned to the camera to introduce the spoof, he said it was "The Tonight Show"'s first live commercial since 1993. "It worked so well back then, we waited 14 years to do it again." It won't take another 14 for NBC to find another willing spender. Even if advertisers are still content with the traditional :30.