Longer TV Spots May Be Better

 Why do we cling to the 30-second television commercial norm? 

While some advertisers are using 15-second spots and others are creating 30-minute long-form/infomercials, the vast majority of advertisers continue to use the traditional-length commercial with inexplicable determination. 

It’s inexplicable because 30 seconds no longer provides advertisers with sufficient time to achieve their objectives.  More specifically, here are three factors that are making longer-length commercials necessary:

  • The need to include more “response” information in a spot.  The line between direct-response commercials and general advertising has blurred.  Many commercials these days include Web site addresses, as well as social media-related and mobile information. There’s been a rise in two-step offers in which the point of the commercial is to drive viewers to click on sites, participate in social communities or use apps.  It takes more time to motivate a response than it does to create awareness, and the former is becoming a goal for more advertisers.
  • The growing complexity of offers. For instance, we’ve seen a significant rise in recent years of pharmaceutical, insurance and financial services commercials.  Direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical spots for products that relieve anxiety, increase libido and facilitate sleep require a significant amount of information.  They must include warnings about potential side effects and explain what the product does and clinical proof that it’s effective.  Similarly, insurance and investment offers also have to reserve time for full disclosure, as well as communicate the specifics of what can be complicated products.
  • The increasing inventory of longer commercial availabilities.  The proliferation of cable channels has created a growing pool of one-minute, 90-second and two-minute commercial slots.  While the big three networks still provide a limited number of non-30 second availabilities—especially during prime time—cable stations tend to be much more open to commercials of varying lengths. Plus, the explosion of specialized cable stations means that advertisers can target more effectively using longer-length spots; they know that they will reach an audience that has an inherent interest in the product or service they’re selling, and that viewers will be that much more inclined to sit through a longer spot.



Given these factors, why haven’t more advertisers embraced one and two-minute commercials? Part of the problem is the misconception that viewers will be annoyed by the additional seconds; that their tolerance for commercials ends at 30 seconds.  As any television direct-response professional knows, this is nonsense. Response rates are better with longer-length commercials than shorter ones. People are intolerant of bad advertising, not long advertising.          

Part of the problem, too, is the misguided belief that shorter is better. According to a recent Nielsen report, the number of 15-second spots increased by 80% from 2008 to 2012. Last year, Dunkin Donuts ran 5-second spots on ESPN’s pre-Super Bowl show.  No doubt, companies attempting to reach the allegedly shorter-attention span millennials believe this is an effective strategy.

Maybe it is, at least for certain advertisers in certain situations.  I’m not suggesting that all spots should be longer. I am proposing that longer options should be considered through testing. Try different lengths in increments of 30 seconds and use analytics to determine what works best.  Sometimes, a mix of different lengths is optimal, depending on stations and markets; sometimes, one particular increment is far superior to the others. 

If you need further motivation, take a look at some 30-second spots currently airing.  Some of them are so jammed full of URLs, special offers and product information that it’s difficult to imagine how anyone is absorbing much of the message—or responding in the way that advertisers want.

It’s time for advertisers to regain their confidence in what they have to say and sell. If the spot is solid creatively and the media buy is on target, viewers will be more than willing to spend a little extra time watching—and perhaps a lot more money buying.


1 comment about "Longer TV Spots May Be Better".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 17, 2014 at 8:38 a.m.

    From a branding-only viewpoint, you are going to have to demonstrate that paying double the time cost for a 60-second commercial placement over a "30" generates more than double the impact. The same is true for even longer commercials. If an advertiser really needs 90-seconds to tell a story, will the effects of such a message be better than triple those of a "30"? We should also remember that ad campaigns, including those with interactive features, build awareness and momentum over the course of many exposures over time, not just a single commercial viewing. As they see the advertiser's ads in repeated doses, consumers who are receptive to the sales pitch fill in details that may not stand out in a single airing. The result is an evolving cumulative effect, that generates the desired results----until wear out takes place and it's time for a new campaign. The direct response approach is different. Often, the objective is to tell as full a story as is possible---and affordable----in the hope of garnering a sufficient level of response to justify the effort each time the ad runs----hence the use of longer commercials. In my opinion, it's a mistake to forget this distinction and expect advertisers to make every commercial perform a dual purpose ---inducing both branding and direct response. That may not be the most cost effective way to go for many ad campaigns.

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