The Unskippables

Before 1980, the only way to skip an advertisement was to surf other channels. The VCR was the first device that allowed for fast-forwarding through the advertisements, provided you could stop the clock from flashing 12:00 am. And then DVRs took the art of ad-skipping to a whole new level.

Now with an excess of technology and streaming options, advertisers need to be more innovative than ever if they want to get their commercial viewed. It appears that advertisers can no longer rely solely on a traditional commercial break to guarantee their message will be heard. Product placement, commercial tie-ins and innovative new methods will rise above the clutter and disable the fast-forward button. Here are some networks and advertisers, including Fox, NBC, State Farm and Lowe’s, are finding ways to creatively address the issue.

Fox took a bold step in late 2017 with six-second commercials aired primarily during NFL games and the World Series. Fox integrated them into the broadcast when there was a break in the action. For example, this six-second spot for T-Mobile ran in a split screen during game 5 of the World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros. Fox took the split screen even further with 30-second spots for brands such as Lowe’s, which aired during NFL games.



There were also some interesting collaborations between networks and advertisers. During ABC’s “Designated Survivor” episode “Lazarus,” a Ford Fusion is started remotely with a smartphone app by one of the characters, who is seen approaching the car after it has been started.

Another consistent pairing of program and advertiser occurs on the Fox drama “Lethal Weapon.” Two of the supporting actors in the series, Michelle Mitchenor and Johnathan Fernandez, appear in character in a Microsoft Surface spot that typically airs in the first pod position of the program break. The “Fools Rush In” spot has the look and feel of the program. Rather than product placement, such as Coca-Cola glasses on the “American Idol” judges’ table, this might be referred to as commercial placement.

Meanwhile, State Farm, a consistent advertiser in NBC’s “This Is Us,” will produce a series of three branded video pieces that will tell the story of a family through flashbacks and flash-forwards with the look and feel of the show, followed by a State Farm advertisement.

The logical question that follows is, how successful are these various advertising approaches? New technologies now allow for second-by-second Smart TV viewing data, which means advertisers can get almost instantaneous (within two-hours after airing) results on commercial retention. The six-second commercials and Ford Fusion approach do not offer the viewer much of an opportunity for fast-forwarding, but Microsoft Surface and State Farm can determine if their commercial retention improves compared to other advertisers in the program.

This is the future of advertising. Television advertisers will continue to innovate and replicate successful advertising methods that eliminate (or at least minimize) fast-forward and guarantee viewing. It is no easy task as viewing options expand at a breathtaking rate. But if even a small slice of consumers in the 1980s managed to stop the 12:00 am from flashing on their VCR, anything is possible.

2 comments about "The Unskippables".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, February 22, 2018 at 9:34 a.m.

    Of course some advertisers will continue to innovate and seek to get their TV commercials "seen" beyond the confines of the standard break. But this is hardly a new development. Remember the sponsored shows of the 1950s when the stars routinely mentioned the brand's name and endoresed the product ---not only in "cast-commercials" but as part of the program content. Arthur Godfrey was a master of this but there were many others. And then there was the practise of plastering the sets of many game shows as well as other genres with posters and signs touting the sponsor's brand. I could go on and on, however these departures from the norm only continued so long as they proved to be  cost effective and advertisers controlled much of TV program content. "New" twists, such as 6-second commercials, "product placement" deals, etc. will have to pass a similar test. As for the value of commercial breaks, it was always evident from the early Burke ad recall studies in the late  1950s and many other indicators that being in a commercial break was no guarantee that your ad message would be seen or that viewers would buy what it was selling. We document this point in "TV Dimensions 2018" with some recent research on viewer attentiveness. 

    Yes, the ability of a given commercial to break through the ad clutter is certainly in question today when a typical  break contains five to ten times as many separate ad/promotional messages as was the case in the 1950s. No one can question that. Still, it is not true---as some keep saying---that nobody watches commercial breaks. That's merely wishful thinking by the "TV is dead" crowd.

  2. CJ McCabe from C-Mac, February 22, 2018 at 2:32 p.m.

    Reminded me of something that I saw in the 80s on the TV series "Max Headroom".

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