Docu-mercials Are The Next New Thing, Reshaping TV Ads

Documentary films are enjoying unprecedented popularity. Credit a new breed of documentary makers for picking juicier subjects.

They are taking advantage of Netfilx and other streaming platforms and making their films look and feel decidedly more cinematic.

But there is more to this phenomenon than good directors and an abundance of channels. There is an emotional insight helping to drive this evolution. We are confused and insecure about our lives and starved for truth. Authentic, fact-based entertainment is helping us fill the void.

And the smart brands are watching.

Many have already reevaluated the tonality and execution of their communications and are putting greater emphasis on longer form web content that tells real stories about real users. But more broadcast advertisers are also taking cues from documentaries.

The executions are a fresh take on testimonials. But instead of people just speaking into a camera, their stories are enhanced by beautifully shot environments, ambient sound and great music, all skillfully edited for maximum emotional impact.



Let’s call them docu-mercials.

A couple of great examples:  Verizon has edited some of its impressive “humanability” internet videos down to sixty second TV spots. Similarly,  Prudential is telling some terrific real people stories in their on-going retirement planning campaign.

People have brands they like, follow and respect.

What they don’t like, unfollow and don’t respect is the annoyance and distrust of traditional broadcast advertising. There is an abundance of great storytelling by brands on the internet. It’s time to bring more of it to TV.

4 comments about "Docu-mercials Are The Next New Thing, Reshaping TV Ads".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, October 19, 2018 at 1:14 p.m.

    So, Jeff, you believe that 60-second units should be seen far more often on TV so advertisers have time to "tell their stories", yet just about everyone else is claiming that attention spans have shrunk to the point here 6-second spots are the only hope for getting the audiences' attention. Interesting, but I doubt that either extreme is likely to catch on and revitalize TV since, as we are constantly told, every viewer hates ads, immediately turns to their smartphones ---or dashes to the bathroom---whenever a commercial break appears and, worse, distrusts all ads, anyway. And then there's the question of cost as 60-second commercials will cost twice the time charges of "30s". Will the longer ads be twice as effective?  Questions, questions....

  2. Arry Tanusondjaja from Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science, October 19, 2018 at 1:54 p.m.


    Those in the industry are not the typical viewers and consumers out there. We're weird. Whilst we enjoy good storylines, beautifully shot and executed creatives, yadda, yadda, yadda and we'll watch the "docu-mercials" from the first second until the credits roll out, the typical viewers out there are busy enjoying life - cooking, chatting, playing with their pets, having dinner, fiddling with their phone - while the TV is on. Besides, 6os assumes that viewers will care and pay attention to the ad (and that companies are willing to fork out the extra cost).

    Apart from good creatives, companies need to make sure that viewers can recognise the brand and link the ad to the brand - otherwise, they may well be in the documentary/entertainment industry. 

  3. Jeff Millman from gkv replied, October 23, 2018 at 4:30 p.m.

    Hey Ed, thanks for the comment. I think you're basically agreeing with my conclusion that traditional broadcast advertising is mostly unappealing. As for the cost/benefit of :60's, there are, of course, may ways to measure effectiveness. Our view at GKV is to not use yesterday's kpi's to determine the value of today's  thinking. Will a :60 be twice as effective as a :30? It depends on the communications objective. For Verizon and Prudential, the broadcast spots are straight up brand efforts. As such, they're home runs. 

  4. Jeff Millman from gkv replied, October 23, 2018 at 5 p.m.

    Hey Arry, thanks for the comment. You're basically saying there's no hope for us or for the viewing audience. Say it ain't so! Me, I think we can do better to connect emotionally with our TV audiences. I think we can do better than a good brand linkage score. Call me crazy, but I think TV--and with it, TV advertising--has not yet been completely and pitifully reduced to background noise. People still use their eyes and ears. They can still be inspired by something they see on TV. I know I'm going to keep at it!

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