The Future of Advertising: Fewer, Different is More
I didn’t grow up with a TV, so I wasn’t trained from an early age to sit through ads. Now, when I watch the tube (and I’ve been doing a lot of that these days), I have an almost allergic reaction to ads. I once cornered an ABC executive at a wedding and chastised him for how they rolled out advertising on their online player. Why would you interrupt Ugly Betty three or four times per episode with the same Nasonex commercial? Why would you let an advertiser do this? It’s terrible for everyone. He responded with a shrug, and mumbled something about “working out the kinks.” I never watched online again.
So imagine my surprise when the Harvard Business Review posted a study saying that people "reported greater enjoyment when shows were interrupted by commercials." The lead researcher concluded that interruptions, not the ads themselves, lead to greater enjoyment. Bathroom break, anyone?
I'd like to suggest an alternate interpretation: The commercials have a "framing" effect. If someone is sponsoring media, it must be of higher value. My interpretation isn't based in science -- it's based on personal experience. There’s a subtle cue when movies go straight to On Demand – they aren’t worth the marketing effort. And they probably aren’t worth my time either. But a blockbuster that gets all the extra playtime? Now you’ve got my attention.
Fine, so commercials add perceived value. Is that going to get me to watch them? Not entirely. But networks are catching on, and reducing the pain-points that get in the way of this framing effect. For A-level shows On Demand, Comcast’s commercial breaks show only one ad at a time, and ads vary over the course of the show. The result? I've started watching the ads. It's actually more efficient to watch one 30 second interruption than to fast forward, miss the start of the show, and then rewind and end up watching most of the ad anyway. (In related news, Comcast has also adjusted the response of DVR controls so that the play head drops back a few seconds from where I pressed Play. Not good for advertisers, but great for my relationship with Comcast.)
Comcast is helping to reconcile a core disconnect between consumers, advertisers and cable providers. They are giving me incentive to watch the ads that pay for the shows I love. And in the process, they’re adapting advertising for a future with much better potential.