So Long to the 30-Second Ad

What is the optimal length of a commercial? Until relatively recently, most advertisers would have answered 30 seconds. Much has changed in the last few years, however, and sooner rather than later, 30 seconds will cease to be the norm. Internet advertising, more than any other factor, is increasing the length of commercials, resulting in more two-minute spots than ever before.

If you watched the 2012 Super Bowl, you were probably aware of the numerous one-minute spots for advertisers like Chrysler, Pepsi and others. In fact, in the last four Super Bowls, at least 10 commercials of one minute or longer have run, a substantial increase over previous years.

Some pundits maintain that advertisers are opting for longer spots in order to make a bigger impact and separate themselves from the pack in a high-profile viewing event. No doubt, this observation is true, but it fails to recognize all the other reasons that commercials are becoming longer. Specifically, let’s look at three internet advertising-related reasons:

The ability of commercials to drive viewers to websites.

The majority of spots now include a website address, and in many instances, the spot is designed specifically to create website clicks for specific offers or other purposes. As those of us in the DRTV (Direct Response Television) advertising business know, longer-length spots usually produce the best results when a response is requested. The additional length provides the time to go into detail about a website’s features and benefits, providing the motivation necessary for viewers to click on the site. The length is also essential to focus viewers’ attention on the website address. Not only must it be on the screen for a significant amount of time, but the presenter or voice-over narrator must call attention to it. We’ve found that for most advertisers, the spots that create the most website traffic are two minutes in length.

The need for internet advertisers to find fresh leads and customers.

We’re hearing growing complaints from internet advertisers that they’ve reached a saturation point when it comes to leads and customers, that they can only buy so many keywords and work with so many lead aggregators before they reach a point of diminishing returns. Consequently, they realize they can only grow their business by advertising offline. Using television direct response advertising on broadcast and cable stations, they generate leads for their sites cost-effectively. Essentially, these spots eliminate the middleman and reach their audience directly. And of course, they reach a fresh market that spends more time with traditional media than online media. The increased specialization of cable stations allows them to target stations and shows that are ideal for their demographic.

The internet’s acculturation of website visitors to longer-length spots.

Most sites have no restrictions on the length of the spots they air. They also recognize that unlike television, their medium attracts many visitors with a vested interest in their products, services and subjects. Therefore, they know that they have greater license to air longer spots without fearof boring their visitors. Over time, many people have become accustomed to watching longer commercials. Rather than being an anomalous experience, it is becoming the new norm. As a result, it’s no longer “daring” to air a longer commercial on television. While in the past some viewers may have noticed the longer length and been put off by it, today people accept a variety of commercial lengths beyond the traditional 30 seconds — viewers count commercials; they don’t time them.

Finally, be aware that longer-length commercials are turning up everywhere. They’re not just airing during special events like the Super Bowl or in the wee hours of the morning during a sitcom rerun. You’ll find two-minute DRTV commercials running all hours of the day and night as well as on weekends. Just as significantly, almost all of them contain website addresses, and in many instances, the address is a specific site created to pair with the direct response commercial.

In fact, the case can be made that the future of television advertising is a direct response one, that in a matter of five or 10 years, few commercials will air without a response vehicle in them such as a URL or toll-free number. When this future comes to pass, two minutes will be the norm, because as internet and direct response advertisers have learned, longer is better.

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