Forgive me if I sound like I’m beating the proverbial dead horse. But with all respect to Joseph Jaffe (social media maven par excellence and author of two terrific books — Life After the 30-Second Spot and Join the Conversation), I continue to struggle with the widespread assertion that the 30-second commercial has witnessed its heyday and will soon vanish from the face of the planet. Note that I’m not saying 30-second television commercial. The reason for the distinction will become clear.
I have written on an earlier blog post about how effectively this old format can tell a product or brand story in a remarkably efficient amount of time. What’s more, while I am as excited as anyone by the possibilities social media and web 2.0 tools create for brands and “consumers” to engage on a much more personal level, we live in an and/and communications world. Fact is, there are still times when people aren’t interested in a conversation (much less creating their own TV spot). Conversation takes time, which is one thing most people have very little of. If there’s a new, household product out there that is going to make my life easier, or if I’m in the market for a new mobile phone, then I’m not necessarily interested in a conversation. Right now, I may just want to get a quick overview of the product choices available to me. I want to hear what you have to offer — fast — and then get on with it. A one-way message is just fine.
It’s simply not true that people have a problem with 30-second commercials. They have a problem with bad commercials — ones that are unclear, convey no apparent benefit, or do so with an execution so tedious and irritating, they’d like to throw a brick through their TV screen. Even more so, they have a problem with commercials, good or bad, for products or services that are irrelevant to them, and that show up as uninvited and disturbing interruptions to their favorite shows.
The problem isn’t the commercial, the problem is the distribution system. Television networks are simply ineffective at delivering a specific message to the people for whom that message is relevant, and only to them.
Enter social media!
Marketers should think about online communities and networks as a new, superbly effective distribution system for their messages. I don’t mean they should push commercials into online social networks uninvited, but instead enable individuals online to discover commercials that are personally interesting and relevant to them. And then pass them along to others — friends, their communities, their blogging audience — for whom they think these will also be of interest.
A mom blogger who discovers a great new kids product will be connected to others who are in the same life situation, have similar needs and will also want to know about that product. If she has access to a commercial that she thinks gets the product story across, especially if it’s executed in an appealing way, she will naturally pass it on. All the more if she has tried and was happy with the product. What she won’t do is share that commercial with her online connections for whom she knows the story won’t be interesting. In this way the community becomes a self-regulating system that ensures the message spreads only to those people who will get value from it. How cool is that?
It doesn’t necessarily have to be the traditional 30-second spot, although when people suggest to others that they take a look at a product message, 30 seconds are relatively risk free. If, perchance, the story isn’t of interest, at least they only wasted 30 seconds of the their friends’ precious time.
So here’s something marketers ought to consider placing on the packaging of their next product launch, upgrade or line extension. “If you like our product, please go to http://www.brandx.com, upload our TV commercial, and share it with your friends online who you think would also be interested.” If the expression “TV commercial” seems too pre-web 2.0, then call it a 30-second video if that makes you feel more in sync with the age of “YouTube.”
It can’t hurt. And it just might get your message to spread across a network of thousands of interconnected, prospective buyers for whom it isn’t an intrusion, but a welcome source of news and information.