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Gone in 30 seconds... do TV ads still work?

According to a recent Newsweek article, changing technology and viewing habits are replacing the old TV spot with longer (and shorter) ad forms. The 30 second TV commercial is under siege in the United States, the heart of TV-land. Prime time ratings are down and viewers are increasingly inattentive when they do watch. A similar pattern is emerging in South Africa.

In the South African market we have seen a steady decline in television advertising noting scores, and in my experience, two factors are driving this. Busy lifestyles have caused TV viewers to be far less attentive than they used to be and there are many more entertainment choices. Secondly, television stations are stretching the viewer's attention levels by accommodating more commercial breaks and running too many ads in each break.

Video On Demand (VOD), which has been around in several countries for at least five years, will no doubt impact on advertising when it reaches South Africa. The VOD theory is sound, since it recognises individuality and allows for customised viewing. The challenge from a communication perspective, is to understand the viewing needs or preferences more acutely than merely when they have access to television.

With viewing resistance to advertising, marketers are looking to alternative communications, such as product placements, raising international concern that this will split future media investment. Yes, the line between traditional and non-traditional communication has all but disappeared, but in terms of predicting the future split in the local market, I think we need to look at the change as being evolutional, rather than a divider.

Marketers are quietly investing in soap operas and sitcoms. But they must be careful that their product or brand is not forced onto consumers, who are more media literate these days and very sceptical of overt commercial activity. An association that works really well is Namibia Breweries and Egoli. There is a wide variety of South African beer brands on display, which adds credibility, but the characters are all seen drinking Namibia Breweries brands, each one specifically matched to the individual acting personalities. It's subtle but believable and therefore effective.

The 30-second ad is not yet dead, but we do need to be mindful of the non-traditional options.

Editorial contact

Owlhurst Communications on behalf of Starcom

About Gordon Patterson

Gordon Patterson is Managing Director of media specialist agency, Starcom.

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