Inside the Mix

The 30-second ad spot is not what it used to be, but it still has a vital role to play in the mix

The 30-second ad spot is not what it used to be, but it still has a vital role to play in the mix

If there were a slogan to sum up the middle period of this decade for the marketing industry, it would undoubtedly be "the demise of the 30-second ad."

Two things made me question the validity of this last week. The first came during my weekly catch-up with TV ads from around the world, when an ad for Amnesty International by TBWA\Paris stopped me in my tracks.

The 50-second spot is simple. Footage of such political oppressors as Idi Amin Dada, General Pinochet, and Ayatollah Khomeini, has been doctored to show them puffing their cheeks out and blowing. Forty-five seconds of this, with no soundtrack except the sound of the huffing, sets up the end frame beautifully: The flame of the candle that is Amnesty International's logo flickers at the end of the breath, but rights itself and still burns.

The ad was created for the web, but critical acclaim and viral pass-along led Amnesty to consider distributing it across European TV.

I couldn't imagine any other medium or execution making such a powerful punch in 50 seconds. We sometimes get desensitized to the emotional appeal of a message in favor of the intellectual, but my normal stance of neutral criticism was knocked sideways by this ad.
OK, so Amnesty International doesn't buy media; it relies on donated airtime. But marketing budgets aren't just about how much money it costs to reach your target; they are also about how much time you ask an audience to spend to get the message. Fifty seconds of riveting airtime does a great job here.

The other thing that made me think about the (non-) demise of the TV ad was the speech Carat CEO David Verklin made at Advertising Week. As head of a media planning and buying agency, Verklin has a vested interest, naturally, in keeping TV top of mind. But most agree with his forecast that TV would still account for roughly half of the typical ad budget in the coming years, even if that's down from about two-thirds today.

What stood out was his description of the TV commercial as a portal, rather than a self-contained unit. I had a conversation last week with a PR industry executive who said that if you could place your product into a scene in Alias, then why buy ad space surrounding it? I countered that the TV-buying model has changed to accommodate that, and that media owners will rarely sell the former without the latter.

Harry Keeshan, EVP and director of media agency PHD's national broadcast group, backs that up. "In order to get embedded into a program, you must have a deal with both the studio and the network," he says. "Rarely will you get placement on those shows without having some kind of standard media commitment."

Keeshan and Verklin are in agreement that the subject is not the demise of the 30-second spot; it's the advancement - using it to reach the masses by surrounding it with other communication touchpoints. This means, Keeshan concludes, that the media agencies are no longer solely talking to the ad agencies; they're talking to promotion, branding, direct marketing, and PR firms. Media planners are powerful people; when PR pros knows them and share their in-depth knowledge of media consumption with them, PR's place in the marketing mix will be stronger yet.

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