Traditional Commercials Don’t Work Online

Apr 7th, 2008 | By | Category: General

Earlier in the year, we noted that bad advertising is holding back online TV, citing the poorly targeted, overlong and disruptive ads on Hulu as an example.

Anyone that thinks that you are going to sit through traditional television advertising when you’re watching online videos is out of touch, at best.

This view is starting to go mainstream. The New York Times is calling online commercials a “hard sell”:

The television industry is moving online and mounting its most ambitious attempt to date to restore mandatory viewing of commercials. Their instrument is Hulu, a company that was founded jointly in March 2007 by NBC Universal and the News Corporation and provides free, advertising-supported television shows for viewing on the Web. It ended its test period last month and declared that was officially open for business.

Jean-Paul Colaco, Hulu’s senior vice president for advertising, said last week that Hulu’s advertising is designed to be “elegant and non-obtrusive.” Instead of running eight minutes of commercials with multiple sponsors in a half-hour slot, Hulu runs only two minutes from a single commercial sponsor: an announcement of sponsorship and “limited commercial interruption” at the beginning, then three 30-second spots interspersed during the show.

“We don’t want to oversaturate the viewer with commercials,” Mr. Colaco explained, which he acknowledges is much easier to do when the viewer’s eyes are only a few inches away from the screen. He and others in the industry call watching television on computers a “lean-forward environment.”

On paper, Mr. Colaco’s offer to run “only 25 percent of the advertising on broadcast television” would seem much appreciated by viewers, and advertisers get exclusive sponsorship of entire episodes. All parties should be happy.

The viewing experience, however, will not necessarily please everyone. The two minutes of single-sponsor commercials in a Hulu program can feel as engaging as a dentist’s drill: there’s no arguing that they get your attention.

On the first “Simpsons” episode I watched, the program stopped for a Sudafed commercial in which unrelieved congestion inflated the suffering victim’s head. A few minutes later, the program halted to show the same commercial, with the same imminent danger of cranial explosion. More minutes passed, and the identical commercial made its third appearance. Of course, no fast-forwarding is permitted.

Advertisers must accept that the old quid pro quo — they bring us television and we give them our full, undivided attention — no longer is acceptable.

Traditional commercials don’t work online. While Hulu’s advertisers are trying to sell you Sudafed & Hondas, you’re going to be checking your email or posting a Twitter update.

The sooner this approach fails, the sooner companies can get to work on a video ad solution that is sustainable – something targeted, less disruptive and short enough that you won’t go check your email.

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No Responses to “Traditional Commercials Don’t Work Online”

  1. taniaelis says:

    One of my pet peeves, too.

    If a video starts right off with a long ad, I don’t watch it.

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