Commercial Production Review
Television and radio are still effective media to communicate a message, of course. However, there’s now a question many advertisers must ask themselves these days – and with reason. How effective?
Given the web’s rapid evolution and the fact that it is beginning to absorb most aspects of daily life, before regurgitating them in digital form, there’s a common misconception emerging that TV and radio commercials are past their best-before date.
The internet has had a massive impact on traditional media such as radio and TV, with advertisers now in the driving seat with a plethora of avenues to choose from. But media owners remain realistically defiant. They know things have to change, that traditional media needs to innovate to stay alive, and that standing still is not an option. So they are not standing still... And it’s the same story for commercial production houses. Like the media owners, these firms realise that to survive in the marketing world, they need to constantly change. And because they now need to update their skill sets, not to mention their technology, commercial production houses face a big challenge to remain competitive.
They do have one thing in their favour though – because they are at the forefront of the commercials world, production houses are perfectly placed to see where TV and radio advertising is heading and how technology and innovation is playing a part.
For The Mob Films Co’s John Brocklehurst, virals provide an exciting opportunity for advertisers. “They’re entertaining, and HD allows us to produce ads cheaper without cutting back on quality. A 40-minute tape costs about £10, so we can shoot on that and then give it to VTR North [the Leeds-based production company film TV post-production facility] to add the effects to.”
For Mark Blatts of Mezzo Films, viral advertising has become more accessible for an increasing number of advertisers in recent years. “The technologies which are affecting the way in which we work are the various types of mobile visual technologies and obviously the web,” he says. “We’re currently involved in creating almost as many viral-based campaigns as we are traditional TV campaigns. The same can be said of producing programmes and commercials which are to be distributed via phones and MP4 devices.”
In recent years, virals have evolved from slapstick, violent and comedic short pieces towards more filmic productions. In the early days, viral was seen as a poor relation of TV – a medium for clients who didn’t have a budget for a TV campaign but felt that a commercial was the best way to communicate their message. Their format bore a great resemblance to TV commercials, sticking to 20, 30 or 40 seconds, but with a punchier ending.
Today, however, Broadband means file sizes pose no problem, while the web 2.0 revolution has seen sites such as YouTube, Kontraband and MySpace take virals out of the email-to-email spam world to a more developed platform with a greater user experience. As such, virals have become longer. Higher production values are also much more achievable, although many advertisers still opt for the grainier, amateur look.
While The Gate Films has been working increasingly on virals and online video content, marketing manager Steve Byrne believes new innovative ideas in TV hold plenty of potential. “Personal video recorders were supposed to spell doom for TV advertising, but after the launch of Sky +, people are actually watching more TV and only using the ad fast-forward facility for around 18 per cent of their total viewing.
“That said, the ad break as we know it must change. The industry will have to provide content that is more relevant to the programming, as is happening in the US with content wraps. Brands are taking over entire ad breaks with live feeds commenting on the shows. And the changing EU laws concerning product placement open up even further opportunities in ad-funded programming.”
Content wraps are like mini-programmes based on concepts that could easily exist as 30-minute shows but are cut down to three two-minute segments that run in place of commercials. They’re the brainchild of The CW, the US network that was formed in the merger of the old WB and UPN. Many are tipping the concept to be a big hit this side of the Atlantic, offering a way for companies to advertise in commercial pods within TV shows.
As well as the internet, the proliferation of mobile phones is affecting the commercial production industry. Mobile handset manufactures have been busy developing technology to improve the user experience, and while they’re making web pages look and feel the same as they do on a computer screen, they’re also implementing technologies to improve quality for video calls, mobile TV and video streaming. Many commercial production houses will be watching these developments like hawks, but John Brocklehurst isn’t convinced about mobile video’s impact.
“For me, I use the mobile phone as a business tool,” he says. “I don’t want interruptions from advertisers and would certainly choose to ignore them if they came through. I suppose they might work for a younger audience, so some brands may see it as a useful tool, but we’ve never been asked to work on a campaign that has been designed specifically for the mobile phone.”
Radio is another medium embracing change. Gcap’s xfm, for example, has turned to a presenter-free section of programming, allowing listeners to use the station’s website to influence the music played.
Sid Petit of Cube Productions says: “On the plus side, technological advances mean the potential to be creative on the radio has never been greater, with recording techniques and production facilities becoming more sophisticated all the time. On the minus side, the increasing number of satellite and cable TV stations has meant increased competition. In addition, the ease and availability of online advertising has led many companies to divert a portion of their marketing spend into web-based activities, which has obviously impacted on radio, as on all other traditional media sectors.
“But radio has been around a long time, and it’s not going anywhere. Given the rate at which technologies are emerging, it’s almost impossible to predict where any medium will be in five years. But if I were a gambling girl, I’d put my money on radio remaining as popular, vibrant and effective as ever.”
However, even if radio does remain a popular medium, these changes are inevitable. So do these changes mean will we see advertising on television and radio in the traditional sense come to an end?
“It’s been a difficult time for radio, with an ever-increasing number of TV stations offering knock-down rates designed to lure historical radio advertisers onto the box,” Petit says. “If radio bosses are to stop the rot, it may be that those larger radio stations which still charge premium rates for airtime will have to rethink their sales strategy. They’ll have to start putting together more tempting packages to entice new advertisers, while also rewarding the loyalty of their long-term users.
“Radio has the advantage of a nationwide analogue network and a rapidly growing digital capability. In addition, radio listening is an established habit for the vast majority of the UK population. We listen to the radio in the car, in the kitchen, in the bath; we have it on in the background at work and at home. But if it is to continue to compete effectively with other media, radio cannot afford to rest on its laurels – it must be sharper, slicker, more competitive and, most importantly, more creative.”
Blatts adds: “TV and radio advertising will be with us for a long time to come, although it may take different forms along the way. TV and radio programmes as entertainment are well embedded in our culture. In some ways it’s similar to the time when TV started and many people said it would be the end of radio and cinema. This is far from the truth, but radio and cinema did have to change to give the audience what they required.
“It’s fair to say that because of the wider spread of channels, it’s important that media-buying trends change to ensure the intended audience is reached. That said, it should be easier to target audiences as the channels have very defined audiences, with the whole channel output being designed especially for that audience.”
Byrne also believes the lure of TV remains intact and is unlikely to change any time soon. And while that’s the case, advertising on the box will remain a useful tool for clients.
“I think TV remains an incredibly powerful medium speaking to whole family groups within their own home,” he says.
“I don’t think TV needs defending. Yes, we’re shooting lots of films for online, but there comes a certain point in the day or week when people simply don’t want to interact with anything.
“When you come home from work and you’re knackered, you’re still going to want to lie on the sofa and just passively watch TV.”