The Death of the 30-Second Commercial (And What It Means for Students)

All the noise about the death of the 30-second commercial is just chatter. For the 30-second commercial to die you have to have more in place than just TiVo. You have to have clients who are willing to shift millions and millions of dollars from a proven and measurable medium to something that is still a little scary. Most companies (not to mention the Blue Chips that spend the most on broadcast production) are incredibly risk-averse. Even if a single huge media spender (say, WalMart or GM) decided they were going to completely eliminate their TV budget and dump all their advertising money into on-line media, that wouldn’t begin to shake the foundations of the TV commercial establishment. 30-second spots are going to be around for a long, long time. And someone’s going to have to make them. Hopefully, you.

When it was first introduced, radio was going to kill newspapers because it offered sound. Then TV came along and was going to kill radio because it offered picture. The internet was going to kill TV because it was selective and interactive and gave the viewer more control. Before we’re dead, we’re going to see something that will supposedly kill the internet. And we’ll likely read about it in the newspaper. Wedged in between a couple of small space print ads that someone will enter into the One Show.

So, in my opinion, traditional media aren’t about to die. But the way we approach ads is changing. Anyone who really studies brands and advertising knows that a brand is nothing more or less than a great story. (I highly recommend Seth Godin’s All Marketers Are Liars. It will help you understand your job a little more.) Sometimes you tell this story in a 30-second spot. Sometimes it’s best told in a string of short :15s. Sometimes it’s better told as a print ad. And sometimes it’s better as a publicity stunt that spreads by word of mouth. If we approach advertising as storytelling, and not as scriptwriting, or layout making, we’ll be in a much better place.

Look at the Gamekillers campaign. Yeah, there are some fun :30 spots that are a part of that story. There are also some fun print pieces, too. The website is my favorite component, but it also became a TV show.

Look at Bernbach’s original Lemon ad. It’s a print piece. But it told more of a story than most campaigns tell. Would it work as well today? Hard to say. Probably not. It was disruptive for its time, and we’ve because calloused to that kind of disruption. But it still told a very human story. So while it might not work as well, I believe it would still definitely work. Clients would measure its success, and drivers would give the client money and the client would give the agency money.

So, as a student, remember that when a creative director is looking at your portfolio, he or she will be wanting to see what truths you’ve come up with. They’ll be wanting to find a human connection. They’ll want to be surprised. A slick layout and a punchy headline won’t be enough. If you’ve got a book full of print campaigns that really resonate with me, and make me think, and surprise me a little, I’ll understand that you get what it means not just to make ads, but to communicate. And I’ll assume you’ll be able to communicate in any media.