For years, just two lengths, :120 and :60, have dominated short-form direct response television (DRTV) commercials. This is how long it takes to outline a problem and a solution, articulate a product’s benefits and features, make a direct offer, and (hopefully) close the sale—or so goes the prevailing wisdom.
The exceptions have been lead-generating spots, which easily make their proposition in 60 or 30 seconds. Lead-gen appeals typically involve some sort of two-step process, in which a consumer raises his or her hand to receive more information, and then decides whether to pull the trigger or not. For example, Bowflex used to send out an information packet and DVD, and then follow up with the interested party via outbound telemarketing.
With so many second screens available today, however, any assumptions about optimum lengths need to be re-examined. In addition to the new marketing reality, direct response advertisers should consider several significant advantages to new spot lengths.
According to various reports, roughly nine out of 10 television viewers have a smartphone, tablet, or laptop at the ready while they watch TV. So the first question a marketer should ask is: How long do I need to incite curiosity and desire? Once you pique a consumer’s attention, it’s likely they will go online to learn more about your product or service. Consider your own behavior: When you’re watching an ad and something grabs your attention, how long is it before you’re pecking away on a second screen?
In light of this, DRTV acts as impression-based advertising—the first step in a classic two-step process. The second step is when the consumer goes online and either takes immediate action or defers a decision. It is absolutely critical that everything about your online presence is optimized, such as a prospect’s ability to find your site, the reputation of your product or service, and the way you present vital information to help a consumer with purchase intent make a confident and informed decision. Using analytics to determine what your audience is most interested in learning can help you identify a messaging hierarchy and ensure that your product’s site is constructed to close the sale.
But relying on shorter DRTV advertising lengths has two other profound implications that can give direct marketers an advantage: increased frequency and commercial clearance. In the simplest terms, a :60 spot can be aired twice as often as a :120, just as a :30 can air twice as often as a :60—and the cost of media may actually be lower. Most stations and networks have limited two-minute inventory and often charge a premium for such slots; therefore, two :60s may cost less than a single :120.
Beyond media cost is the variable of actually getting on the air. DRTV sells on an immediately pre-emptible basis. General advertisers, which pay a premium for an audience guarantee against their target demographic, receive guaranteed placement. Nielsen ratings determine the size and character of a show’s audience. If a program underdelivers based upon the projected audience, the network must air additional runs of a commercial at no charge to make up for the audience shortage. Any unsold inventory is then back-filled with DRTV that sells at significantly discounted rates.
DRTV is cheaper because it airs with no audience guarantees and reduces the network’s risk of audience underdelivery and any attendant liability. Since most mainstream, image-driven TV ads run :15 and :30 seconds in length, it’s easy to pair a shorter DRTV ad with them. And in addition to expanding the likelihood of clearance based upon available unsold inventory, shorter lengths also increase the chances that a DRTV advertiser will get into a broader spectrum of dayparts and days of the week.
Shorter formats present new communication challenges and threaten to disrupt the traditional, formulaic approach to DRTV, of course. Yet they also represent a fresh beachhead for DRTV marketers looking to press an advantage amid a tide of changing consumer media consumption habits. Today’s television viewers are impatient and hyperdistracted. They want shortcuts to help them machete through the clutter and discover what matters to them. It’s time to adopt new best practices that align with actual consumer behaviors, before those prospects are gone.