The Devolution of Advertising

Digital content consumption has become more and more a part of everyday life.

In fact, watching video online as seen a 46% uptick over the past year*. And while television has remained the dominant behemoth in the realm of entertainment and content consumption, certain trends have made advertisers re-examine the way they approach traditional, disruptive advertising.

Death of disruptive?

We’ve heard rumblings for the past few years about the general concern over the 30 second TV spot – is it still reaching consumers (and more importantly, young male consumers)? Our knee-jerk reaction was to start throwing money in the places we saw these target-rich eyeballs congregating – digital. Digital advertising saw immediate leaps in expenditure – 100’s of percent increase year of year; giant homepage takeovers; astronomical search programs and more banner impressions than you could ever imagine. To what end? Search provides a utilitarian value and is here to stay. But display? At the end of the day, its driving people to a commercial piece they’ve already seen. Is this an effective way to reach these consumers? Can we evolve our thinking?

This post isn’t meant to debate the dominance of web or television – far from it. It’ll be a few years before we can honestly discuss a full shift in our distribution platforms. This is more about ‘evolution’ – the concurrent growth of online video and ‘timeshifted TV’ (a clever naming of DVR by Nielsen) has created a fertile environment for branded content creation we haven’t seen for almost 60 years. Our creativity needs to look more closely at this new environment.

The golden age of sponsorships

In the early age of television, content was sponsored.  Not the 30 second, disruptive increments we see today. Rather, consumers were fully aware that the programming they loved was paid for by their favorite brands. Brands like Kellogg’s and Geritol sponsored fan favorites like Superman and Twenty One.


Enjoying Frosted Flakes for breakfast!


I Love Lucy sponsored by Geritol

It was ‘acceptable’ for these brands to provide content to the masses – somebody has to pay for these nuggets of entertainment, right? Both sides of this exchange were aware, and supportive of, the mutual benefit that resulted from this value agreement. Consumers wanted entertaining content and brands wanted you to remember their product name (positively, of course).

Back to today – the rise of digital content consumption and DVR (timeshifted TV) has dampened the effect of most forms of disruptive advertising. Aside from brands that have comically gigantic media budgets to create serious share of voice, most advertisers tend to get lost in the clutter (or simply passed over in the case of DVR subscribers).  The answer lies in the past – we need to devolve.

In recent times, there’s been a fairly wide spectrum of branded sponsorship – from fully sponsored, online-only content (OKGO’s recent video sponsored by State Farm) to fully commercial vehicles that are content sponsored (Infiniti’s Emmy ads starring the cast of Community).

In one case, the brand was front and center in the creative, while in the other they took a backseat and were just happy to sponsor content for an audience they are trying to reach. Either approach can be applicable, depending on whom you want to reach and how much money you have to reach them.

The devolution of (advertising) Man

The devolution starts, however, with honesty. Transparency has become a hallmark of the modern web – consumers demand a direct and honest connection with their brands. I say, let’s give it to them. Let’s tell the masses that we’re sponsoring a content series because we want you to know we provide VALUE.  All we’re asking for is a little name recognition – that’s all disruptive advertising is giving you.

My favorite ad these days is this KIA Soul spot . It has a bunch of hamsters rocking out to one of my favorite old school hip-hop acts (Black Sheep) and rolling around in toaster ovens, washing machines and the like. Does it make sense? Probably not. Do I remember it? Absolutely. It disrupted the sh$t out of the NBA finals this year and I remember it very, very well. But why can’t we spend that creativity and just a pinch of that sizable media budget on an equally compelling digital content series? Brands that don’t have the media budgets to cut through the clutter the way this spot did need to start cultivating a new strategy. Content creators, agencies and advertisers need to continue to push the boundaries of branded content and TRUST the consumer in order for us to get that value agreement back into place.

*Source: The Nielsen Company
*Image Credit: HDTV on the Dish