Monday, June 15, 2009

Jim Henson's 8-second slices of brilliance

Some of Jim Henson's best (and more original work) was his early commercial spots for various companies. These were very different than the other types of advertising styles prominent in the late 1950's. It amazes me that, even fifty years later, the tone and strong message of these spots still resonates today.

This got me thinking about the current state of advertising on the internet. With each day that passes, a growing number of media consumers are turning away from conventional mass-media outlets, and getting more of their entertainment and news from streaming sources on the internet. With this reality comes the inevitable quandary from content producers: How can we monetize content delivered on the internet so that we can sustain the livelihood of our creative teams and facilitate the future production of more quality content?

The old school media answer to income generation has always been the 30-second sponsor commercial spot. Various other models have been tried with some success (including the single sponsor movies and variety programming that gained popularity in the early days of television), but the bread-and-butter of all the major networks through the years has been, and continues to be, the ubiquitous 30-second commercial.

There's a problem, though, when old school media tries to apply this successful model to financially support their internet delivered offerings: It doesn't work. Nobody wants to sit through a 30-second ad in order to watch a video that is less than 5 minutes in length. And, due to its inherent, yet slowly changing, shortcomings, including small video display sizes, download wait time and other issues, most videos created for web delivery have been edited down to less than 5 minutes in length. Until very recently, many video hosting sites had a ten minute limit on video length. Add to this the changing viewing habits of most people turning to the web for their media consumption, where on-demand viewing and sharing of short videos with others on social networking sites is the dominant activities, and a shift to a much more narrowly-focused style of content being offered by many unconventional producers as well as most amateur creators, and one can see that much of the video content created for the web in the future will continue to be short-form, with lengths of less than 10 minutes.

Sites like Hulu, that essentially rebroadcast long-form old school media content produced for television, are about the only example that can be argued in support of a 30 second commercial spot model. These shows have the typical 22-plus minute length to better offset the need of a viewer to sit through multiple 30 second commercial spots. There is a real chance, however, that as higher numbers of advertiser-coveted 20 and 30-somethings turn to the internet for more and varied content, fewer costly 30-minute sitcoms, hour-long dramas and reality shows will be produced by old school media outlets. They just won't have the viewer numbers to support the rates they currently charge advertisers for 30-second spots. It won't be long, then, that those advertisers will really start to look to the internet as their grade-A marketing option, instead of the "oh yeah, we should probably create a flashy banner ad thing for the web also" throwaway idea that many agencies currently see as adequate for the web.

And if advertisers want to be successful on the internet, they better pay attention to what works and what doesn't. Their audience on the web will be a far more specific, much narrower demographic. The smart content producers will be angling their shows toward a specific audience, too. Gone are the days where a particular show has to be "dumbed down" just so it might gain mass appeal (and be more attractive to advertisers looking to reach a broad audience). This is already starting to happen. The successful ads in the very near future will be targeted, sniper-like and precise. They will cut to the chase and make their point known in a short time frame almost unheard of today. These will be fluid, engaging ads that will make people think, laugh, or hopefully both.

Yes, the successful internet-delivered ads of tomorrow, produced by forward-thinking marketers and embraced by savvy sponsors and their consumers alike, will be truly ground breaking in this medium. They'll also look a lot like these 8-second commercial spots created fifty years ago by Jim Henson. What is old is new again.

These tv-spots ran from 1957-62.
More info here.


Kelvin Kao said...

These are awesome. They just cut to the chase right away. Boy, a lot of things just happen to those who don't drink Wilkins!

jenji said...

Yes, it would be wise to like Wilkins Coffee. Indeed.