If advertisers are interested in the new spate of six-second ads showing up on TV, then NBC has something that must surely be at least 15 times better (or more): A 100-second commercial.
Viewers who this evening watch NBC’s “The Voice” will be told by host Carson Daly at the end of the program to “stay tuned for the reveal of a special holiday message from Toyota.” Those who decide to do so will see a longer-than-usual spot from Toyota that tugs on the heartstrings: a commercial crafted by the Publicis Groupe agency Saatchi & Saatchi showing an elderly couple dealing with the removal of a favorite tree that has their initials carved in it. No other ads or promos will be shown during the break. The commercial, meant to burnish the holiday spirit, will then lead viewers into the latest broadcast of “This Is Us.”
Couch potatoes have seen this sort of thing before, particularly when TV networks show extra-long movie trailers in ad breaks reserved in special ad deals for studios. But the emphasis on the unusual commercial length highlights the new ways TV networks are selling their wares to advertisers eager to adopt formats that play well with digital audiences.
Through research, “we identified a way we could break through the clutter with an emotional message and resonate with consumers,” said Ed Laukes, group vice president, Toyota Division Marketing, Toyota Motor North America, in a statement sent via email. Because the ad looks similar to the show people will be tuning in for, he added, “we believe the relevance will increase the impact of the spot.”
For decades, TV networks ran ads of the 15-, 30- and 60-second variety. Those formats continue to be widely used, but many advertisers are focusing more closely on shorter ads that offer a burst of promotion and don’t get too much in the way of what drew viewers to the screen in the first place – their favorite programming.
Fox Networks Group has recently made much of six-second commercials that have run during football broadcasts and other programming, and AMC Networks has pushed the availability of a single six-second ad that airs before its signature drama, “The Walking Dead.” Like the extra-long commercials, these are also nothing new. In the past, TV networks called them “billboards,” and often used them to sweeten deals with particularly important ad partners. Viewers can still see these elements today, such as when an announcer briefly tells them a show is “brought to you by” a particular advertisers whose logo flashes on screen for just a few moments.
The Toyota commercial’s length was not determined at random. A version of the ad slated to run in movie theaters was 100 seconds, according to a person familiar with the matter, and Toyota, NBC and the agencies associated with the deal all felt it worked well with the networks’ Tuesday-night schedule. The decision was made to run the movie-theater ad in a television setting. NBC believes that such “contextual messaging,” or ads that tie into specific programs “still reigns king,” said Linda Yaccarino, NBCU’s chairman, advertising sales and client partnerships, in a statement, and helps to “enhance the consumer experience.”
Toyota has long been one of NBC’s bigger advertisers. In 2015, the automaker signed on as the launch sponsor of a partnership between NBCUniversal and AOL. And in 2006, Toyota struck what was at the time a revolutionary ad-measurement pact with the Peacock: NBC agreed to demonstrate to its client that its viewers had paid attention and could recall particular details about a TV show, in addition to the usual Nielsen ratings guarantees.
In an era of YouTube videos, 100 seconds might seem like an eternity, but viewers have been served up even longer stuff. Cartier in 2012 ran a cinematic three-minute-long spot about a large cat who seemingly journeys through time and across the globe, encountering Cartier trinkets (don’t ask). And Arby’s in 2014 released a commercial about how it prepared meat that was 13 hours in length – more than ten times the amount necessary to eat a sandwich that would inevitably contain that protein.
TV networks once kept to the usual coterie of TV ads, but the industry is fast changing its rules. During a meeting of top TV and Madison Avenue executives organized earlier today by NBCUniversal, Robert Greenblatt, the chairman of NBC Entertainment, called for new ideas. “People are running away from advertising in droves,” said Greenblatt. “We have to figure out ways to make those interruptions a lot more palatable.”