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30-sec spots no longer central to ads

Advertisers more demanding, want customization

NEW YORK — As webheads prepare to tout their new shows to advertisers this week during the annual upfront presentations, ad agencies also have a few new tricks up their sleeves.

No longer are agencies going to place all their bets on the traditional 30-second commercial spot. They’ve now got broader plans for their ad dollars.

“Advertisers are much more demanding now,” says John Frelinghuysen, a VP at Booz Allen Hamilton’s media consultancy. “They want customization.”

Given the continuing economic slump, companies that buy time on the tube don’t have too much walking-around money. They increasingly need to justify their budgets by connecting with auds more directly.

With new technologies and integrated marketing, the idea of an interactive campaign isn’t so far-fetched.

Product placement and sponsorship deals are becoming more common as advertisers are able to call the shots in a down ad market. And some say this shift of power is likely to be permanent.

Carat North America CEO David Verklin, for example, welcomes the more creative approach to TV ads.

“The way we make commercials is antiquated,” he asserts. “It’s been the same since 1960: a 30-second spot that on average costs $300,000 to produce and uses 19,000 feet of film that you can’t change after you’ve filmed it. If Austin Powers landed in a broadcast production department, he wouldn’t feel out of place.”

Verklin, whose company billed out $4.3 billion last year and manages media accounts for clients like Pfizer and Hyundai, is optimistic about his firm’s prospects.

“I’m very bullish about the ad business. Look at the proliferation of cable. I’m going to need more content.”

The 46-year-old exec, whose firm was Ad Age’s media company of the year in 2001, concurs that eventually ads won’t only run for 30 seconds, but for half that amount or much longer.

In future, he adds, a viewer will likely have less tolerance for the same spot, so there may be eight variations of the same theme.

Content is likely to be branded, and PVRs — personal video recorders — will play a greater role.

“Opt-in” features on interactive TV also will figure heavily in the future.

By way of example, he says: “For those who watch broadcast news, say 10% of them may not have teeth — those people may go in and find out about dental adhesion.” And that’s personal info the advertisers die for.

Frelinghuysen predicts the ad biz will move away from the emphasis on the 30-second spot to “all types of custom marketing solutions. Along with television, agencies will have to figure out how to integrate things like banner ads and moving video.”