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Cliffhangers Killed the Modern Commercial

By June 16, 2011Personal, Strategy

Commercials are funny little things aren’t they? Sometimes hated, sometimes loved, sometimes searched for but mostly just ignored; commercials have become at times the bane of our existence. Outside of the Super Bowl, when the world purposefully uses services like TiVo to record commercials or social media to find commercials, I find for the most part that commercials are ignored. With commercial viewership numbers decreasing over the past several years some services, like Hulu, have turned to force feeding commercials to us while broadcast networks now build in commercials to newscasts or special interest stories viewed from the web.

Cliffhangers killed the modern commercial
While it is true that people rarely love commercials there are some pretty catchy ones (thanks to clever jingles, great mini-story lines or just downright good advertising) that are often missed as we skip them to fast forward to see the resolve of the cliffhanger that appeared in the show right before the adverts were displayed. While these cliffhangers were useful in the days before TiVo and other DVR services I believe the continued practice is now killing the modern day commercial. Cliffhangers were useful pre-DVRs as they were needed to keep us tuned to CBS for Big Brother (which I am aware has only been on post-DVR) [or insert your favourite show here] so that we would not leave during the commercial break; however, this is no longer a threat since we rarely watch TV live anymore. We simply sit down, open up our playlist, and start watching.

To enforce my theory take the following scenario: what happens when you need to take a break (get water, food, talk, etc) and a cliffhanger comes on your favourite show? I’m willing to bet you skip right through the commercials, see the cliffhanger resolve, then pause the show when it gets to a slow part or before the next plot line begins and take care of your side activity before returning to the TV and pressing ‘play’. Go ahead, think about it, do you this? I know that I, and many others, have this same practice. So what happened to those (hopefully great) commercials? Well, you never saw them and the money spent to buy the impression of that advert on you has been wasted.

It is not the commercials’ fault; however, they do not help
It is easy to blame the commercials themselves for why we fast-forward right through them; we see them as interruptions to our shows and boring marketing ploys that we see right through. But why do we skip them? I challenge the thought that it is not the fault of the commercial but that of the broadcast network and their program directors (and writers by association). Since they purposefully write in a cliffhanger, purposefully place a commercial right before the cliffhanger resolves I (and probably you) purposefully skip right over them to get back to the show. It’s a cycle that used to work; however, this new media generation calls for new commercial adverts, new show writing and new network programming sequences.

Bring back the jingle!
So what is the solution? Think back to the super bowl (or any other sporting event on TV) for the answer. Do they give you a cliffhanger (the 3-point shot with 2 seconds to go) and then switch to a commercial break? No they do not and quite frankly I think the world would revolt if they did! Instead they play the commercials during downtime, when something not-so-important is happening to give us a break. We let the commercials play in the background while we get up, walk around, get drinks/food or whatever we need to do. When we return just enough time has passed to where we catch maybe a commercial or two and the event is back on.

Do we resent these commercials? No, I do not think so. In fact, oftentimes we find ourselves watching them and sometimes if the commercial is clever enough we tell our friends about it or search for it on YouTube to watch it again and share with our social networks! Clever jingles and good graphics make commercials engaging and these tactics work so well during sporting events like the super bowl that I am surprised these tactics have not been adopted for the wider distribution of adverts during TV shows.

Change the sequence, save the commercial
While I acknowledge that most of the commercials during normal TV programming are not quite as entertaining as those during the super bowl I would argue that they do not need to be. We just need a catchy jingle or a fun graphic to give us a reason not to skip over it in order for the company to receive the impression on us it paid for. The solution to me to save the modern day commercial is very simple; quit programming them to display right after a cliffhanger and before the cliffhanger resolves. Doing so would allow us to simply continue to watch our show as normal and instead of skipping the commercials we might be more inclined to just let them play out. After all, what would we be in such a hurry to get back to? I understand that this is a complete mentality shirt for writers, TV programmers and more. So how do we get them to change?

The bottom line
If you take away nothing else from this article take away this and share it with every marketing manager, director, VP and CMO that you can. Why are you paying so much money to run adverts on these TV stations that by their own programming design are influencing the behaviour that causes consumers to skip right over your adverts?

Change the programming, make a jingle, save the commercial. Do you agree? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

Corey Rawdon

Corey Rawdon

About Corey Rawdon

Prolific stick-figure artist ideating methods and mechanisms to change the world—or at least make a small dent.

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