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The days of the 30-second, 20-second and 10-second ad may not be numbered but an alternative approach is being developed by the likes of Sony, Honda and Stella.
These are some of the brands launching campaigns with TV ads that are not so much extended executions as mini-films.
In the case of Sony, the much praised Balls ad for the Bravia range of flat screen TVs bounced along happily for two-and-a-half minutes and the subsequent ads that followed – paint and bunnies also had similarly long length versions.
Likewise Honda's Cog rolled on for two minutes as did Impossible Dream and its more recent Playground ad while Stella's Ice Skating Priests execution slid down smoothly in both two minutes and 90-seconds glasses and Cadbury’s gorilla ads had a 90 second extended edition version.
"These longer ads are the equivalent of a press double page spread with added varnish, sheer indulgence; when you've got a good story to tell, take the time to tell it and allow the audience the space to enjoy it," says Mark Chalmers, creative director at Strawberry Frog.
It's a strategy that goes against the grain, appealing to consumers fighting against media overload by giving them more. "The consumer has sped up. We've become a 20 to 30-second culture," says Laurence Green, one of the founders of Fallon in London. "The one I was brought up in was a 40-second culture."
In an age when consumer attention spans are said to be getting shorter and shorter it takes a brave brand to opt for the longer message but there are clear benefits, benefits that the ad industry has known about for some time.
Recall figures for longer ads are significantly higher than for the shorter time lengths. In the last 40 years a number of studies both in the UK and other markets have all identified the benefits of the longer ad.
Using recall as the main measure and the 30-second ad as the base, the studies showed that on average 60-second ads score 32% better on recall while 15-second ads do 24% worse.
The key UK studies were conducted by Billetts in the 1990s and CIA Medialab in 2001. Billetts found that recall rose as the length of the ad increased. Its 1998 examination of the ecology of the commercial break recorded 42% recall for a 30-second ad and 58% for an ad longer than 50-seconds.
CIA's research noted the same pattern although the improvement in recall was not as marked.
Broadcasters like longer ads too, possibly because anecdotal evidence suggests that longer ads reduce the number of people popping off to the loo or switching channels and that helps to keep ratings high. Longer ads, say media buyers, also tend to be placed first or last in break, the premium slots.
So much so that the new sales policy for the now free-to-air Film4 promises positively to encourage extra long editions, offering a 20% discount on 60-second copy.
Lindsay Gibson, account manager of digital channels at Channel 4 says the aim is to encourage higher quality advertising that matches the Film4 experience. "Sixty second or longer copy tends to have higher production value, we feel this sits more comfortably with a high quality filmic environment," she says. "Sixty second or longer ads tend to function as 'mini films' and it is that experience we are trying to tap into."
Justifying the media cost
The challenge for brands in justifying this strategy is that going long not only increases production costs but also and more significantly the media cost.
Two-minute ad slots aren't cheap and the increase in recall isn't enough to justify the extra cost on an on-going basis.
"If you're going to be running a two minute ad, you're going to be able to afford 75% reduced weight because it's four times as long as 30-second ad," says Chris Williams, TV director at Starcom.
Analysis of the cost benefit of using longer ads based on Billetts 1998 recall figures has found that shorter ads such as 10-second spots were more cost efficient despite their lower recall.
The exception, says Pedro Avery, joint managing director at BLM, appears to be DR TV where increased length helps drive enough additional sales to justify the longer form.
He argues that a significant proportion of the ads that run for more than the standard 30 seconds - 14% of all ads according to Barb - to be DR TV ads.
Long brand adverts are much rarer despite the fact that it has become more affordable in real terms in recent years.
"TV is cheaper now than it was in 1994 in real terms and in some months it’s probably been cheaper than that," he says. "If you think about other media like national press there's been inflation in that market over the last 12-14 years."
Channel 4 hopes that Film4's discount will be enough to overcome any doubts. "We feel that [cost] is one of the major factors," says Gibson. "There are significant cost pressures from auditors and procurement managers - we're hoping that with our incentives we are enabling creatives, planners and buyers to run 60-second or longer at a more attractive cost."
As Starcom's Williams points out, recall figures are a crude measure, they take no account of levels of message take out or brand attribute communication which may be better served by longer time lengths.
"In a multi-channel highly cluttered media world is it better to run a long very memorable ad and have much more impact or run a lot of shorter ads?," he says. "It's subjective to a degree."
It's all about confidence
According to Fallon's Green, a key issue in determining whether to take this route can be advertiser confidence.
"We shot absolutely hours of footage and happened to create a short time length and a long time length. In fairness it was the client who said I want to run the big one," he says. "It was something that could be an absolute launch. The Bravia was a relatively new TV, that time length gave it immediate clout."
And he points out, while TV and taking the entire ad break was the launch pad, it was only the first platform for the Balls execution.
It also helped the brand to communicate not only with the public but also with staff working in Sony Centre and other retailers. The ad runs in retail locations with a documentary on the making of the film acting as the display DVD.
"Running it as a two and half minute launch spot [they effectively] said: 'We're Sony and proud'," he says.
Brands that do take the scenic route appear to be adopting a similar strategy. The long execution is used in the launch phase to give stature to a brand or product before a cut-down version is introduced.
The longer execution may even only be aired once or twice. In the case of Sony Bravia the launch ad (balls) took an entire ad break in the middle of Sky Sports coverage of last autumn's Manchester United vs Chelsea game. Afterwards, shorter versions both 60-second and later 30-second executions, were used.
It's more common, however, to use the extended version for longer; a week is typical, before the cut-down version is introduced to drive the frequency.
A good example is Orange. Its Dance ad ran as a 60-second execution for a week before the brand switched to 30-second versions backed up by two 10-second product messages.
BLM's Avery says brands can take this strategy without having to increase their budgets if they are prepared to accept a reduced reach on the grounds that those who do see the campaign will find it more memorable.
"Maybe a 400 rating campaign instead of a 600 rating campaign is going to be more effective and cost the same amount of money," he says.
The longer ad creates a buzz around the project while the shorter execution also remind people of the longer ad and anecdotal evidences suggests could benefit from improved recall as a result.
"Honda ran [the two minute version of] Impossible Dreams in a few key programmes and then ran a shorter film of 60-seconds, which was still considered long," says Starcom's Williams.
New media platforms such as the internet, DVDs and interactive TV also now offer an alternative distribution platform for the director's cut, allowing those who are interested to see the full effect.
Interactive TV was used for Honda's Cog ad effectively turning every short ad into a doorway to the longer edit.
Lynx's Billions ad was only actually seen once on TV, just before England's woeful display against Sweden at the last world cup, but then was able to be found right across the web.
Once online ads take on a life of their own, says Strawberry Frog's Chalmers. "The advantage of broadcast on the internet is no time restrictions, no jaw dropping media budget and recognition that your audience might just want to choose when to watch your film and might just want the choice to watch it again. We launched the running Fish Gutter film for Onitsuka Tiger a few years ago and we still have an active audience out there watching it online today."
Anyone sceptical that this is a trend will argue that long ads have always existed and that for the right brands it has always been the correct strategy.
In the US ad agencies still talk about Apple's classic 60-second tale to promote its new Macintosh in 1984. The ad, which was shown in the middle of the Superbowl - the most high-profile TV real estate in the US - was directed by Ridley Scott and was only shown on national TV just the once.
In the UK, Tango's classic St George ad, featuring a Britvic executive responding to a French exchange student's criticism of his new Blackcurrant variant also took the long road.
The jingoistic fun, which sees the businessman stripping down to a pair of purple boxing shorts and marching to a boxing ring set high above the white cliffs of Dover, lasted a full minute and a half and picked up the gong for best ad at the British Television Advertising Awards in 1997.
Others argue that there are cultural changes as well as changes to the media landscape that will act as a spur for longer TV ads and make it a more effective strategy for some brands.
BLM's Avery says media fragmentation and growing clutter, driven by the fact that anyone watching a non-terrestrial TV station - and as digital penetration increases there are more and more multichannel viewers - is seeing more advertising minutes, are also a factor.
Brands, he argues, need to make the most of the must watch TV moments. "Mass programmes are harder and harder to find, audiences of more than five million are so hard to find when you get you need to milk it," he says.
Chalmers at Strawberry Frog says the arrival of the internet is also a factor in driving some brands to create mini-epics for TV.
"Attentions spans are shorter and the band widths are filled with 20-second YouTube executions and of course comparable films. TV is cinema's little brother and this is TV holding its flag up to story telling and filmic production values," he says.
"Longer executions demand quality content and vice versa. There's a lot of widescreens in peoples households and no one seems to be complaining. It's refreshing to see such captivating ads as Honda Grrr and Sony Bravia."