TV ads are no longer the silver bullet and brands that don't shift will die a slow death

Marketers need to spend less time and money on 30-second digital spots and more on appearing in unconventional places.

Television adverts, at the pinnacle of success, are like the friend of the friend who shows up at your house party uninvited but has great chat: the story they’re telling earns a few laughs but you’re pissed off they’re standing in the living room unannounced (and they didn’t even bring a bottle -- you know the type).

Now imagine that guest slipping off to the bathroom only to suddenly re-emerge and get all up in your grill with the same story. Then again. And again.

Go. Away.

Serve me the most amazing 30-second spot I’ve ever seen. But play it five times over my episode of The O.C. on Hulu (just re-watched -- would recommend) and expect a chastity belt securely tightened around my wallet.

Facebook did this wonderfully with its celebrity-heavy Portal ad featuring Neil Patrick Harris and the mom’s of Jonah Hill, Serena Williams and Dwyane Johnson for a burst of hilarity that became tired by the third watch. Bravo.

There’s a reason that seven out of ten people find ads annoying. I’d like to know why most marketers aren’t listening.

Until then, let’s take a moment to celebrate those who are listening. Like Giant Spoon, which is putting experiential on the map in a big way, and the rebels over at MSCHF who believe the internet is a canvas to be painted, not another a platform to funnel content through.

"I think we need to acknowledge that video content is not the silver bullet it once was and that it can actually make people hate our brand -- the exact opposite of our objectives -- if we’re not responsible with its placements and if we’re not pushing boundaries creatively," Jason Sperling, chief, creative development at independent ad agency RPA, told Campaign US.

"The solution is more nuanced: it isn’t just the product innovation or ‘perform-stunt-and-pray-for-media-attention approach,’ and not just highly-targeted content. There’s a happy medium and all can do a great job of breaking through, building awareness for whatever it is we’re talking about and building brand affinity."

The other day, Campaign US spent time with the legacy VML half of VMLY&R (weird how they still separate themselves in many ways, but that’s another story). It was the classic agency/press set up: tiny room, case studies and a delightful breakfast spread. But what wasn’t predictable was the range of work Global Chief Creative Officer Debbie Vandeven walked us through. None were ads in the traditional sense. Which is a good thing.

[The following is not a love letter to VML, or VMLY&R, whatever that casserole is. It’s a hat tip to an agency pushing brands to show up in unconventional places and reaping the rewards.]

Creatives helped maverick fast-food brand Wendy’s find an original way to successfully insert itself into online craze Fortnite when other companies have continually failed. The team dropped in a character with those iconic red pigtails and spent hours upon hours destroying freezers in burger joints to push its non-frozen patty agenda.

Gamers tuned into Twitch to watch more than 1.5 million minutes of destruction. The stunt earned Wendy’s a 119 percent increase in mentions across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

Then there was The Runaway pub in London for New Balance. In the lead up to the city’s marathon, runners’ miles were recorded through a fitness app and converted to currency using a "Runaway Card" that they added to their Apple and Google Wallet Passes and cash in for pints. It nailed London culture and is the only campaign to have ever made me feel homesick.

But VMLY&R knocked it out of the park when the team joined forces with Polish newspaper and bought the country’s longest-running erotic magazine, Twój Weekend, in order to close it down. The stunt was backed by Mastercard and Bank BGZ BNP Paribas.

A final issue -- the best selling in more than a decade -- demonstrated their opposition to the objectification of women. It featured zero nude photos and aimed to raise awareness of cultural issues such as sexual education, gender portrayal, equal rights, sexism and to promote diverse and progressive narratives of femininity.

More of this please. Thank you.

While VMLY&R Executive Director Craig Elimeliah agrees repetitive digital spots are "annoying AF," he believes they can still chime if teams start to take into consideration how often they’re put in front of consumers.

"Most brands still believe in repeat viewings to drive brand recall, plus there is no reliable method to know how many times an ad hits someone across all of the many platforms we access," he said.

"Creating a lighter ad load doesn’t seem to be an option. I do think that platforms can help advertisers to become more creative with the ads they are serving so that the experience is a good one. I believe that there is a fairly decent threshold for ad watching and that ad watching can actually be entertaining if done right."

He continued: "We need to push our teams to use frequency as a creative input and to challenge our teams to come up with really creative ways to develop ideas knowing that frequency is likely a factor.

"Creativity can solve a lot of problems and this is one that I believe can be solved. The next time a digital ad creative brief goes out, try adding the input that the ad will be run ten times in front of the user. Just like physical experiences, digital experiences need to take into account things like season, news cycle, culture, social media etc, to be able to effectively compete for attention."

If the warrior cries from these creatives don’t light a fire under your marketing ass, then consider this: we’re living in the year when digital ad spend is poised to finally overtake traditional ad spend, according to eMarketer.

It estimates U.S. digital ad spend will increase 19.1 percent this year to $129.3 billion. Meanwhile, traditional will fall 19 percent, to $109.5 billion. So, for the first time, digital will total for 54.2 percent of overall spend.

Don’t be that obnoxious guest at the party. And always bring wine.

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