Fast forward time for advertisers

Digital video recorders will help change television viewers’ habits and that means advertisers must lift their game. SEAN ADAMS

Sean Adams

By Sean Adams

I read with interest recently that the US phenomenon TiVo is launching soon in Australia.

Along with Foxtel’s similar IQ product, these digital video recorders have the potential to revolutionise the way people watch television in the future.

The “time-shifting” capabilities of these recorders means that viewers no longer have to plan their lives around the whims of TV schedulers – now they can become their own TV schedulers and watch what they want, when they want.

Fancy watching the 6pm news at 6.17pm? No problem. Maybe pause it part way through while you have dinner and then skip the sport before watching the weather a couple of times? Easy.

With this flexibility at your finger-tips, why should you stick to the TV networks’ program schedules?

So where does this leave TV advertisers? Potentially in a bit of trouble.

Many TV advertisers have traditionally relied on the predictability of TV viewing habits – knowing that large audiences can be relied upon to tune in at a particular time to watch a show which is carrying their ad.

But what if these people are now recording the show and watching it at different times? And, heaven forbid, what if they are fast forwarding through the ads?

No longer will they have to sit passively through the ad breaks in “real time”, waiting for their show to resume. They are now in complete control and can choose whether to watch the ad break at normal speed or whether to skim through it and get back to their show more quickly.

This should be a real wake up call to advertisers, especially if they are currently serving up the type of predictable, patronising dross that sadly dominates our screens.

“Now let me think. Should I whiz through the ads and get back to Gordon Ramsay or shall I stop and study an ad all about the extra citrus that helps me to cut through the grease?” Hmmm, tricky choice.

So if as predicted these recorders do reach critical mass in Australia and start changing our entire viewing patterns, what can advertisers do about it?

In this unpredictable new world, I’d argue that there are two main things that advertisers should be concentrating on; namely branding and entertainment.

First, branding. If someone is going to fast forward through your ad, you can at least ensure that they notice who is behind it, albeit subliminally. Ensuring that your ad has a clear memorable visual branding device that will not be mistaken for your competitors is a good start.

Second, entertainment. Good ads always communicate a product message, but they do so in a way that engages viewers and makes the ads enjoyable to watch again and again. These qualities will make them the type of ads that survive “the TiVo test” and may actually halt the fast forward button.

And if someone actively makes a decision to stop and watch your ad, then you can be pretty certain that your brand’s message is getting through.

So if you are a TV advertiser, maybe now is the time to “TiVo-proof” your advertising and ensure that it is as strongly branded and entertaining as possible.

It seems crazy to think that it requires the arrival of a new piece of technology to force advertisers to do what they should be doing already, but if that is what it takes, then I’m hoping that instead of TiVo spelling the death of TV advertising, it might just become its saviour.


Sean Adams founded his marketing advisory company The Seed in late 2000. Sean has had nearly 20 years advertising experience in Australia and Britain across a range of disciplines – research, planning, account management and media. Over that time he has worked with some of the world’s top advertising agencies, working with many of the world’s leading brands.

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