When doing TV makes sense

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As a digital (gone) native(*), nerd, and suddenly time-challenged step-father, I live my life very free of TV advertising. Some of this is by chance – I rarely have a chance to watch live TV. But most of it is by design: I DVR when I can, buy iTunes TV and shows, and rip DVDs with Handbrake – so I can watch TV and movies where and when I want, thereby avoiding the wasted 1/3 of programming time dedicated to commercials. I also don’t watch professional sports and avoid pageants like the Oscars and the Super Bowl. So I don’t see TV ads in situ and have to work to remember why brands wants to buy them.

As a digital marketer, I came up realizing that interruptive things like TV ads do just that: they interrupt, and when they’re not very, very good, they’re rude. More important, I also recognize that most consumers need more information to be persuaded to buy a product, not more messages, no matter how funny or entertaining.

But, when 72andSunny, an agency doing great TV work, won the top spot in AdAge’s A-List this year, I thought it was absolutely right. (I work for MDC, of which 72andSunny is a part.) Their most celebrated piece of work over the last year has been the Samsung campaign goofing on Apple fanaticism and line-waiters:

This is what TV advertising should be. It’s incredibly well done, full of extra little details and acting craft moments that make seeing it several times not only not painful but worhtwhile, and it’s doing something digital actually can’t do as well: break the psychic hold Apple hold has on customers as the only smartphone of choice.

While the target of the spot (and the joke) appears to be the line-waiters, the spot really works on people for whom the line-holders represent people in the know. It shows that there is something else out there that’s very strong in the smartphone space – that works well, has great design, isn’t as square as the Blackberry, and handles media. In addition to creating a great product, Apple also created the first workable, working, easy-to-use smartphone in a market awash in too many mediocre and hard to differentiate products. Thus, iPhone became the smartphone. While some people, to be sure, are slavishly buying whatever Apple puts out next and putting absurd hours and amounts of self-esteem into being the first to have it – the real dynamic is that most people are unaware of a clear, simple-to-use, risk-free alternative to the iPhone. This spot highlights that despite the hype, there’s something out there that’s working great, does cool, new things, and is validated by cool people.

The longer story arcs of digital advertising and marketing utility, content marketing, and apps, which is what I do, can’t bring that psychic hold. Sometimes, you do need a cultural object – and an exceptionally well-executed one at that – to get through.

(*) I’ve always struggled with the idea of digital native. Growing up with digital in the background doesn’t make you digitally-savvy any more than having grown up watching a lot of TV makes me ready to write TV. Also, it seems to leave me out – having grown up with the advent of computing, I feel like I not only have a comfort level with new technologies, but have a better understanding of how it works. Still, perhaps I can fall into the rubric as having gone native.

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