It amazes me that an entire industry, when faced with something a little bit new, can suddenly forget everything they have ever learned. TV broadcasters (who started as radio broadcasters) and their advertising agencies seem hell bent on tossing out every lesson from the past 70 years as they branch out into Internet media.
Case in point – CBS. CBS doesn’t participate in Hulu unlike every other major and quite a few minor networks. Instead, they go it alone. To me that just means cutting off an avenue of distribution. That’s like refusing to put out your old programs on VCR and then DVD.
That, however, is not where they really drop the ball. Their worst mistake is when they forget decades of advertising wisdom on CBS.com. What do they do? They run the same commercial at every break in the online program. Every time. Over and over and over again. That flies in the face of all that we know about how to advertise in a broadcast medium. After the first run, no one is paying attention. By the fourth run you’ve actually annoyed your potential customer into no longer being a potential customer. It is not enough that you remember an ad. You have to not hate it too. Otherwise, that irritation translates to the product. You remember the product alright but not in a good way. There is a reason that one spreads ads out over time. It guards against desensitization of the message.
CBS.com goes a step further and will play multiple instances of a commercials in a row. The same commercial. It’s not enough for them to blast the same ad at you three times during the course of a program. They have to give it to you three at a time. That takes you from irritated to numb. Numb to their message, numb to their value proposition and numb to the product. In other words, completely desensitized.
Make no mistake – online programming is still broadcast media. It’s delivered through the Internet but is no different from TV on-demand broadcasting in every other way. On-line broadcasters seem to forget this. They treat the Internet delivered program as something alien and deliver advertising in ways that they never would over the airways or cable. On TV, if you see a commercial run twice during one show, you assume it’s a mistake. Oops! For shows delivered via the Internet, it is the norm.
Broadcasters forget this again when they try to add false interactivity into the show. They don’t allow you to do obvious Internet actions like mouse over a character and have his or her bio popup. You can’t pause a show that has a product placement in it and get information about a product that interests you right there and then. Nope. Instead, they give a choice of what silly commercials (they call it an “experience”) you want to see again and again. Unfortunately, there is no “None” option available. Why not vary the product placements from showing to showing. For digital media that’s not that hard to do. TV Sports does it all the time. Next time you watch baseball on TV look behind the batter. The little sign changes and is localized. You could do that on a TV program with a billboard in the background for instance or change what’s playing on a TV set.
The behavior of CBS.com is probably the most egregious of the broadcasters but you see the same advertising patterns in all of them and on Hulu. They constantly run ads in ways that they never would on TV. Instead, they let opportunities go by for more interesting interactive behavior. Broadcasters don’t seem to know how to embrace the potential of Internet delivered shows while forgetting everything they know from 70 years of TV and radio broadcasting.
Broadcasters have to get this right and soon. The Internet is quickly becoming a major form of delivery for their products. Advertising is advertising. A commercial is a commercial. That doesn’t change because it’s delivered in packets instead of electromagnetic radiation. Sorry but the Internet did not change everything.