In a 30-second spot, each moment is crucial

In a 30-second spot, each moment is crucial

Maybe it’s because I work in the marketing and advertising industry or maybe it’s the time I spent in the broadcast industry or it could even be the traces of Type A in my personality, but it really grinds my gears (gratuitous Family Guy reference) when a 30-second TV spot doesn’t make any sense.

grinds-my-gearsFor most TV commercials to make sense, there are pretty much three things you have to get right — the setup, the problem, the solution.

Take the DirecTV Voice Control campaign: When I saw the first of the spots, I couldn’t believe how completely they missed the mark on the setup. We’re introduced to a regular-looking, khaki-wearing fella standing in an underground bare-knuckle fight club. He’s about to throw down with “the man with the neck tattoo.” That’s the setup. I give it an F.

Sure, it would suck to be Bill (the fella in the khakis), but my first thought when I see the spot is “how the hell did Bill get himself in the middle of the fight club main event?” One could reply pointing out that it’s not important how he got there, what’s important is that his voice commands aren’t being heard. I’ll agree with half of that; it’s not important how he got there. My point is, it’s important that the viewer could conceive that he could get there. If the viewer is focused on the unfathomable possibility that Bill could somehow get into a bare-knuckle brawl, then there’s a darn good chance their mind is going to ponder on that for a few seconds and then miss the rest of the spot. In a 30-second ad, each second is crucial.

Of course, one might argue to the ad’s effectiveness based on the fact that I’m sitting here writing about it. To which I’d retort, if you think someone spoke up around the think table and said “We should make one of these spots stupidly confusing so that people will complain about it and generate even more exposure for our product,” then I call dirty shenanigans (yes, that’s even worse than regular shenanigans).

maydayNow, the whole campaign isn’t a flop. The second spot I saw features another khaki-wearing fella (shorts this time) named Greg who finds himself “voice commanding” for help after his sidecar is detached from the motorcycle he was cruising with. Again, a setup to a problem where you’d really like your voice to be heard. But this spot differs from the first in that Greg’s situation is completely plausible, and it doesn’t leave the viewer with thoughts of “how the hell did Greg get into this mess?”

There is no distraction in this spot, and it leaves viewers with no reason not to ingest the spot’s message about what’s really a pretty cool product feature.

What DirecTV is boasting here is a remote control that accepts voice commands, solving a problem that I find quite irritating — do you know how many clicks it takes to perform simple functions on most TV systems? Navigating menus and typing in search fields with only arrows to assist you on a non-QWERTY keyboard display can be a pain. It is indeed so much easier to say “Find romantic comedies,” as is the case in the first spot.

squAnother of the DirecTV spots features Dave, yet another khaki-wearing white guy (geez, how about a little diversity here, DirecTV) in a comically-exaggerated situation that anyone who’s spent any time in an urban park setting can relate to — the swarm of not-afraid-of-humans squirrels. Sure, squirrels don’t attack like they do in this spot, but the premise still works here because it’s a situation that many have, I’m sure, imagined themselves.

There’s another version of the product, available on your mobile phone, which features a commercial showing one more white guy named Carl (and, I think he too is wearing khakis) who is being held semi-captive by crazy “mountain people.” You might think I’d consider this situation to be as unplausibly outlandish as Mr. Guy in the fight club. I don’t, I even think this one “works.” But maybe that’s because I grew up near the Appalachian Mountains, or I’ve seen the movie Deliverance, or I just think there’s an outside chance it could happen anytime you take that not-on-the-interstate “shortcut” through hillbilly country. Either way, even crazy “mountain people” premise works better than the underground fight club.

Although, DirecTV issued an apology about the spot after viewers in our nation’s region of Appalachia took offense.

Overall, I’d rate the DirecTV campaign effective. Of the three spots I saw specifically about the voice-command-taking remote control, two of them hit the nail on the head. It would seem to be a pretty good product innovation. I still knock it for that stupid Fight Club spot and the fact that, for some reason, the spots only feature white dudes named Bill, Greg and Dave. Talk about getting specific about your target audience.

The key takeaway from this is the realization in advertising, and really marketing in general, every element is crucial. If any part of your ad or marketing materials leaves your audience with even a hint of WTF, it’s time to go back to the storyboard. Getting consumers to look your way isn’t easy and attention spans are quite short. Don’t squander the opportunity.

See the spots for yourself:
Fight Club –
Mayday –
Attack of the Squirrels –
Mountain People –

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