The Secret to the Perfect TV Commercial

Hey, Weak Creative Can't Possibly Be Our Fault; Blame the Medium

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Bart Cleveland Bart Cleveland
The Super Bowl always raises everyone's expectations for creative brilliance in the form of a 30-second commercial. Statistically, most advertisers fail miserably to deliver, and this year was no different. The general consensus seems to be that not one commercial during this year's Super Bowl was great. Many were good, but we all know good isn't good enough.

I've been wondering why the Super Bowl commercials didn't shine as brightly this year. It can't be production budgets or the amount of time spent creating ideas. It might be the clients, but most advertisers who want a Super Bowl ad know it's about entertainment. It could be that the people that created the ads believe everything they do is so brilliant there is no possibility of the ad being average.

Is it possible that over the last 50 years of TV, we ad makers have just used up all the good ideas and all the retreads of ideas that can make a commercial legendary?

It can't be any of those reasons. It has to be something else, something ridiculously simple. Then it struck me like a bolt off a Gatorade bottle: Time is the culprit. The perfect spot cannot be made in the time it is given to perform. Thirty seconds, 60 seconds, 90 seconds. Who came up with these increments? They are too perfect. They are too rounded off. Art cannot be bound by such mathematics and be brilliant. Do artists paint on only three sizes of canvas? Do composers write operas or symphonies to a specific time? No! They know that the perfect artistic expression ends when it is time for it to end.

So how long is the perfect time for a TV commercial? There is no one specific time, but after polling many of my peers, it seems that the sweet spot is 42 seconds. Thirty seconds is too short and 60 seconds is too long. Eureka! The answer to my imperfection is discovered and it's not my fault! It was the television executive in the late '40s who came up with the billing increments for media. He is the one that should be burned in effigy, not we creatives.

The 42-second spot is the answer. It will end retreading old ideas. It will end having to use millions of dollars in production to try to replace an idea with spectacle. It will allow us to perfectly communicate a single compelling idea in irresistible fashion. Every day will be like watching the great Super Bowl spots from years past.

And then, we will once again be set with the task of doing better work than the everyday.

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