Will Commercial Ratings Compromise Creativity?

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"This upfront season, the industry finally got a commercials ratings system—meaning instead of measuring audiences for shows, broadcasters will measure audiences for spot breaks . . . ultimately, it's promised, even right down to the second. What will the ultimate effect be on ad creativity when every moment of an ad will be measured?"

Tony Granger Chief Creative Officer, Saatchi & Saatchi, New York

My view is that it's a wonderful thing. You get ratings on shows; you get ratings for people and everything else, so why shouldn't we have ratings on commercials? From a creative point of view, it's a great thing because clients are going to want the best ratings where the ratings are about entertainment and about engagement. The great creative agencies have that at their very heart. I think what will happen is that the bad commercials will just disappear because their ratings will be so bad. Bad commercials are annoying, intrusive and aggressive

The great agencies have known this for a very long time. I love TiVo. I think it's a wonderful invention, because it means people are going to stop and rewind my commercial and have a look at it. It's about driving creative content and finding the new edge for creative work. So I think that people who are scared of ratings don't have faith in their product and their ability. I think people who embrace ratings have faith.

The one thing I'm a little antsy about is rating a commercial per second. To me, that's just an absolute slight to the face of everything we do. A good story has a beginning, a middle and an end. A good story reveals itself and leads you down the path with intimacy and mystery. A good story has sensuality in it, and to expect every second of the commercial to be dissected and rated independently from one another is absolutely insane. The content needs to viewed and scored as a whole rather than be dissected second by second. It's a little bit like reading a book and rating each word in the book. How do you dissect a painting and analyze each square inch? You can't do that. But if ratings are going to help make more and more clients realize that highly creative content and a big creative idea is more powerful than just screaming and shouting and getting the message out there, then I think it's a good thing.

Steven Shore Consultant, Executive Producer, The Sweet Shop, New York

It will finally put to the test, in a most meaningful way, the age-old debate about recall testing efficacy vs. creativity. In other words, is it a commercial that recalls well or is it an ad with an entertaining concept or striking design that retains those pesky, fast-forwarding DVR owners? Will we be forced deeper into the abyss of "see/say" test result-oriented advertising or will creatives, even on some of the most heretofore conservative brands, finally have license to thrill with their best-conceived stuff?

An equally important question will follow the money: If, as agencies have for years suggested, compensation models should become adjusted to reflect results (in the form of sales or viewership), how would production company budgets and compensation be affected in a world of quantifiable results? Traditionally, production company budgets were a factor of the anticipated media costs of a given spot or campaign. The old P&G axiom that production costs should equal 10 percent of media comes to mind. Production companies have always been gross participants; we charged our fees upfront. In this brave new world, one could envision a risk/reward scenario where the greater the viewership, the better the compensation. But be careful what you wish for. Because we've traditionally been paid upfront, we've never had to track or collect back end payments. I am not suggesting that either advertisers or agencies would engage in "Hollywood accounting," but tracking backend payments is an overhead-intensive process that carries its own perils and expenses.

Bob Moore Chief Creative Officer, Publicis USA

Some of our clients at Publicis are already doing this type of engagement testing, and I'll tell you, it's fascinating and spooky. Basically, we sit and observe a spot's EKG—a line on a screen that moves up and down depending upon how engaged viewers are feeling during any particular second. It sounds like a creative person's worst nightmare; I mean, who wants that level of scrutiny? But here's the stinger: The EKG quantitatively and qualitatively shows clients what we creatives instinctively know. That joke is so played. That beat before the punchline really makes the spot. That actor is funny. The best spots get the best responses. The funnier spots get the highest engagement. I know, I know. DUH.

I've watched these EKGs with clients, and the outcome is always the same: "Hey, Bob, let's do more of those spots that people like more." Theoretically, we should be able to leverage this kind of testing to stay out of Stupidland and make better ads. Two dangers exist, and this is where you need a smart client with good creative chops. One, they can't take one moment of one spot and live or die in that one moment. After all, you can't judge a book by one cover or one chapter or once sentence. Two, the client response, "Do more of those spots people like more," cannot lead to making that same spot over and over. Viewers are engaged when they see something new and fresh. In the end, this kind of testing should serve one important purpose: keep the flatlines off the air.

Conor Brady Executive Creative Director, Organic

Consumers seem to be reacting to the high frequency and predictable quality of the standard :30. Let's face it, the format hasn't changed since it was invented, because it hasn't had to. Just like polyester became spandex and is now Lycra, it's essentially still the same. In the past, consumers were passive viewers. Now, with the advent of TiVo, they've taken control and are responding with their fast-forward buttons. I believe that the days of television spots leading a campaign are numbered. A new creative team structure is emerging, with unified creative briefs that inform content in all communication platforms, taking into consideration the benefits of each.

Interactive offers all of the benefits of a television spot and more. When considering online creative, think about these five words: entertaining, viral, relevant, flexible, trackable. What I mean is, in its longer form an online ad becomes more like branded content. With viewing times up to three minutes long, there is a better chance to create more entertaining and portable, or viral, concepts. In the online world, we generate creative based on a deep understanding of the target audience, usually more niche than a mass market. Therefore, it gives us a better chance to make a real connection. Additionally, online advertising measurement is infinitely more trackable and actionable. If an ad doesn't work, then we can quickly pull it, iterate it, and relaunch it—at a fraction of the cost of television.

What does this mean for the television paradigm? It means that the interruptive advertising model isn't going to work anymore. Great creative comes out of trying something different, when we as an industry are pushed into taking a risk. This new era of consumer control should be viewed as an opportunity to raise the creative bar, not just online but also on television.
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