The latest hot ad trend is...

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The future of advertising, apparently, depends on keeping viewers on the edge of their seats, again and again and again. CBS next week plans to unveil a "microseries" sponsored by a Pontiac's Torrent that will air at 9 p.m. each night for a week. But each "episode" only lasts about a minute. "The Courier" is the very short story of a man racing against time as he tries to find his kidnapped wife. Viewers can see extra scenes at the network's Web site, where they can also download the episodes to their mobile phones.

Both CBS and Pontiac-whose Torrent SUV will be featured in three of the episodes and which will air an ad after each episode-are using "The Courier" as a lure to get viewers to pay attention to their wares. And both expect the story to be so compelling that viewers will visit the Web site and download bits of it to their cellphones. Whew, that's a lot to expect of a story that is only about seven minutes long.

The idea of the cliffhanger is as old as serialized stories in Dickensian London's press. Suspenseful stories became known as "potboilers" because an ongoing story printed in a periodical kept a writer's pot full and boiling all year long. But never has getting the crowd hooked been so crucial to so many fortunes. Media convergence may prove to be the ultimate boon to those who can spin the best yarn.

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