Use Caution When Intruding on Consumers' TV Screens

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

Intrusive is intrusive no matter what you call it. And marketing and TV executives seem intent on pushing the intrusiveness envelope to the inevitable point at which consumers push back.

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We'll be the first to admit that media owners should be seeking alternatives to traditional TV advertising. And experiments with new techniques, such as Bravo's plan to place ads in an L-shaped space on-screen, show that executives are trying. But those alternatives need to be smart, and we're not sure the L-bar, commercial squeezes and other such tactics are smart.

Bordering-on-obnoxious promotions on TV are nothing new. Those watching cable programming in particular must put up with a constant barrage of station logos and characters from the next show wandering onto the screen. Indeed, it's perfectly reasonable to look at a photo of Hitler and expect to see the History Channel logo on the bottom corner of the page.

An argument can be made that viewers have grown accustomed to disruption and intrusiveness. Many couldn't imagine CNN or Fox News without the news crawls. During sports programming, they're used to a host of streaming scores and stats competing for screen space -- as well as completely out-of-place cross-promotion attempts.

But this seemingly high tolerance for intrusiveness shouldn't give marketers and media execs the wrong idea. It's one thing to add more information to information programs such as news and sports. It's another thing to break into the suspension-of-disbelief zone of scripted entertainment. Having a promo raccoon run across the screen during a viewing of Animal Planet's "Orangutan Island" is bad enough. Imagine being caught up in the sci-fi, present-day world of "Heroes" and having a banner for the gritty, '70s-set "American Gangster" scroll across the bottom of the screen. Even though both TV show and advertised product are in the same genre -- filmed entertainment -- there's a disconnect. The viewer is pulled from one imaginary world to another. Now imagine if the encroaching ad was for a vacuum cleaner or tax-preparation software.

Sure, consumers have grown used to reality intruding in three-minute pods. And it's conceivable that they'll sit back and let the viewing area on their large-screen high-definition TVs be reduced to 13 inches of viewing space surrounded by a cacophony of ad messaging.

But marketers shouldn't be surprised if they don't.
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