Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Where the creativity HASN'T gone on cable

As this season of The Walking Dead draws to a close, it reminds us how how great cable TV--once the province of wrestling and Andy Griffith reruns--has become.  With tight scripting, intense characters and even serviceable CGI, cable has become a go-to outlet for great TV.  Even apart from HBO, cable has given us Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Americans.

More than one critic has complained that, if anything, cable gives us too much good programming to watch.

So why do ads on cable TV fail to engage as well as the programming they fund?  More to the point, why hasn't this haven for direct response TV advertising (DRTV) emerged as laboratory for breakthrough creative?

Let us briefly acknowledge three aspects of good cable programming that hinder risk-taking DRTV.

  1. Cable TV probably suffers more from digital video recorder (DVR) use than broadcast due to cable's inherently richer demographics.  As a result, perhaps DRTV advertisers won't use anything but the tried-and-true.
  2. Popular cable programming commands ad rates higher than the remnant space that drive the economics of DRTV.
  3. Experimenting with DRTV requires the patience and money to try new things.

Still and all...

Strictly speaking, this thinking applies not just to the Shark Vacuum Cleaners of the world.  Every brand should consider itself a direct marketer.  I've long maintained that with the advent of mobile marketing, every channel has become direct marketing, like it or not.  So why not ape some of the tropes of good cable drama, stick a hashtag, URL or 800-number on it and have at it?

Some humble suggestions that seem to work well on cable:

  • Kill someone off (not literally, of course).  Cable dramas take pride in confounding fans by killing off beloved characters.  Yes, I'm looking at you, Game of Thrones.  Won't some brand take a big risk by publicly and unexpectedly killing off an old brand?  Surely you don't need all 14 flavors of Cheerios, do you, General Mills?  Imagine the craziness they could create by asking viewers to vote on which one to feed to the walkers via SMS.
  • Nudity & language.  Daryl Dixon  gets to say "shit" and we've seen various boobs and butts on Mad Men.  Why doesn't Durex or Trojan break the barriers?  I can't imagine that anyone would boycott them who isn't already.  Heck, why not ask people to sign up for official sexts?
  • Gripping plot.  Years ago, people made a big deal out of commercials run by Nestle in the UK as Gold Blend and in the US as Taster's Choice because they told a story of a couple who flirted over coffee in their apartment building.  Surely someone could create a storyline to run over a 10-13-episode arc that would keep viewers guessing and visiting the website for more.
Got any cable-friendly ideas?  Share 'em in the comments!

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