Maybe we'll just stop calling them 30 second spots in the future?
What would the world of advertising be like if the 30 second spot actually started playing second fiddle in the advertising mix (what if it moved over to the bassoon section?)? You don't have to look far to see how this is already starting to take shape (it's something my good friend, Joseph Jaffe, wrote about in his debut business book, Life After The 30-Second Spot, nearly a decade ago). We hear more media buyers using lingo like "pre-roll" and "post-roll" to talk about commercials, because the dollars are clearly shifting from traditional channels (TV, radio and print) to digital (online, mobile, etc...). And, as is always the case, video is one of the most profoundly powerful ways that advertisers are looking at as a way to equalize their budgets, as they shift away from TV advertising. In case you missed the news, Internet ads just surpassed broadcast television for the first time.
Is this a good thing or the worst thing possible?
Right now, everyone who is excited about digital media (and how it may slay the traditional TV beast) are holed up in NYC attending the NewFronts. Right now, everyone who thinks that TV will continue to reign supreme over digital media are also holed up in NYC attending the NewFronts. The cynics and believers collide in this near-newly minted event meant to mimic the industry's long-standing UpFronts. The upfronts are a meeting/party hosted by television network executives as a way to pump up the press and major advertisers about an upcoming season of television. The bigger goal is get the advertisers to buy television commercial airtime "up front" or before the season begins. The NewFronts is for advertisers and the media to buy into online video channels, programming and more. YouTube, AOL and more want the mass advertisers to definitely shift their ad dollars to online video. It's nothing new. This has long been the plea of digital media executives. Now, as online video starts racking up significant numbers and access to this type of programming is expanding beyond the desktop computer into tablets, smartphones and even smart TV set-ups, it feels like now may be the best time to make a run at it.
We may be missing the bigger opportunity.
What if the advertising component of video (be it traditional television or online programming) is simply a minor component of the bigger play for the video producers? This thought falls in line with a lot of my punditry around the vast difference between digital and traditional. Traditional 's model is set: interrupt the consumer experience, and there's no need for a direct lineage between how the money is made and the content that surrounds it. Maybe Bethany Mota understands what a real NewFronts looks like, while the big digital video guns are busy trying to replicate television, instead of re-inventing it. You wouldn't know Bethany Mota unless you have teenagers in your life (and, even then, you may not know her). Yesterday, Bethany cracked six million subscribers to her YouTube channel. She doesn't sing. She doesn't act. She's not an author. She records haul videos. Young girls interested in fashion, shopping and trends tune in with massive numbers (and they are loyal beyond reason). It's not uncommon for any video of hers to garner over two million views in a short while. She doesn't stop at YouTube, she's active on Twitter (1.43 million followers) and Instagram too (2.8 million followers). She's become her own mass media channel.
Don't believe me?
Do you know who John Oliver is? He's a former cast member on The Daily Show who debuted his new HBO series, Last Week Tonight, with what The Hollywood Reporter called a "strong start" of 1.1 million viewers. Oliver only has 289,000 followers on Twitter, by the way. Of course, it's hard to compare a John Oliver to a Bethany Mota, but Oliver is relying on these traditional advertising buys to save him, while Bethany Mota is rolling in it. From a business perspective, I'm sure Mota capitalizes on the immense amount of views that her YouTube videos generate (and I'm sure Google/YouTube is hopeful that she keeps on growing and shares in the revenue), but Mota is also pulling in sponsorships and, even more impressive, is her recently launched clothing line with Aeropostale. As Mota builds her direct relationship with the fans (which is a hybrid of owned, shared and earned media), her fans not only expect product endorsements... they're practically begging for them.
Is Bethany Mota the future of the NewFronts?
If I were a brand looking to truly connect, engage and build a direct relationship with my consumers, I would be less impressed with more video advertising inventory that can now be found online, and I would be spending the bulk of that time figuring out who is our Bethany Mota? Is it someone we build out from within, or is it someone we partner with for success? Granted, most brands are not going to generate the kind of interest that Mota gets, but the world of advertising isn't a game of mass reach only. The true world of advertising is about reaching the right audience with the right message as frequently as possible. We used to do that through GRPs and repetition. By the looks of the NewFronts, we're just substituting television for online video. Perhaps the real future of online video is about developing the right characters to tell the story in a more holistic and mutually beneficial way (for the brand and consumer). Instead, it feels like the NewFronts are just trying to like the Upfronts. That may be a massive waste of an opportunity.
I believe this: if Bethany Mota can do it, most brands can do it too. Simply buying an ad is no longer the key to attention and loyalty.