The dynamics of watching television today are in stark contrast to what it used to be in its yesteryears; no more are people glued to their television sets – the smartphone, the tablet, the wearable, to name a few modern-day essentials, ensure audiences are distracted enough so that their complete and undivided attention isn’t on the television any more. In addition to these distractions, other factors like decreased attention spans and patience levels play even bigger roles. In a June 2016 survey, 76% of respondents said they skip traditional TV ads – and 90% skip all pre-roll ads appearing before TV shows. This aversion to ads, coupled with the rise of ad-free streaming services like Netflix and Amazon’s Prime Video, has been spelling doom for brands looking to advertise to consumers through good old prime time television slots.
Traditional ads on TV are reaching less and less viewers; in a world where the television commercial is fast losing its relevance, how are brands to effectively reach their consumers?
Still from Lord of the Ring, Episode 4, Handy
Comedy Central seems to have created a way to work around this significant roadblock. Starting late December, the network started a branded content series, Handy. In the network’s own words, Handy “gives viewers a behind-the-scenes comedic look into the grueling, high-stress and absurd world of professional male hand modeling”. Previously called Hand Job and run as isolated episodes as part of their branded content strategy, now the network has planned to set aside one two-and-a-half minute commercial pod each month for this branded content series. The first episode in the series (and the fourth overall), featured hand model Erik Thomas Layne struggling to complete a beach wedding shoot. Aired during the showing of the movie 50 First Dates, this Handy episode, called Lord of the Ring, much like the previous episodes, was sponsored by a brand – this time, it was jewelry brand Zales. After it aired on Comedy Central, the spot was shared across their social networks, and on the Handy website.
A seamless content experience – is it the key to consumer affinity?
Branded content isn’t an absolutely new fixture, but Comedy Central’s approach – replacing traditional ads with engaging, short and humorous spots – opens the door for brands to engage more deeply with their consumers. If the storylines manage to hold the audience’s attention, no longer will they go for the mute or skip options. Viewers today want to engage with commercials, but not the way they’ve been doing since the beginning of the television ad. Now, they want commercials to reach them on their own terms – and this calls for brands to speak to them in a language they understand, appreciate and look forward to, all the while not being intrusive or repetitive. Additionally, telling a story without aggressive product promotion makes the interaction a little more genuine for viewers.
Whether or not Comedy Central’s Handy becomes a long-running success, it certainly gives brands – and their communication allies – ideas for refreshing and innovative ways to approach content. With ever-changing media landscapes, path-breaking technology and evolving consumer preferences, what will we see next in transformational content?