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TV Advertising Trends: TV Ads Are Becoming More Self-Aware

August 23rd, 2017   ||    by Melanie Brown

Advertising is as much a part of American culture as are the TVs we watch it on—or the internet that streams it to us or the smartphones we keep in our pockets. In the early days, advertising was straightforward: a presentation of a product sponsoring the program in the hope you would consider it during your next purchase.

But as ads became more common and increased in frequency during programming, the content of the ads shifted. TV advertising went from purely informational to informational and appealing—and, eventually, TV advertising trends shifted toward a separate source of entertainment within the content. If an audience was going to watch ads during their programming, why shouldn’t those ads also be entertaining?

From Advertising to Art

This kind of creativity—and the discovery that viewers were enjoying the ads being put out there—turned advertising into a real art form. A “good” ad could be talked about with other people and admired (and, of course, lead to consumer purchases). Like any other art, advertising resonates with its audience in some way, and advertisers began competing to resonate with the largest audiences.

Take the Super Bowl, for example. The first Super Bowl was in 1967 and during that time an average commercial cost $42,000 to run (adjusting for inflation, that would be about $308,000 today), according to the American Marketing Association. In 1980, an ad cost $220,000 (nearly $700,000 in today’s dollars) to run during the Super Bowl. And by 1990? A 30-second spot cost $700,000 (which would be about $1.34 million today).

In a very short time, the Super Bowl became the place for advertisers to run their best content (at increasingly high prices), and thus began the unofficial competition to be the best of the best. Ads became funny, emotional, risque, cinematic, outlandish—and all of the above—while trying to compete for audience attention.

Ads Come Full Circle

After decades of over-the-top creative in advertising designed to make the audience forget they’re watching an ad, TV advertising trends are now moving toward being more self-aware—and even sometimes self-deprecating—in an effort to better connect with audiences. This trend of “we know they know” often acknowledges the fact that the ad is an ad.

In a time when Americans, and specifically younger millennials and gen Zers, want to feel connected to brands and products, this kind of straightforward presentation can really resonate with audiences. People want to feel that they’re being spoken to—not spoken down to or lumped in with an entire country’s worth of other people. Taking this tack can also lead to expanded audience targeting, including the younger audiences that traditional brands are having a harder time reaching.

For example, men’s hygiene brand Old Spice recently launched a few spots utilizing the theatrical technique of breaking the fourth wall to speak directly to viewers. The brand pokes fun at its usual eccentric advertising through the use of middle-age moms who roll their eyes at an octopus driving a boat and a dog launching a rocket. These ads are not only funny—which appeals to Old Spice’s existing audience—but they can also be used to target the purchasers of these products for the younger set: moms.

While TV advertising trends come and go, their goal is always the same—to reach people, or (more accurately) to reach the right people at the right time.

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