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Television: commercially speaking we've learned a lot in forty years.

Television: Commercially Speaking, We've Learned A Lot In Forty Years

Oh, lordy. How well I remember those good old days of live television. For those of you who might be too young to recall that golden era, you'll just have to take my word for the fact that you really missed something special. Because before video tape became commonplace, most locally originated programs and even a high percentage of local commercials were 100 percent in-the-flesh l-i-v-e! No retakes, no editing, no chance to correct screw-ups. And the resulting blunders and bloopers were sometimes better entertainment than the best network programs. A slick dramatic show like CBS' "Playhouse 90" was able to cover up a lot of mistakes, even though it was live, too, because the cast and crew were all professionals. But at the local station level, particularly in small markets, most of the production staff, the engineers, and the on-air personalities were novices with little or no experience in this foundling medium. So most of them simply didn't have the foresight to be able to prevent embarrassing situations, nor the moxie to handle on-air crises when they did develop. Inevitably, little surprises mushroomed into a comedy of erros. Like this one, to which I was a delighted first-hand witness:

The first station that went on the air in my home town back in the early fifties initiated a daily kids' show that later became a thirty-year institution. They called the program "Kids' Korner", and it was hosted by an energetic young man who sported the moniker "Kanyon Kid". Except for the cartoon inserts, the show was completely live, including a bunch of real live kids who were Kanyon's guests each day in his Klubhouse. (Great use of alliteration, don't you think?) One day at the conclusion of the show, Kanyon was making his regular rounds of the rug rats, asking if anybody wanted to say anything to the people watching out there in TV land. Kanyon should have spotted trouble when one boy somewhat older and bigger than the others said that he had a special message for his friend Herbie. But, the host unsuspectingly stuck the microphone in the kid's face, and the rest is television history. Because the little mummer promptly broke into a devilish grin, shoved his middle finger towards the camera lens, and announced to the world: "Here's to `ya', Herbie!" As if that wasn't enough of a catastrophe, pandemonium broke out when the crew panicked. The director immediately went to black, but the sound man forgot to turn off the mike switch. So the viewers were treated to a "radio-esque" drama that included howling kids, swearing cameramen, and the culprit being hauled off kicking and screaming to the accompaniment of one of the crew members yelling repeatedly: "Get the little s.o.b. the hell outa here!" Now that's entertainment.

The live commercials were even better, particularly when some local merchant decided that doing his own on-camera commercials might be his one and only opportunity to achieve immortality. Case in point:

On the second station that went on the air in my home town, just a few short months after the first, a prominent local jeweler sponsored one of the regular late night programs. Early on, he decided to act as his own spokesman, and just as early on, his appearance became a standing community joke. Aside from his serious-as-death delivery of the dour scripts he wrote himself, he perspired profusely under the blazing hot studio lights, so his face was always drenched and his shirt and coat regularly showed large wet spots under the pits. To make matters worse, he was bald as a crystal bowling ball, and even with careful powdering, his gleaming pate created monumental glare problems for the old studio cameras. The piece de resistance came when he arrived at the station one night proudly sporting one of the world's ugliest hairpieces -- it looked kind of like the old throw rug my father used to lay on when he changed oil in the car. But the jeweler was proud of his new toupee, which he proclaimed to be state-of-the-art in rugs. It was even held in place, he said, by some new miracle adhesive that would prevent it from slipping, sliding or relocating itself in any way. Well, this was live television, remember, where things didn't always go as planned.

And his world started to crumble very soon. During the first commercial break, the jeweler-cum-tv "celeb" was pitching an exquisite silver punch bowl set. Being a stickler for detail, he had actually filled the bowl with punch or some liquid that looked like punch. His commercials were supposed to last sixty seconds, but in those pioneering days, station management was so grateful for advertising revenue, nobody ever held him to it, so he regularly prattled on for three to four minutes. And, about two minutes in, he began to produce his usual profusion of sweat, which began falling in large droplets into the full punch bowl. The crew giggled; the jeweler began to panic.

In an attempt to staunch the flow of offending moisture and to salvage his dignity, he pulled a hanky from his pocket and began to mop his brow, his face, and (forgetting about his new head covering) the top of his head, all very energetically. Predictably, the combination of the intense heat from the lights, the lubrication provided by the sweat, and the movement of the handkerchief eventually broke the bond of the wonder glue that was supposedly holding the toupee immovable. And it started to move. In fact, each time he moved his head or dabbed his head with the hanky, it moved a little more. Then, disaster fell -- and so did his hairpiece. Right into the punch bowl, with a splash. The floor crew lost it, and so did the humiliated jeweler. The more they laughed, the more he yelled at them. And, unlike Richard Nixon, his expletives were not deleted. Boy, live tv was great.

What's the purpose of this lengthy preamble? To point out that television has grown up since those early days. And so has the creation of television commercials. In fact, the production of effective commercials that catch the viewers' attention and help sell a product or a concept has become a sophisticated art form. New technology and keener knowledge of consumer reactions have helped make television one of the most successful retail advertising tools. And any retailer who either rejects the use of television out of hand or uses it half-heartily, without availing himself or its full power of persuasion, might as well still be doing business back in the fifties.

Television At Its Best

There are those who would take exception to my next statement. But, after having spent much of my business life in and around television, I have formulated the opinion that television's two greatest values to a retailer are:

1) As a long term image builder. Because of television's powerful impact on viewers and the memorability factor, no other media is as effective at helping a retailer create an identity for his business. Newspapers do a great job of selling merchandise through price-item ads; radio is tremendously successful for promotion of a short term sale or as a way of reaching a very specific audience. But no other media is as dynamic an image builder as television.

First, you can use it to paint whatever picture you want your viewers to see. Second, television commercials are intrusive, because they enter the viewer's consciousness uninvited while he's engrossed in some program or other. He doesn't have to be looking for them as he would newspaper ads, nor does he have to be paying close attention to the program content as he does with radio. If the set is "on" and he's in the room, a well produced commercial will catch his attention. And, if it's really well produced, it will hold his attention and he'll remember it later.

2) As a strong secondary support media. I'm not a big believer in retailers using television as their only advertising media. But, neither am I very supportive of the singular use of newspaper or radio. I've preached before in this column about the value of an effective media mix, and I'll continue to do so time and time again. Television can be an important element of that mix, effectively backing up newspaper ads, direct mail or even radio in support of a specific sale or promotion, either short or long term.

Neither time nor space allows us to explore the complexities of buying and proper scheduling of tv advertising at the moment -- we'll deal with that in a future column. But, I can offer a couple of simple rules of thumb that have served me well over the years: For a short sale, a limited promotion, or to promote just a few items, use a lot of short commercials (probably 10 seconds) on one station over a short period of time. That will help you achieve good "frequency". For a big promotion of longer duration, use longer commercials (probably 30 seconds) stretched out over a longer period of time on more than one station, and very carefully placed in the programs that you know will appeal to your primary target group. That way, you'll increase your "reach" or market penetration. In either case, the effectiveness will be greatly determined by the content, concept and execution of the commercials.

The Four Tenets Of Good Television Production

From my earliest days in television, four elements were drilled into my head as being absolute prerequisites for good television commercials:

1) Sight

2) Sound

3) Motion

4) Emotion

Remember them, because these elements are as critical today as they were during my days as a novice copywriter and commercial producer. When I was producing television commercials for local retailers, I used to become infuriated when an advertiser would instruct me to just use his radio commercial and throw in a couple of 35mm slides as visuals. I became equally incensed when some "schnook" insisted we use his current newspaper ad as the visual and just have an announcer "read some copy over it".

The old "talking head" shot was almost as bad, with a studio camera locked down on an announcer's head and shoulders for thirty or sixty seconds while he delivered a dry, boring spiel. What a yawner! Didn't those guys realize that tv was different from radio or newspaper? Even with primitive equipment, it allowed us to do things that radio and newspaper simply could not duplicate. We could use movement as a tool, and lots of action. We could show a product more attractively than newspaper ever could. And, most important, we could activate that emotional element by stimulating the viewer's imagination. Even then, we were fully capable of bringing forth virtually any emotion..excitement, anger, sympathy, romance. We could make viewers laugh, cry, or wish they were something or someplace they weren't. Television always has been able to create a certain kind of magic. And nowhere is that more evident than in the production of television commercials.

Today, with technological advances that include portable video tape equipment, digital editing technique, computer animation, and special effects generators, a sharp producer can make almost any retailer's television commercial an effective selling tool that creates attention, communicates a message, and guarantees memorability. Since television production does cost money, you'll certainly have to work within realistic guidelines as dictated by your budget. I mean, not everybody can expect his commercial to be a full blown Hollywood or New York production. But it's a fact that running a poor commercial can reduce the impact of a good schedule by 50 percent or more. So, although you don't have to go overboard, it's sometimes advisable to borrow a few bucks from your media schedule to guarantee the production of a commercial that's going to do you justice.

If You Decide To Give TV A Try

If you've decided to try television advertising, here are a few very basic guidelines and suggestions that might help guarantee you a better, more effective on-air product:

1) Let the pros do it. Unless you have some first-hand experience in television production, let a tv station, an ad agency or an independent production company produce your commercials. They're trained to do it; you're not. And the skills required to produce effective tv commercials are considerably different from those you might have developed in planning your newspaper ads.

2) Keep the copy fresh, alive and visual. Make sure whoever writes your commercials understands television. The ability to write "visually" is critical, as is a working knowledge of what techniques are possible and practical within the confines of your budget.

3) Go where the action is. Don't be afraid to shoot your commercial on location, either in your store, at a local shooting range, or out in the woods. Portable video equipment now makes it fairly simple to be very mobile. By shooting a commercial in your store, you personalize your commercials and put your customers in your own selling environment. And, they can become intimately involved with you, your staff, your product line, and your facility. By going out in the field, you can actually demonstrate a product and create a very strong emotional reaction by letting viewers imagine how it would feel to be the guy shooting that rifle or shotgun, stalking that big buck, or drawing a bead on that target.

4) Use people in your commercials and keep them moving. Displaying an exquisite double shotgun laying on a table, for example, doesn't have half the impact of a guy picking up that same shotgun, fondling it, sighting down the rib, and breaking open the action. A hunting jacket hanging on a rack or laid on a table has nowhere near the appeal of somebody trying on that same jacket and showing his appreciation of its finer features. So use real people whenever possible in your commercials, because they'll help make your whole pitch more real to your viewers. Slides? Static studio shots? You know my feelings on that. Motion is still critical if you expect your commercial to convey some excitement, so don't ignore it.

5) K.I.S.S. The old adage is still true: Keep it simple, stupid. By that I mean to avoid using lots of flashy, glitzy special effects just for the sake of flash and "glitz". Broadcast production equipment has become so sophisticated, there are virtually no limits to the kind and quantity of wipes, squeezes, dissolves, split screens, stars, bars and explosions that can be produced electronically. But, unless the special effects have some direct relationship to your message or somehow enhance the appeal of your products, hold them to a minimum. Too much glitter and razzle-dazzle can detract from the message you're trying to convey.

6) Leave them with something to remember you by. Your logo is the last thing your viewers will see in your commercial. So make it a good one. If you don't already have a good, powerful logo, pay a commercial artist to design one for you. If you do already have a good logo, ask the producer what can be done to punch it up or enhance it a little, just to give it some life and to make it more memorable. Computer animation is great, but it's usually pretty expensive. Sometimes, however, tweaking a few knobs and pulling a few levers can do a very satisfying job of turning a dull, plain, black and white logo into a memorable visual signature, complete with movement, color, and an identity of its own. And, since that identity is what you hope to establish, embellishing your logo electronically is something that's worth pursuing.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Publishers' Development Corporation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:firearms advertising
Author:Grueskin, Robert
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:May 1, 1989
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