Tue, Aug 21, 2007 - Page 9 News List

Now the clicking is to watch advertisements, not skip them

Media companies, agencies and advertisers are creating Web sites with commercials that seek to amuse viewers rather than make a hard-core sales pitch

By Stuart Elliot  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

For generations, advertising interrupted the entertainment that people in the US wanted to read, hear or watch. Now, in a turnabout, advertising is increasingly being presented as entertainment -- and surprisingly, the idea of all ads, all the time, is gaining some favor.

One reason is the proliferation of broadband Internet connections, which make it easier for computer users to watch or download video clips. That is enabling media companies, agencies and advertisers to create Web sites devoted to commercials and other forms of advertising for amusement, rather than hard-core huckstering.

Oddly, the trend runs counter to another powerful impulse among consumers: The growing desire to avoid advertising. TV viewers, for instance, are spending billions of dollars a year for TiVo and other digital video recorders that help them zip through or zap commercials and click-through rates for banner Web ads are declining.

Michael Jacobs, executive vice president and executive creative director at MRM Worldwide in New York, said that the difference between "watching a commercial on a Web site and in your living room" is that viewing online is "an opt-in audience -- you're choosing to be there."

IT'S ABOUT CHOICE

"It's the nature of the Web to offer a destination you know you can go to and know what you're going to see," said Jacobs, whose agency is part of the McCann Worldgroup division of the Interpublic Group of Companies.

"There's certainly an audience for entertainment as part of the offering," he said. "The numbers seem to support it."

For example, veryfunnyads.com, a broadband Web site operated by the TBS cable network, has delivered more than 63 million video clip views since its introduction last August.

"It's a very straightforward premise: You're going to have a funny experience and you're going to have it every 30 seconds," said Ken Schwab, senior vice president for programming at the TBS and TNT networks, parts of the Turner Broadcasting System division of Time Warner.

Veryfunnyads.com is part of a rebranding campaign for the TBS network, which carries the theme "Very funny." The goal is to cultivate an identity for TBS as a home for sitcoms and humorous movies.

"A lot of people talk about zipping through commercials because the average break doesn't hold the promise of being entertaining," Schwab said.

The concept behind veryfunnyads.com has been expanded onto TBS, Schwab said, as the network will "call out" some commercials as "very funny ads" in hopes of keeping viewers from changing channels.

"I'm in the industry and I'll fast-forward through the ads most of the time," said David Droga, creative chairman at the Droga5 agency in New York. "But I'll stop for the good ones."

"You put choice on the table, you change the whole game," he said.

IT'S ABOUT CONTROL

"Everything is about control," he said. "If an ad is interesting to you, you'll have the conversation with the brand. If it's not, it's a waste of time."

In about a month, Droga plans to test his theory with the trial introduction by Droga5 and its partner, the Publicis Groupe, of a Web site named honeyshed.com.

Droga described the concept as "MTV meets QVC," offering consumers in the intended audience of ages 18 to 30 product information in the form of entertaining video clips rather than traditional commercials.

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