With the advent of video cassette recorders and remote-control channel changers, television advertising has become a precarious business. To avoid losing the attention of viewers, commercials have become steadily shorter, and advertising agencies now routinely produce spots as brief as 10 seconds. But from Sept. 17 to 21, Toronto-based Royal Trust Corp. of Canada is taking a radically different approach to selling its financial services. The company has bought all the commercial time on CBC’s The Journal and CTV’s National News in order to broadcast fiveminute advertisements, which will be split into two segments dramatizing common financial problems. Said Alan Wiggan, president of Calgary’s Hayhurst Communications Alberta Ltd., which designed the campaign: “It defines a whole new kind of advertising.”
Royal Trust officials say that they hope the $3-million campaign will double consumer awareness of the company and its products. Samuel Cukierman, Royal Trust’s managing partner of marketing, personal financial services, said that the ads will be split into two segments, each 21/2 minutes long. One segment will be shown during the body of the newscast, the other towards the end. On each of the five nights, actors will portray Canadians faced with a different financial problem. One advertisement, called “The Will,” deals with a mother and daughter trying to plan the disposition of the mother’s estate. Another, called “The House,” dramatizes the difficulty a man faces when trying to purchase his childhood home.
For Hayhurst, a relatively small agency competing against three major Toronto firms, winning the account was an unexpected victory. While the other agencies proposed 30-second to 60-second commercials, Hayhurst proposed lengthier ones that bordered on drama. The luxury of longer ads, Wiggan said, allowed them to build characters. He added: “You end up with an emotional involvement. They have literally made grown men cry.”
Many industry observers have responded enthusiastically to the campaign. Paul Gottlieb, a professor of media writing at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ont., and a former director of an advertising creative team, said: “The media itself has changed. Nothing’s sacred. And nothing should be.” But changing the advertising format on The Journal required “delicate negotiations” with the news department, admits Adam Litzinger, director of TV sales in Toronto. Normally, three 30second commercial breaks interrupt The Journal. Litzinger said that the network news department was initially reluctant to break from that routine in order to accommodate Royal Trust.
Still, Gottlieb, like Wiggan and others, says that he is uncertain whether longer, more indepth ads are the wave of the future. For one thing, broadcasters may have problems rearranging their formats to accommodate advertisers’ special demands. And agencies will clearly have a more difficult time creating longer ads that are consistently refreshing and creative enough to prevent viewers from changing channels—or from taking advantage of such formats to spend more time preparing late-evening snacks.
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