Web video ads are annoying and repetitive. Here's how to fix them.

Advertising deconstructed.
Nov. 21 2008 5:20 PM

I Hate You, Blue-Tux-Wearing Viagra Guy!

Web video ads are annoying and repetitive. Here's how to fix them.

Last week, I logged onto 60 Minutes' Web site to watch Barack Obama's first post-election interview. About 20 minutes into the show, the screen faded to a commercial: A middle-aged man is digging through his attic when he comes across a box marked "wedding stuff." A mischievous smile crosses his face, and next thing you know he's decked out in his old powder-blue tuxedo, skipping downstairs to present his still-dishy wife with a bouquet of roses. Yes, this was an ad for Viagra. For the next 45 seconds, the couple danced around their house while an announcer warned of the dangers of drug interactions and four-hour erections. While they engaged in safe-for-work foreplay, I switched over to my e-mail.

Eventually, Steve Kroft returned with 15 more minutes of the Obama interview. Then another commercial: A middle-aged man is digging through his attic when he comes across a box marked "wedding stuff." Mischievous smile, powder-blue tux, roses, dancing, four-hour erection. By now I'd committed some of the ad's signature lines to memory, making a mental note to ask my doctor whether my heart is healthy enough for sex. Finally, 60 Minutes returned. A few closing thoughts from Obama and then, just before Andy Rooney, one more ad break. Mischievous smile, powder-blue tux, roses, dancing, four-hour erection.

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At this point, I hated everything about priapic blue-tux guy. I hated his self-satisfied grin as he struck an Elvis pose for his wife, I hated that she couldn't see him for the sex fiend he obviously was (why had he taken the blue pill if he'd only been planning on cleaning the attic?), and I hated that he'd helped lodge a stupid erectile-dysfunction jingle in my brain ("Vi-vaaaaaa Vi-agra!"). Most of all, though, I hated Pfizer's sales tactics. Why did the company believe that I was a ripe candidate for Viagra? And worse, why did it think that the best way to sell me the drug was to repeat the same ad three times, as if my real problem weren't erectile dysfunction but, rather, some kind of cognitive deficit that prevented me from understanding its message the first time. By the time the announcer told me for the third time that old couples "have a groovy thing goin' on," I'd had enough. Next time I get aroused while cleaning the attic, I'll reach for Cialis.

Pfizer and 60 Minutes aren't alone in this ad-repetition business. More than a year ago, I canceled my cable subscription, figuring I could get all the TV I needed through Netflix and the Web. This has worked out well enough: These days, you can find just about every prime-time show on Hulu or one of the networks' Web sites. There's only one problem: The ads are driving me crazy. Sure, I'm thrilled that there are fewer ads on the Web than on television, where every hourlong program is padded with about16 minutes of commercials. On the Web, I'm served only two or three minutes of ads per show, but those few minutes are often excruciating. Online video ads are repetitive, banal, completely unsuited to the speed and tone of the Web, and—for a medium rich with personalization—often clueless about my interests and tastes. The ads haven't made me turn away from Web video, but they do frequently sour me on the products and services being advertised.

The first problem is variety. Advertisers like to buy up a whole show's worth of commercials (as Pfizer did with 60 Minutes), but many times they don't produce enough different spots to fill up the block. This is partly for budgetary reasons. The Web is a new medium, and for many advertisers it's an afterthought to TV. The ads that companies put up on the Web are bastardizations—longer or shorter versions of 30-second spots first created for the tube.

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