Apple’s ‘1984’ TV Commercial Holds Lessons For Today’s Mobile Video Ads

MatevzKlanjsekOn TV And Video” is a column exploring opportunities and challenges in programmatic TV and video.

Today’s column is written by Matevz Klanjsek, co-founder and chief product officer at Celtra.

Ridley Scott produced two masterpieces early in his career: “Blade Runner” in 1982, which some considered the greatest science fiction film ever made, and the “1984” Apple ad that aired during Super Bowl XVIII, which changed the advertising industry forever.

The “1984” ad was a true cinematic experience. The big-budget TV commercial wasn’t made as your run-of-the-mill TV commercial. It was made as a film and directed as a film. It used the storytelling techniques of a film and had the production values of a film. It was also directed by a film director.

Ever since its debut, all great TV commercials have followed a similar formula to achieve success. With the rise of online and, more recently, mobile video advertising, marketers have been looking for a new formula that would fit the new medium. Oftentimes, they have comfortably settled for the one they know from TV.

Most of the time, they have failed.

There’s no question that advances in smartphone and tablet technology continue to drive explosive growth for advertisers. However, a simple transplantation of TV ads into the mobile environment doesn’t, and won’t, work. The industry still has a lot to learn and can benefit from Scott’s revolutionary masterpiece moving forward.

Among the lessons advertisers should glean from Apple’s “1984” Super Bowl ad: Grab the audience’s attention, incorporate portrait orientation and don’t overlook authenticity.

Grab Their Attention

In an era when most TV ads still relied on aggressive unique selling proposition communication, Scott’s film-inspired storytelling glued viewers to their screens. People wanted to watch this commercial. It stood out, caught viewers’ attention and kept it by dramatically changing the way ads communicated to consumers.

In today’s connected society, mobile video advertising desperately needs a similar shift of the storytelling paradigm. The attention span of mobile video ads is dismal, with completion rates at around 20% at best for both skippable in-stream and out-of-stream ads.

As social media became pervasive, our attention spans have shrunk and we get distracted much more easily. Viewers simply don’t have patience for long narrative buildups of TV commercials anymore. Video ads need to get shorter with much faster pace, more aggressive editing and a quick succession of short scenes to keep the viewers’ attention.

Portrait Orientation

Obsessing over native ad formats during the past year, marketers mostly focused on the publisher context and look and feel of the ads, but often forgot about the physical, or the hardware aspect of native.

Since users hold their mobile phones in portrait orientation nearly 98% of the time, the landscape format of video ads presents a huge drawback. Not many would take the time and effort to rotate their device just to watch something they probably don’t even want to watch. With the wide landscape formats, video ads mostly take advantage of only a small portion of already small screens.

As difficult as it is to move beyond the conventions of a great cinematic experience, already established because of fantastic works by the likes of Scott, mobile video ads need to be edited for portrait orientation to get the best viewing experience out of them. A new generation of video-sharing apps, such as Meerkat, is setting the new standard. Snapchat is already reporting completion rates for portrait video that are nine times higher than landscape format.

Authenticity Needed

Apple’s “1984” commercial is renowned for its high production values. It countered the notion that great TV ads can be cheap and also look cheap. Just like Scott did in the ’80s, we need to shake off the established video production conventions once more. Ironically, we have to challenge the very standards Scott set. Mobile video ads need to look restrained in order to appear authentic.

Authenticity is repeatedly being singled out as one of the most important values of younger generation. Millennials want the content they consume to look and sound authentic and they care much less about how it is created and produced.

The aesthetic language of authenticity is directness, eclectic visual style and low production value. And this is the problem with most mobile video ads. TV ads running on mobile devices don’t look authentic exactly because they are overproduced. They don’t speak the language modern consumers can relate to.

Ads are never competing only with other ads for consumers’ attention. They are competing with any other type of content. Scott correctly recognized that in the golden age of television and cinema, ads were competing with the best-produced TV content and films. So he created a commercial that’s essentially a film. It was better than most of the films ever produced up to that time.

It’s time we start doing the same with mobile video ads.

Follow Celtra (@CeltraMobile) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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