I’m not sure now whether it’s my age or just the age that we live in. But really often, I’ll start watching something and there will be an advert first, with a countdown. We never used to have countdowns or progress bars, but now we do and typically it says something like “your video will play in 10 seconds, 9, 8…”
And I’m exasperated at having to wait six more seconds.
I mean, I know I’m busy, but now five seconds, four, come on.
Some ads have to be played to the end –– and actually, if you’re on YouTube, for instance, the YouTuber only gets paid if the whole ad is seen –– but others do have that skip feature.
“You can skip in four, 3, for god’s sake how long is 2, 1…”
Back when we had terrestrial TV but DVRs had come in so that you could pause live television and then fast-wind through the ads, I thought advertisers missed a trick. Someone, surely, should’ve done an ad that only made sense when seen played at 20 times normal speed.
But today’s advertisers have caught on. They know you’re going to skip, so they front-load the first six or ten seconds of the ad with the best bit they can.
The first ten seconds of an advert are now like a pilot episode of a series. They come in fast, establish the characters, make their point and hope that you want to stick around for the next episode or, in this case, the next twenty seconds.
And just as with TV pilots, you’re now seeing a range of approaches. There’s the big, splashy, look-at-me flashy advert. But over time, we’ve started to get ones that are more slow, subtle, and gently seductive ones. And the ones that will stop me tapping on Skip tend to be ones with characters talking.
Both TV drama and adverts need to get your attention and then they want to persuade you to do something. With drama, it’s to keep watching and please come back for episode 2. With adverts, it’s stop watching videos and go buy something.
Adverts are meant to be a punch to your attention and drama wants to move in with you. But in both cases, I think there’s friction between grabbing your eyes and then keeping your brain.
And – this could well just be me – I think in both cases the makers get one shot. I could be wrong, and I may be unfair. Especially as at the moment I appear to be being hounded by ads for SquareSpace and I’ve been through the stages of shrugging, harrumphing and on into thinking I might look into them the next time I do a website.
But usually, if I’ve skipped an ad the first time I see it, I skip it every time.
And it’s exactly as hard to get me to come back for the second episode of a show. I understand, for instance, that Luther is a good series, but it lost me on episode 1. Maybe you remember the show better than I do, but I recall there being an impossible crime and if was ever even solved, the real conclusion was that the person who did it is an incredible criminal mastermind of evil.
But I’m sitting there thinking even I could’ve done that exact same crime and been back home in time for lunch. That meant the criminal mastermind of evil wasn’t much cop and the lead police detective character was no cop.
I’d have kept watching if that had been deliberate, but I was supposed to admire both characters and so I simply never watched another minute.
Grief. That was ten years ago. I just looked it up to see how many episodes I haven’t watched – 19 out of the 20, as it happens – and the first one aired in May 2010.
Who could’ve imagined even a decade ago that today episodes would also end with “Next episode begins in 10, 9, 8…”?
As I write this to you, the next Self Distract is in 606,300 seconds. 606,299. 606,298… You could kill a few seconds by joining my new mailing list or perhaps by buying one of my books or Doctor Who radio dramas. I’d be fine with either.