30 Seconds and Counting

February 19, 2009


I’ve watched every episode of NBC’s “The Office” this year on Hulu. It’s free and I can watch it whenever I want, two features that are quite accommodating for the viewer. However, there is one feature that I find pretty troubling.

I might be alone here, but I’ve been loathing the advertisements that interrupt the programming on Hulu even more so than actual television ads. “It’s a new way of watching TV and it’s a new way of loathing advertisements” – that should be Hulu’s tagline.

On TV, you know there are going to be a few minutes of ads and you know you have plenty of time to flip the channel for a couple minutes until your program resumes. On Hulu, there is only one ad, you know exactly how much time is left until your program resumes and there’s not even enough time to check a few Twitter feeds. Somehow, the former is turning out to be the preferable choice here, and I’m surprised.

On Hulu, each ad runs with a clock in the upper right hand corner, saying “your program will resume in x seconds.” As a viewer, it’s comforting to know that this darned thing won’t last all day. As a marketer, I’d be a little concerned that this ad that I’ve invested a lot of dough in has an advertisement within it promoting how little time is left until my treacherous ad is finally over.

I usually am interested to see what ads are running during what program for demographic analysis, but not on Hulu lately. The ad timer is like that childhood contest to see who can hold their breath under water the longest. “3..2..1.. (gasp) I thought I was going to drown, man!” Only on Hulu, it’s McDonald’s, Best Buy or some other company assuring you they won’t hold your head under water until you drown.

With that point, I don’t think it’s necessarily a good thing when a drowning analogy can be made with your brand’s ad. I know viewership is increasing, Alec Baldwin was just in the Super Bowl spot and it seems like the popular kid in school right now, but I would be careful if I were a company buying ad time with Hulu. They’ve got to come up with something to prevent viewers, or maybe just me, from making these connotations.

An interesting idea would be to seek some consumer feedback and play with the idea that viewers are dreading the ad, watching the clock and are eager for programming to resume.

Maybe it’s an idea like a Nike ad with Olympian Usain Bolt literally racing the ad timer, seeing if he can run 300 meters before the ad is done. Maybe it’s a contest idea, where the ad challenges the viewer to visit the company’s web site, find a hidden clue, come back and type it in before the clock expires to win a gift card.

Maybe it’s something else. I’m just asking them to come up with an idea that doesn’t make me reminisce about being at the YMCA and having to beat 65 seconds underwater or make me count down those last few remaining seconds like it’s New Year’s Eve and confetti is going to come falling from my ceiling when the ad’s over.