TV Commercials Getting Shorter, But Are They Getting Any Less Crappy?

In case you hadn’t noticed as you fast-forwarded through the ad breaks while watching Biggest Loser, a growing number of those ads you’re not watching are now half the length of the ads you used to have to sit through in the days before DVRs.

Geico has been running 15-second commercials, featuring any number of its myriad spokesthings, for years. The insurance company often doubles up their ads into one, 30-second double-feature.

More recently, as ad budgets were hit with the shrink ray and the viewing public decided 30 seconds was too long to care about a commercial, more and more major advertisers have switched to the shorter segments.

From the AP:

The number of 15-second television commercials has jumped more than 70 percent in five years to nearly 5.5 million last year, according to Nielsen. They made up 34 percent of all national ads on the air last year, up from 29 percent in 2005.

Is it possible that the shorter time frame is making for better commercials? Aside from being mercifully short, a number of 15-second ads were mentioned in our discussion of the best commercials currently on TV.

There’s the Old Spice guy, wooing women from atop a horse in only a quarter of a minute, Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man In The World spots.

ESPN, whose in-house commercials have always ranked among the funniest and most clever on TV, have recently moved to shorter ads, like the one featuring the University of Oregon duck staring wistfully out the window from his desk at the duck pond outside the ESPN office:

Conversely, Burger King’s new 15-second ads for its breakfast menu have proved divisive, with some finding them quirky and funny while others just finding them strange and irritating.

There are some commercials that just beg to be shorter, like these wordless spots from John Hancock, which feature only the sounds of typing and incoming instant messages. At 15 seconds, it would be tolerable; at 30, it’s enough to make you throw a brick at the TV (assuming you have a loose brick in your living room).

While we’re on the topic, remember that we’re already asking for nominations for the next Worst Ad In America Awards, so send your e-mails with those ads you hate the most to with “WAIA” in the subject line.

TV ads shrink to match attention spans []


Edit Your Comment

  1. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    I don’t know if they’re getting less crappy, but the truly fantastic ones (Old Spice and Dos Equis come to mind) make up for everything else.

  2. TooManyHobbies says:

    Blipverts, anyone?

  3. Sheogorath says:

    Pretty soon they’ll just be logos flashing on the screen for 15 seconds. That’ll be the only way to get any product recognition.

    • TouchMyMonkey says:

      They do that already. During the program. Distracting and annoying.

    • gman863 says:

      This is called “Product Placement”.

      James Bond films have been full of it for decades. It’s also why you see the backs of Dell monitors in many shows.

      • clownsRcreepy says:

        The worst is the obvious and distracting product placement of cell phones. The various CSI’s are some of the worst perpetrators.

  4. full.tang.halo says:

    ESPN commercials are indeed some of the best. But they are generally run ON espn, like I’ve somehow forgotten after 30 seconds of commercials that I was watching ESPN.

  5. tchann says:

    For what it’s worth…

    I have in front of me the spot grid for a certain strip show (five days a week) for next week. Of the 16 total commercials that will go in this show, five run 2:00 long, four at 1:00, and seven are :30.

    I’ve noticed a tendency towards the shorter, fifteen-second commercials in the more major network programs. The further away from primetime and networks you get, the longer the commercials.

  6. consumerfist says:

    I’ll take these commercials that pitch actual products any day over those from the ambulance chasers, credit counseling services, and tax attorneys. Those are really unbearable. It’s the same boring stuff from people with monotone voices over and over and over….

    • TouchMyMonkey says:

      Don’t forget about the washed-up jocks and B-list actors. Fonzie is pimping reverse mortgages – ain’t that about the opposite of cool?

  7. marks2l says:

    Even though the ads may be getting shorter, it sure seems that the total ad time is increasing. It almost seems that the various cable networks are coordinating their ad times so that if you try to surf during the ads on the show you’re watching, you still end up being bombarded by ads.
    And the ad breaks are consistently in the 4-5 minute range, sometimes as long as the programming segments.

    • Beeker26 says:

      This. The commercials themselves might be getting shorter but the commercial block keeps getting longer and longer. What used to be 44 minute primetime network shows are now 40-42 minutes at best. Forget about cable. 4-6 minute blocks of commercials now seem to be the standard.

    • nybiker says:


      Good or bad, I don’t care so long as the total ad (as in anything that’s not the show) time of a 60-minute (not 61 or 62) show is no more than 10 minutes. Of course, that’s not going happen these days (sorry, I remember the truly good days of 1978 and earlier when there was a fixed amount of commercial time per 30- & 60-minute shows). So, in these modern times, 45 minutes would be an adequate compromise. It’s still a lot of ads and promos but at least it won’t seem like you’re watching an infomercial with a little of a show thrown in.
      I watched the rebooted 5-0 last night (on tape of course) and I saw that there was one show segment that was just about 5 minutes.
      And to add to this rant (sorry), they need to get rid of on-screen text and graphics and snipes and crawls and pop-ups. And do I need to see “You’re watching whatever” flash on the screen? No. Get rid of that info too.
      /end of rant, thanks for reading.

    • kataisa says:

      ITA. The ads may be getting shorter but unfortunately there seems to be more of them and they go on for several minutes.

      It almost seems that the various cable networks are coordinating their ad times so that if you try to surf during the ads on the show you’re watching, you still end up being bombarded by ads.

      Good point. I noticed this a while back and often wondered if it was done on purpose. Hope Consumerist or some other watchdog blog does some research on this phenom.

  8. themrdee says:

    Could the fact that it takes 10 or 15 seconds to recognize a commercial, react and grad the controller, then zap it be what’s killing long ads?

  9. swat1227 says:

    Another note: has anyone else noticed how some commercials (namely, those who are advertising other shows) now have the rating box come up on the commercials as well? Seems like a ploy to make people stop their fastforwarding on DVRs to make them watch the commercial. The commercials shown during “Glee” are particularly guilty of this.

  10. Emperor Norton I says:

    Even the 30 second commercials are getting shorter as a lot of stations cut them at 28 seconds so they can squeeze in an extra one.

    Cut 2 seconds off of every ad & you get to charge for another one after just 14 of them!
    Just watch WGN-TV in Chicago for this!

  11. Kishi says:

    I make my own bricks at home to throw at my television.

  12. MarvinMar says:

    I have also noticed the TV Show themes are getting really short now.
    The one for Mellisa and Joey is “I guess your stuck with me”so 5 or 6 seconds.
    The one for Mike and Molly is really short also, And I believe there are several others.

  13. Hoss says:

    I do miss Billy Mays though.

  14. Blious says:

    Ads in general are becoming a joke in terms of both length and what they are saying

    I throw my hands up at the sheer number of ads found on any major show as they seem to take up half the time

  15. kingoftheroad40 says:

    I just wish they would stop advertising to me like i have 1 brain cell on overdrive .
    nothing turns me away from a product or store … more than talking to me like I’m an idiot.

  16. laffmakr says:

    This is not something new, 15-second commercials have been around for years.

  17. momtimestwo says:

    I think I’m beginning to hate product placements more then the ads because I can fast forward through the ads. Top Chef and America’s Next Top Model are the worst for me.

    For example on Top Chef they had an entire challenge based around using a certain brand of dish washing liquid. You could only use 1 pot to make the dish and had to hand wash that pot over and over again. The idea was that since that dish washing liquid was so gentle on your hands, it didn’t matter how often you used it, your hands would still be soft and smooth.

    And then of course when they go to a commercial, the first one they show is that certain dish washing liquid.

  18. Talisker says:


  19. AngryK9 says:

    Are they really shorter? There seems to be a lot more of them in any given commercial break, and what used to run about 2 minutes seems to hit 4 minutes.

  20. CBenji says:

    If I can only make it through the election without wanting to pull my hair out of my head! Seriously though that baby commercial for the HP printer where the baby is flying down the road in one of those baby walkers that you aren’t supposed to use anymore is kind of a cute commercial. I will take that one over any political commercial any day of the week. Pretty soon the election will be over and I won’t have to watch anymore dumb people telling me that this guy is bad, and not telling me what they will do better.

  21. Levk says:

    Hmm.. thanks to commercials I know what not to buy anymore :) BK being one of them dumb commercials make me not want to spend money

    • DewBerry says:

      Geico is top of my list – that $800 million advertising budget is coming from somebody, it’s just not going to be me.

  22. BradenR says:

    It’s possible the people who are dumb enough not to hit the mute button for commercials are the same ones that buy the “magazines” at check out counters. I have to wonder what IQ level they belong reach on a good day.

    • lihtox says:

      I mute commercials whenever I can, but I don’t think it makes me smart; it means I have a low tolerance for crap, and I see that as a weakness. People who have a high tolerance for crap, and/or the ability to filter it out, are to be admired.

  23. barcodetattoo says:

    When I get time to watch TV, I don’t want to be bombarded with commercials. Thank God for the fast-forward feature of my cable box. Gone are the days of “So call now” (or some other derivative).

  24. gman863 says:

    One of the reasons advertisers are using shorter ads is to create an “ad sandwich”: 15 seconds at the beginning of the commercial break and 15 seconds at the end.

    The concept is simple: Create deja vu (“Didn’t I just see this?) for people watching in real time and capture the attention of DVR users by getting their attention at the beginning and end of the commercial skip button.