Looking Beyond the DTC :60 Commercial
With the long heralded convergence of mass media and digital truly becoming reality, it has never been a more exciting time for storytelling in our industry. Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have all become viable platforms for Health and Wellness advertising in various forms and lengths.
At the same time, there is still a surprisingly heavy reliance on the :60 second DTC commercial in pharma advertising. True—there is still no better way to get reach fast. But series TV is increasingly breaking formulas about fitting into specific time slots and letting the content drive the length; Game of Thrones final episode last season, for example, was 81 minutes while episode 1 ran only 59 minutes. So when I think of the :60 DTC commercial, I am reminded of a story about design flaws in the solid rocket boosters that flank each side of the space shuttle.
Engineers would have preferred the rocket boosters to be much wider. But the only way to transport them from the factory in Utah to the Florida launch site was via railroad tracks that pass through mountain tunnels. Those tunnels are only slightly wider than railroad tracks, which are designed to be 4 feet, 8 ½ inches apart.
Railroad tracks in the United States use those dimensions because we copied the specs they used in England. How did English railroad designers arrive at 4 feet, 8 ½ inches wide? They based them on the measure wagon makers had used for their axle width. Otherwise, they had discovered, wagon wheels would often break on the sides of established wagon wheel ruts in the roads.
You may now be wondering where those rutted road dimensions came from? The first roads in the UK where built by the Roman Empire for use by their military. And how did those Romans settle on axle spacing of 4 feet, 8 1/2 inches? Well, those dimensions are roughly the width of two horses from behind.
So the specs for the space shuttle, the world’s most sophisticated transportation system, were created and compromised based on the size of a horse’s behind—two horses’ behinds to be precise.
With all the digital opportunities for storytelling we have today, we will someday very soon look at our :60 second DTC commercial as similarly flawed in scale and size based on specs determined in a completely different world. I look forward to the continuing evolution of DTC storytelling and all its possibilities.