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New ad trends? How about a ‘documercial’

A screen shot from Toronto agency john st.'s award-winning Rethink Breast Cancer advertisement.

Last year, a Canadian ad agency snagged global attention when it gave an unappealing task for women – breast cancer self-exams – a robust incentive.

John St.'s mobile application delivers attractive, shirtless men to participants' phones to remind them to check their breasts, and was one of the winners of the 2011 "Ads Worth Spreading."

The awards are part of the popular TED conference, known for its engaging speeches – and as the conference launched the third instalment of its advertising contest, it also singled out the campaign for charity Rethink Breast Cancer as an example of emerging trends in advertising.

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The campaign was an example of a rising appetite among audiences to reward ideas in ads that are engaging, and that exhibit bravery and authenticity. TED announced the launch of the third Ads Worth Spreading contest in New York on Wednesday, and at the same time released a report detailing some of the trends they've seen on the rise since the competition began.

"Over the past two years we've learned that the best ads are actually more than ads – they're excellent content driven by ideas," Ronda Carnegie, head of global partnerships for TED, said in a statement.

Here are just a few of the trends that the organization outlined in its report.


One of the trends the report identifies is the emergence of the "documercial," a longer-form online video that breaks the conventions of the traditional 30-second television spot and aims to defy audiences' chronically short attention spans with content they'll keep watching. This was seen not only in the TED contest's winners in recent years, but work that other shows chose to award: think of the ad for fast food chain Chipotle , which won the Grand Prix at Cannes this summer for its first-ever Branded Content category.

"With competition for consumer attention at an all-time high, story is what sets apart ads that people feel compelled to share," the report said.


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That instinct to share is in itself a huge trend for the ad industry: according to research from Nielsen, 92 per cent of consumers trust "earned" media – such as word-of-mouth messages or recommendations from friends and family – more than all other advertising. On top of that, marketers' ad budgets are increasingly under pressure, meaning that launching an ad that people will pass around on their own in the digital space is a highly attractive prospect for brands trying to get noticed on a smaller media budget.

Even if campaigns themselves do not live on social media, or are not primarily digital, they'll depend on digital sharing for their stories to be heard.


Ads that are tuned into the cultural zeitgeist are more likely to resonate with audiences, not surprisingly. Does it tap into something people care about, whether it's a cause or just an idea? That gets noticed.

That's doubly true if the brand exhibits some bravery in its message. That's where TED found reason to celebrate the Canadian campaign from john st. Roughly 70 per cent of the women TED surveyed as part of the initiative said they would share the ad. (Its musclebound men scored higher with women than men.)

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