For the Albert-Culver Co., maker of Brylcreem, a little dab will do it.
The consumer products company said yesterday it "is very happy with the results" of its new 15-second television commercials, a condensed and controversial form of the established 30-second spot.
Other companies, however, worry that the trend toward shorter commercials could create a blinding jumble of ineffective quick flashes.
Faced with limited advertising budgets and rising television costs, household names like General Foods, Heinz, Ralston Purina and Gillette are among the many major companies experimenting with the 15-second commercial.
The companies and their advertising agencies call commercials "split-30s" because 30 seconds is the minimum time period the networks will sell, and the new ads divide that time into two segments for two products.
Alberto-Culver, whose products include VO 5 shampoo and hair spray, began running 15-second spots in the spring of 1983 because of the soaring cost of television time, said Hank Witteman, vice president of advertising services.
With 30-second spots on "Dallas" or "Dynasty" going for about $175,000, "certain brands can't afford to use TV effectively," Witteman said.
A national product with an advertising budget of $2 million would have trouble using television to reach the mass market, but two products with a combined budget of $4 million could afford to split 30-second spots, he said.
Annual hikes in the price of television time, however, have exceeded 15 percent in recent years, said John O'Toole, chairman of Foote, Cone & Belding Communications Inc.
But O'Toole, who is also chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, has warned that 15-second spots may backfire in two ways: Viewers may not remember much when bombarded by a hail of 15-second spots; or worse, viewers may switch to cable or even switch off.
The typical 2 1/2-minute commercial break, now filled with five 30-second ads, eventually could result in 10 commercials.
Alberto-Culver pioneered the form, threatening to sue the networks in 1982 when all three refused to run proposed 30-second commercials that advertised four products. Now companies can divide the 30-seconds however they like, but many are hesitant to do so.
The quickie commercials "are definitely in the experimental stage," said Marshall Karp, executive vice president/creative director of Marschalk Co., an advertising agency working for Gillette Co. "We're not sure how audiences are going to react."
Gillette began splitting 30-second spots in the late summer, dividing the time between two products aimed at similar markets. For instance, the company can run a 15-second ad for Bare Elegance body lotion, followed by a 15-second commercial for a Toni home permanent.
"We're still experimenting," said Hans Lopater, vice president-market research for Gillette's personal care division. "We have no conclusions yet."
Alberto and some other companies say the short ads work best with well-known, established brands, where a 15-second spot serves to remind consumers about a favorite product. Newer products or complex items that need explanation, like an insurance policy or investment tool, would still need more time, they agree.
But some advertisers worry that even a popular soft drink needs more than 15 seconds to "create a mood and get the viewer emotionally involved," said Karp, whose agency handles such products as Sprite and Stroh's beer.
"From a creative point of view, it's going to be difficult," Karp said. "There's no opportunity to win the consumer's heart. . . . I call it advertising without foreplay."