Interactive innovations move marketers closer to holy grail

All that was missing as Cadbury and Coronation Street officially spliced the knot last week was the photographer from Hello! magazine. Sponsorship’s marriage made in heaven – involving the programme once thought too big for a single sponsor – could have filled a dozen pages.

Ken Barlow’s best-man-style gaffe – referring to Quality Street, a Rowntree brand – and the unveiling of a chocolate bust of Percy Sugden (not the most prominent bust on the Street, one would have thought) deserved to be immortalised by Hello!’s indomitable Marquesa.

On hand to witness the event were representatives of no fewer than eight specialist marketing agencies, each of which was involved in turning a straightforward TV sponsorship into an integrated sales campaign.

TMD Carat (media buying); Laser (media sales); Sponsorvision (on-screen credits concept); Bark Films and Aardman Animations (credits production); Triangle Communications (sales promotion); Charles Barker (PR); and Barsby Rowe (media consultancy) were all involved in the 10m deal. Proof, if it were needed, that TV sponsorship is not a substitute for other marketing activity, but a catalyst.

Crucial to the deal are the on-screen “chocolate street” concept, realised by Aardman Animations, and an interactive sales promotion device developed by Triangle. To encourage viewers to keep watching through the end credits, they’ll be offered the chance to win up to 25,000 instantly. Cadbury packs will carry pictures of “lucky objects”, some of which will be shown in purple in the chocolate street.

Interactivity is the holy grail of the marketing world. Media and brand managers are constantly seeking ways of getting the public to respond directly, instantly if possible.

But even as the new venture was being unveiled, a potentially even more powerful interactive marketing device was being demonstrated by two other ITV companies.

Scottish TV and Grampian are pioneering a new remote-control handset which seems likely to make interactive TV a reality, allowing viewers to play games, give their opinions, win prizes and take part in research projects, without needing to be wired for cable or install other set-top boxes.

Teletext questions appear on the screen and can be answered by pressing keys on the handset. By then holding it to the telephone and pressing more keys, the viewers can transmit their answers straight back to the media owner.

Though TV is the most obvious medium to benefit, the new device can be used by newspapers, magazines and radio stations.

George Mitchell, programme director of Grampian, believes it will help ITV companies stop audiences drifting away, by encouraging viewers to continue watching through programmes, credits and ad breaks. It’s not before time: growing competition means Grampian’s share of viewing in Scotland is down from 45.4 per cent four years ago to 36.3 per cent.

“To win viewers back on Friday nights we ran a phone-in competition to win a Baxter’s hamper – and it worked,” he says. “We’ve also seen how the National Lottery brings BBC1 the audience on Saturday nights. We think the new system will help us build loyalty by turning couch potatoes into armchair athletes.”

OKTV, the company launching the system worldwide, was co-founded by Chris Curry, the man behind Acorn Computers. He now runs General Information Systems, which pioneered smart card payment systems for home shopping, and his new handset can incorporate a smart card, enabling users to shop from home and accrue loyalty points.

OKTV has invested 6m in developing the handset – which has 10,000 combinations – and the interactive services to go with it. In Scotland, 100,000 handsets will be distributed free through a promotion in the Scottish Daily Record and the Sunday Mail, building to 300,000 after two years. Users will have to pay a subscription of just under 20 a year – but OKTV is intent on making the handset a mass-market device, so the subscription will include a monthly OKTV magazine, incorporating discounts on goods and services.

The deal with the Scottish TV companies and newspapers was engineered by Paul Green and Nick Bryant of Media Dimensions. The company already has a strong relationship with Mirror Group Newspapers – which owns the Scottish titles – because it arranged its sponsorship of TV programmes like Talking Telephone Numbers and Take Your Pick, as well as securing sponsors for the Mirror’s own pages.

“This device is brilliant,” claims Green. “It locks viewers and readers into the ads, and keeps people watching. During Coronation Street, you could have a question about the stars of the Street, and then during the football you could have another question about goal-scorers.”

It can also be used for community programming. Next month, Scottish and Grampian will use the device to gather answers from schools as part of a Scotland Against Drugs campaign – OKTV handsets will be placed in all of the country’s 405 secondary schools.

Other ITV companies are awaiting the Scottish scheme eagerly. Mick Desmond, chief executive of Laser, says: “This could give us instant research data – for example, when we are piloting a TV show. We could ask viewers what they think of different aspects of the show, and reward them for taking part with points on a shopping card.”

If OKTV can get sufficient handsets into people’s homes, the marketing world may have found its holy grail. But first it must find a way of persuading enough people to pay that 20 a year subscription.

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