Why the Abbey is wrong about interactive TV ads

Interactive TV offers wonderful opportunities to the innovative advertiser, despite reports to the contrary.

Abbey National has announced its intention to cut down on TV advertising. The reason, it says, is that digital TV is distracting viewers during the ad breaks, encouraging them to e-mail, check their bank accounts, or do some home shopping. But marketers should not interpret this decision as a sign of a universal thumbs-down to interactive TV (iTV) before it has even got off the ground.

What Abbey’s comments illustrate is that today’s consumers are rapidly metamorphosing from passive creatures into highly interactive ones. This explains why they are avoiding traditional, linear commercials more than ever before. Over 50 per cent of viewers are “multi-tasking” while watching the TV – whether playing on the computer, eating, talking or reading. Couch potatoes are changing channels every two minutes compared with every six minutes just ten years ago. For advertisers, attracting viewers’ attention is becoming increasingly difficult.

Enter digital interactive television (iTV), which promises more channels, better picture quality, more control for viewers and a new set of interactive capabilities, such as enhanced broadcasting, home shopping and banking. But how will iTV change advertising?

In a nutshell, iTV platforms can combine functionality with branded communications to deliver a more compelling brand experience. Interactive TV advertising comes in a number of forms including enhanced TV ads, links, interactive games, microsites and banner ads.

Interactive television capabilities enable marketing managers to run campaigns that not only increase brand awareness but can also drive purchase and loyalty. Consequently, customers are moving more quickly from awareness of a product to actually purchasing the product.

For most marketers, this represents a fundamental rethink in the way that TV is approached. It means the role of television is evolving from changing consumer perceptions to changing consumer behaviour – or moving from above-the-line to below-the-line marketing.

The conventional approach to TV advertising is one-way communication; the company sends a message and the consumer receives it, with a lot of competitive noise along the way. This approach is being exchanged for interactive dialogue, where the company engages the consumer in a conversation or experience.

Leading advertisers support iTV advertising because it provides much more precise data. Traditional TV advertising relies on an implicit set of assumptions about the relationship between awareness, recall, brand attitude, purchase intention and finally sales revenue. But iTV’s data can be used to contact leads, profile customers, improve products and refine media scheduling.

With the tracking of consumer decisions, the marketer is in a better position to measure and manage the effectiveness of a campaign. Interactive television does not yet provide Internet-standard measurement and reporting, but this is where the industry is headed.

Over the past year, several leading advertisers, including the AA, Panasonic, Unilever, Ford, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Orange, Domino and Sharwood’s have taken advantage of the digital platform. Here are some case studies:

Persil Non-Bio ran an iTV campaign, called the Truly Sensitive Show, which took the form of a three-minute interactive quiz. The presenters’ questions were all based around the theme of sensitivity, thus reinforcing Persil’s brand positioning. At the end of the ad, viewers were invited to enter a prize draw. The five-week campaign received 41,000 entries, three-quarters of which came from a 30-second spot, and one-quarter of which came from a banner ad.

This example shows that many people are interested in engaging with a brand for an extended period of time. Persil employed interactive TV advertising to inculcate the brand’s symbolic values and garner repeat purchases, which is a great strategy for low-involvement goods.

Panasonic and Molly Maid ran a competition in which viewers could win a year of free home cleaning. During the ad, viewers could select a colour with which to customise their own vacuum cleaner. They were then given the option of receiving a brochure or a phone call. Over the four-week period, there were 29,000 visitors, 26,000 brochure requests, 27,000 competition entries and 4,000 product information viewers. An average of 3.5 minutes was spent interacting with the ad and 45 per cent of viewers agreed to be contactable for telemarketing purposes.

Similarly, Sony ran interactive TV ads to support the “Go Create” campaign for its line of electronics products. Viewers could peruse product benefits and features and then link to Dixon’s shopping area to purchase directly from their TV sets. Banner advertising was utilised and generated a click-through rate of 2.86 per cent – more than five times the average rate on the Net. Both Sony and Panasonic informed and educated their customers, thereby reducing perceived financial and social risks – a great strategy for high-involvement products.

Why have the initial trial results been so good? Part of it is the novelty factor of interactive TV, no doubt. But most of it is that people trust brands on the television because they believe the medium is expensive and that only credible brands can afford to advertise on TV.

The revolution in TV advertising is here. The innovators will harness the medium for what it can offer in terms of moving consumers closer to their brand and accelerating the marketing cycle. Advertisers waiting on the sidelines may be missing out on iTV’s most exciting and rewarding phase.

Marco Del Carlo is head of interactive Television at Modem Media, whose iTV clients include Persil

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