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What you need to know about interactive TV

Posted by Mort Greenberg on April 13, 2008



Published: April 07 2008

By Jordan Greene


Interactive TV is fairly untouched by marketers despite the high levels of engagement offered. Take a look at what makes iTV a marketer’s dream.

You can’t always get what you want. But what if you really could? A marketer’s dream is an available reality, where one can increase brand awareness and directly drive action — with targeted demographics — all through a media used in everyday life. It just requires recognition of new options that already exist and the common sense to take advantage of them. This opportunity lies in leveraging the strongest media platform, television, with the next evolution of mobile media.

Interactive television, or iTV, which uses the mobile phone as the response mechanism to content from within a show, is an ideal media. It has visual impact, sound possibilities and the internet. And it is already in more than 253 million consumers’ hands. The mobile phone offers true interactivity, and if leveraged properly, it can guide the consumer to a powerful brand experience.

Producers add these interactive elements to their shows for several reasons. By engaging the viewer through games or voting, the entertainment factor becomes more encompassing, and hopefully makes the overall show itself more intriguing. Many of these services run only within the timeframe of the actual broadcast, so it can also minimize the impact of DVR usage, making broadcasters happy. Additionally, many early adopters of iTV charge consumers a premium of around $1 per play or vote, creating an additional revenue stream from the show itself. Shows ranging from “American Idol” to “Deal or No Deal” to “Make Me a Supermodel” have made interactivity a fundamental aspect of their shows.

These interactions usually consist of the viewer responding to a call-to-action from within the show, which may be further teased by the host. The consumer calls into an 800-number, or more popularly, sends in a text message from their mobile phones. Both of these processes, as a byproduct, have created real media that can feature brand messages and drive direct actions from the consumer’s phone. Audio placements can be used in the dial-in scenario and response text messages in a text-in environment. Currently, this space is mostly unused by advertisers. Considering that text messages actually get read by the recipient, why would a brand not take advantage of that visibility? It is unfiltered (as third-party mobile delivery is much more controlled than email) direct advertising with opportunities for clickable direct action. If you combine that platform with a TV spot or product placement, you have delivered a very powerful — and natural — message to the consumer.

Author notes: Jordan Greene is VP, head of mobile marketing at MindMatics.

Take an episode of “Deal or No Deal,” where viewers have a chance to win cash prizes by playing the “Lucky Case” game. Now, instead of just the $10,000 prize, perhaps a brand like Saturn can give the consumer a chance to win a new Saturn SUV after GM has made a product placement to debut its new car. Before the commercial, Howie Mandel promotes the game, and the ladies of the show stand before the SUV to present the choice of cases.

What the “Lucky Case” game looks like

The in-show, pre-commercial bumper, with tacit endorsement by the show’s host and stars, is invaluable. So the viewer grabs the phone sitting next to them on the sofa and sends a text message of “1”, their lucky case choice to the five-digit mobile routing number (called a “shortcode”) 59595. Shortly after, the phone vibrates with a new text message: “Thanks for playing! The Banker loves the other green too: the environment. The incredibly efficient new Saturn VUE Hybrid. Intelligent & beautiful,”.

The message naturally segues off of the TV show platform (by mentioning the never-seen Banker) and has a link to a mobile website. The site is specifically purposed for the mobile phone and can feature images and video of the Hybrid, highlighted stats and even direct-connect buttons to schedule a test drive.

Due to the intrinsic nature of mobile, each interaction can be fully trackable from inception to conversion and further segmented for different markets, if need be. Marketers can’t get all that from tagging a commercial with a URL and hoping the consumer goes to his or her PC.

Advertisers already have the tools, understanding and behaviors to intelligently make these buys. It is easy to make logical assumptions about the people interacting with these shows, as they most likely are a subset of the overall viewers. This means that using Nielsen ratings to target an audience for a specific brand is an appropriate method.

To get a bit more advanced and granular, some basic mobile technologies and logic enable the marketer to target geographically. If the assumption is that the majority of mobile phone users have phone numbers in their local areas, then supplying localized content and advertising can be done dynamically. Additionally, if the show is pre-recorded, then further inferences can be made about a consumer’s location based on the time of broadcast.

Delivering a geographically segmented campaign with unique brand offers for the East Coast versus West Coast, or even more specific, can be easily done. An agency or brand manager can look quite savvy, advanced and adept without stepping outside their comfort zone, simply by letting the technology and media work for them.

As brand clients demand greater innovation, results and accountability for their ad spending, the focus on interactive media and direct consumer action with real supporting metrics has stepped more into the spotlight. Consequently, advertising agencies of all sizes continue to create or re-name groups “interaction” or “activation,” with stated goals of delivering these possibilities to clients. While these new divisions may start out centered on delivering online components, their gaze must continue to widen to integrate and incorporate both traditional media and new interactive media.

Users have truly begun to dictate how advertising is being consumed, as they spread their time and attention among more media options than have ever been presented before. It is paramount to understand how to address consumers on their terms and to get in the flow of their evolving daily lives.

Brands need to talk to consumers where they live and about what they do. This means that of merely buying TV space or print ads will have continued diminishing returns. This overall change in media really presents brands with much greater opportunities to engage not just a general audience, but the specific consumer that they seek as well. It is a time for smarter spending, better spending, with trackable results. If $156 billion is going to be spent on the top 20 media categories in 2008, as a study by Forbes and TSN suggests, then it would seem prudent to see where else that same money can be spent.

Companies such as 4Info took an early approach to sponsored direct consumer mobile messaging. This service works primarily off print placements in newspapers such as USA Today, and enables consumers to send text message requests for many types of information to the shortcode 44636 (4INFO). 


In response, they receive text messages with associated brand sponsorships and, often, links to mobile websites or direct actions as well. This style of consumer dialog enabled 4Info to build a network of media to sell, and introduced a new type of advertising opportunity to the U.S. market. The company’s pricing model of selling ad space on a CPM (cost-per-thousand) basis is designed to specifically cater to digital ad buyers. This pricing structure leads agencies or brands to do direct comparisons between this new, targeted, on-demand media and decade-old online banner ads.

4Info will always look significantly more expensive than online options when the $50 CPM price-point is presented to a client in an Excel sheet. But there is a real opportunity that technology offers for a brand to engage targeted consumers on their terms. Sadly, that opportunity is often buried in the background during the decision-making process because of agencies’ necessity to supply an apples-to-apples comparison to clients.

The truth is that mobile media is the Dinosaur Plum, a new fruit altogether which, after a small taste and a good campaign execution, leaves the brand wanting more.

There is an inherent danger in merely presenting new media opportunities in an older generation construct. That being said, finding a common ground that can be described easily by the seller and understood by the buyer is imperative. The CPM-model is only one approach. The brand or agency pays for the number of “impression” response messages sent to the TV viewer who plays the off-show game on “Survivor.” Another approach has more of a Google flavor, where the brand pays only on the clickthroughs but pays a premium for each one. This also has shades of the old BMG CD Club structure, where BMG would pay significant bounties for viable leads. An execution issue here is that this approach may limit types of campaigns and creativity. For example, it does not apply well to a brand awareness campaign, as the focus may not be on creating a spontaneous response, so there may not even be an opportunity to click through.

Both of these models introduce elements of great variability, which can leave forecasting and budgeting somewhere between difficult and an utter nightmare. The first factor is the viewership of each specific episode of the TV show. The second is the strength and enticement of the off-show interaction. Now the brand can increase this allure with product and cash prizes, which is itself yet another variable. The final assumption that needs to be made is the number or percentage of responders to the direct advertising. Even describing these is complicated and still may not balance the appropriate price-point and positive brand-response result.

A clear alternative is to offer a direct sponsorship of the iTV service itself. It is a flat fee, just like buying any traditional media. It lets the seller and buyer negotiate to find a comfort level, especially in the beginning, and creates other possibilities to bleed into the rest of the spending of an advertising budget. Place a TV spot in the first 15 minutes of the show, feature the product within the show and then create a natural segue from the show to your iTV response messaging. This actually has many of the flavors of early television, where P&G would actually own the shows. It is just vastly updated for this tech-using generation.

iTV media offers so much flexibility and untapped accessibility to the consumer that not addressing it is doing brands a disservice. The marketing goals that these clients hold for themselves match up all too well with the iTV opportunities available today and reinforces other buys that agencies make on their behalf. Smart marketers have recognized that consumer behaviors are driving the way to supply advertising today, and that means looking beyond what has “always been done.” In the process, brands can see direct results beyond what they have “always seen.”

The day is here and the opportunity has presented itself where you can get what you want and what you need.


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