Bringing the click into TV ads

As the market makes progress in addressable television advertising solutions, interactive applications are also gaining traction. Once advertisers are given the ability to deliver relevant ads to target consumer segments, the natural extension is to enhance that relevant ad with an interactive component that makes the message even more compelling and immediately actionable.

Addressable television ads are delivered through set-top box technology. Viewers can interact with these customizable spots through enabled remote controls. (For a more thorough explanation of addressable television, take a look at this iMedia Connection article.)

The interactivity afforded by this technology provides new ways to track ad performance and is particularly valuable amidst current market conditions and increased pressure on brands to drive response and results. In fact, an emerging focus on addressable interactive ads could be just what television needs to renew its energy as an advertising medium. Advanced ad formats can now combine the accountability and measurement of online advertising with the reach and power of traditional TV.

Here's a primer on what is possible -- right now. The three main types of interactivity available are as follows:

Request for information (RFI)
A request for information is just that -- a viewer is prompted to press a button on the addressable system's remote control to receive a pamphlet or other advertiser material in which they are interested via mail or email. It works particularly well for advertisers whose products are information-intensive. For the viewer, it is a quick and easy way to get more information on something without interrupting the consumption of content. For the advertiser, it is a cost-effective way to engage much more interactively with the most interested -- and therefore valuable -- viewers. This is particularly comparable to online lead generation programs or customized calls-to-action on different websites.

Voting and polling
Here, the viewer is prompted to send a text, vote online, or press a remote control button to be more engaged in a program or advertisement -- as a participant. There is great potential for this type of interactivity as a branding tool for association with certain content, as long as the polling or voting application remains unique and relevant. Many examples of this type of application are currently being offered within live or reality programming. For example, shows like Bravo's "Top Chef" encourage viewers to respond to contextually relevant questions and to voice their opinions about the contestants. Responses are compiled, and the results are displayed to viewers in real time. Often, these polls are sponsored by brands that tie into the subject matter. A poll can link an advertiser to content in a truly unique way -- both at that moment, and in the subsequent reporting of results. 

It also strengthens the content and viewing experience, making it a win for viewers and programmers as well. This content can also be leveraged across the web, creating rich content for online applications such as e-newsletters, e-updates, and other website content or email campaigns.

Telescoping
Telescoping is an interesting name for an even more interesting technology. A viewer is prompted to press a button to proceed to a long-form commercial, channel, portal, or other piece of relevant content. For example, a viewer would first see a 30-second commercial with an interactive overlay letting them know what additional options or information is available. This prompts the viewer to click a button to access that content, now or in the future -- think of this as a page on your website that provides more in-depth information on a particular topic once a user has clicked the call-to-action on your home page. The long-form content provides additional opportunities for customer interaction, requests for information, or targeted messages to the viewer. It allows audiences to interact more closely with their favorite brands, programs, or interests, and provides a great message medium and measurement opportunity for marketers and programmers.

Future opportunities
So, how does interactivity advance addressability and vice versa? Think about your likelihood of clicking a generic display ad on the Yahoo home page compared with your willingness to respond to a targeted call-to-action on Facebook. Similarly, interactive television response rates tend to be low over time, and absolute results are usually positive, but not staggering. On a relative basis, however, they can be a very important measure of what messages are performing best and just how deep down the sales cycle a viewer is willing to go with a brand.

These active performance metrics will influence not only subsequent interactive campaigns but also the targeted video messages and offers. Addressability improves the performance of interactive messages by ensuring the right overlay is reaching the right audience. For example, if you know a viewer's lease is up in three months, isn't it the perfect time to send them an interactive message encouraging them to find out more about the latest realty deals? Similarly, targeting interactive messaging reduces the risk of customer frustration with messages they've already responded to or rejected. Marketers can respond to feedback by removing or swapping messages -- or by frequency capping any attempt to get that household to engage.

The bottom line
When looking at interactivity, you're truly putting power in the hands of the people.  Viewers are able to vote with their fingertips and provide unique ways for marketers to measure and react to audience response. With addressable advertising, clients reach their target audience in the most effective manner, and by adding interactivity to the creative, they can engage with their audience in a much more personalized way.  

If you have appreciated the effectiveness of online advertising, but are running out of opportunities for new reach and context, now just might be the time to increase your interactions with television.

Tara Walpert Levy is president of Visible World.

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