Interactive Advertising Cometh


tvstatic1.jpgADOTAS — EXCLUSIVE — As we usher in the New Year and our ritual resolutions take shape, I’m struck by the similarities between ad executives and pudgy uncles. You know the drill. A favorite uncle announces boldly his spare tire will become history. Then the year passes … and another … and the resolution starts repeating itself as predictably as the holiday binging. The uncle still strives for much the same goal, but does so with considerably less fanfare.

For the past few years, interactive advertising has become for ad agencies what exercise plans are to overweight uncles: terrific ideas—necessities even—that we announce with a big splash, then later repeat with more hope than belief.

It’s time to break that cycle. Be it resolved: 2009 is the year.

While online ad providers aggressively press their case that the web is interactive advertising’s natural home, TV is the real growth medium. Forrester Research reports that despite online TV viewing’s continued expansion, it still accounts for a paltry 3.5 percent of a typical web user’s overall viewing. So if interactive ad models are ever to become truly dominant, the best opportunity remains in TV.

Yes, I know, TV visionaries have been making such predictions for three decades—yet the closest thing to interactivity that we seem to have achieved is people like me talking to other people like me about the format’s potential. As for actual interactive advertising involving actual viewers? Not so much.

But as I survey the ad landscape for interactive TV options in 2009, it appears that for the first time, there’s almost as much action as talk.

Actual Interactive TV Ad Model #1: TiVo delivers remote-clickable ads to the ad skippers. TiVo has launched its Pause Menu, which is equally revolutionary and retrograde. The revolution is in solving a problem that it helped to create—the ability to zip past commercials when time-shifting programs. Every DVR viewer pauses the action at some point, and when TiVo viewers do it, now an ad message can appear on the Pause Menu. What’s retrograde is the presentation—a temporary surrender of sight, sound and motion in favor of static ad copy. But for broadband-connected customers, the Pause Menu links to TiVo’s Swivel Search feature that lets viewers explore more extensive ad content without losing their place in the time-shifted program. The number of interactive clickers will be small for awhile, but since the Pause Menu’s clicks are unquestionably opt-in, every lead they deliver are those coveted highly-qualified ones.

Actual Interactive TV Ad Model #2: TiVo helps viewers order Domino’s pizza. TiVo has struggled financially of late, but you can’t help but root for a company that fights back through innovation. The Domino’s partnership includes advertising “entry points” throughout TiVo’s user interface. When clicked, viewers can customize a pizza on-screen—choosing both crust type and toppings—then enter their address for delivery. Back-end operations send the order to the nearest Domino’s, which then handles the baking and delivery as usual. Like any interactive endeavor, TiVo and Domino’s have embraced a direct response model, creating a nice friendship with benefits. Viewers can order meals more conveniently than ever. Domino’s earns profit from immediate (and trackable) sales. And TiVo becomes a more attractive ad venue by keeping viewers glued to the sets where the ads are. It goes without saying that if you order at the start of a sitcom, you’ll know without checking if it comes in 30 minutes or less.

Actual Interactive TV Ad Model #3: Backchannelmedia links TV to the web. Boston’s Backchannelmedia is also past talking about interactive TV … it’s testing it today. So far, the most successful click-through interactive TV ads have been limited to deep-pocketed programmers like DISH. But Backchannel’s Project New England moves this model to local broadcast stations—traditionally strong markets for DRTV. The TV-To-Internet Click-Through platform takes a little time to set up, but once done, its benefits are clear. Icons appear on-screen that invite clicking viewers to engage in a variety of tasks they can later complete through a personal web portal: download files, bookmark home pages, send content to their mobile devices, and best of all, place advertised items into shopping carts. Wisely, Backchannel has been careful to leave viewers in charge. The platform not only enables true interactivity, it does so without interrupting the programming. The response is what’s time-shifted so the show can go on.

Unless you are one of the innovators, the actual appearance of long-rumored alternatives can be unnerving. But truly successful products like traditional advertising rarely disappear. They evolve. As ROI-potent as DRTV has become, it still hasn’t killed the brand spot (though direct response elements creep ever more aggressively into even the big brands’ commercials). Nor will interactive TV ads kill any old ad model that delivers results.

So my new year’s resolution for interactive TV is to root for the possibilities to keep becoming realities—ones I can use in conjunction with the models I know work reliably. In my case, that’s DRTV—repeatedly proven to have the strength to withstand storm force winds … of change. Amazing!

Author of over 125 published articles, Tim Hawthorne is Founder, Chairman and Executive Creative Director of Hawthorne Direct, a full service DRTV and New Media ad agency founded in 1986. Since then Hawthorne has produced or managed over 800 Direct Response TV campaigns for clients such as Apple, Braun, Discover Card, Time-Life, Nissan, Lawn Boy, Nikon, Oreck, Bose, the Heifer International. Tim is a co-founder of the Electronic Retailing Association, has delivered over 100 speeches worldwide and is the author of the definitive DRTV book The Complete Guide to Infomercial Marketing. A cum laude graduate of Harvard, Tim was honored with the prestigious “Lifetime Achievement Award” by the Electronic Retailing Association (ERA) in 2006.

— Express your opinion, comment below.


  1. Thanks for the recognition, Tim. We are very pleased with the initial results of the Pause Menu and quite proud of the interactive experience we created with our partner, Domino’s. There will be more advances from TiVo this year.

    With regard to the Pause Menu, the “static ad copy” that appears on screen during a paused program is actually an active link that can drive viewers to an interactive micro-site. There, they can view long-form video, request information, take surveys, etc. If the static copy/call to action is compelling, viewers will opt-in and engage the brand. Recently, “paused” NFL viewers opted-in to spend time in a Mercedes micro-site. The best part was when they returned to the telecast they hadn’t missed a moment of their game. The TiVo DVR automatically held their place.


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