Television goes interactive

While visiting my parents last weekend when I saw something I had never seen before: an interactive television advertisement. I was watching something unmemorable (maybe the 19th playing in-a-row of “A Christmas Story”), when during a commercial break a notice from DirecTV appeared in the middle of the screen telling me to press “Enter” on the remote. Assuming this was something to do with the programming guide or perhaps software, I complied, only to be greeted with an interactive advertisement.

While I can’t remember the product (cut me some slack, I was in a food coma), I did notice several options, including playing a singalong of the jingle, printing out a coupon for the product (if I had to guess I’d say some sort of dishwashing liquid?), or finding retailers near my location.  While the ad was ineffective because I can’t remember the product, overall I was struck by this type of advertising. Television becoming interactive and finally breaking the fourth wall is truly a remarkable thing.

Last month the Wall Street Journal ran an article on just this topic, stating

Marketers are eager to bolster the performance of TV ads. In a 2008 study of big advertisers, more than 60% said TV advertising had become less effective over the past two years. Consumers are unhappy with the large amount of ad clutter that appears during commercial breaks, leading to the explosion of devices that allow viewers to circumvent TV ads altogether.

Advertisers believe that the longer they can keep viewers engaged with an ad, the more likely they are to buy. So companies such as Unilever PLC, Johnson & Johnson and Kraft Foods Inc. are increasingly turning to technologies that add interactive capabilities—games, coupons and informational videos—to their TV pitches.

Chrysler is getting in the game too, running a campaign consisting of four of these “Dynamic Ad Units” (DAUs), as DirecTV is calling them. Apparently advertisers have finally realized that in this age of DVR and Tivo that fewer and fewer consumers are willing to wade through the endless barrage of sales material that they face every time they turn on their television. Studies have shown that shows are getting shorter as networks cram more and more advertising into time slots. If that wasn’t enough, they’re now even working product placements into the shows, as evidenced by KFC’s overt placement in shows like “Gary Unmarried” and “Oprah”.

Most American adults completely ignore most advertisements, either by fast forwarding a pre-recorded show, or else simply tuning them out. By providing consumers with a reason to pay attention, these interactive ads are combating buyer malaise. Additionally, this is interesting as it continues to blur the line between television and the Web.

And now a fearless prediction:

As the line between television and online media becomes blurred, television will become a completely interactive experience, perhaps even down to the plots of shows.

In the meantime, enjoy the experience, we are on the cusp of another technological revolution, and right now we can only guess how it will turn out.

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