“Creative without a strategy is called ‘art’. Creative with a strategy is called ‘advertising.’” -Jef I. Richards
Digital technology has exploded over these last two decades. Now, rather than watch television, people watch content on their laptops, smartphones, tablets, and smartwatches. Streaming is the norm and the internet is home to a massive amount of content. Advertisers have had a rough go of adjusting to these new platforms. Since the conception of the banner ad at the turn of the last century, little innovation has gone into other forms of advertising that can work across the digital sphere. There’s the pre-roll ad on YouTube, but most people click “Skip”. AdBlock is popular and people are even willing to pay for an ad blocking subscription. When faced with losing a chunk of their audience, how can advertisers bring it back? The answer is interactive advertising.
What is interactive advertising?
Interactive advertising is any form of advertising where marketers engage with their consumers. Any ad that involves consumers directly or indirectly providing feedback on a campaign and marketers using that feedback to create a more personalized ad for them is interactive. If we want to get more technical, the Journal of Interactive Advertising describes it as “an immediately iterative process by which consumer needs and desires are uncovered, met, modified and satisfied by the providing firm.” This means that through repeatedly showing different ads and collecting data on the responses to them, marketers can then use the information they’ve gained to eventually show the ad their audience does want to see. The Interactive Advertising Bureau of Australia adds that banners, sponsorships, e-mail, keyword searches, referrals, slotting fees, classified ads and interactive television commercials are interactive if they’re used in an engaging way. How is this engaging way different from what’s been done before?
Interactive vs traditional advertising
The difference between interactive advertising and so-called ‘traditional’ advertising is that the first one involves the ability to control what you show to different people. In the past, marketers adopted a model of rich frequency, bombarding viewers with the same set of ads over and over with the hope that one of them would stick. This made sense because there was no way to measure which ads people watched and which ones they tuned out. It’s not like advertisers could monitor people from their TVs or radios.
With internet ads, marketers can collect a wide variety of data by recording how many consumers clicked on a certain ad or which consumers watched a pre-roll ad to its fullest, for example. Using cookies, they can also create a profile of their target audience based on what websites they frequent. Marketers can even use polls and social media consumers to directly interact with consumers so they can gauge what sort of content to send them.
To put it simply, the old model is informing, reminding, and persuading, while the new one is demonstrating, involving, and empowering consumers with choices. The old model involves wasting money on ads that an audience may discard. The new model of interactive advertising is helping advertisers get closer and closer to the dream of showing the ads people want to see. If every ad is tailored to an audience for maximum return, then less money can be wasted and more money can go into making quality ads that will engage an audience rather than give them an incentive to AdBlock.
How internet advertising works
Marketers buy a certain amount of your time to show you ads. This is dictated by the CPM-RATE or cost per thousand. In 2015, the CPM-RATE was $30 per thousand of viewers. This meant that a marketer paid 3 cents to show a 30 second ad to someone. Because of this, it’s justified for a viewer to choose to buy back their time by purchasing an ad-free subscription because it costs as much as what the marketers pay to show them an unengaging ad.
“Marketing and media buying values the potential for attention,” advertising futurist Joe Marchese says. This means that it’s inexpensive to buy the right to show a mediocre ad to as many people as possible in the hope that the ad’s message will at least stick to one person. It’s basically the old model of advertising on a different platform. With interactive advertising, advertisers can guarantee proper human attention for their ads by creating a concentrated number of them specifically targeted at their audience. If less ads are created, the CPM-RATE rises, but the result is the creation of ads that consumers find engaging and enjoyable for once. To that end, what works and what doesn’t?
The pre-roll ad doesn’t always gain positive attention, but a unique example exists. On YouTube, Geico’s unskippable ad has such unique content that it became a trending topic. This shows that great content always works. Pietro Gorgazzini, creator of the marketing platform Smallfish.com, says that it is the job of advertisers to create “great content that we as consumers would be willing to pay for.” He uses the LEGO Movie as an example, since it’s really a giant ad that raked in large profits for LEGO.
Great videos that trend on YouTube and other platforms are a form of interactive advertising that has proven to be very effective. The New Zealand Transport Agency released a 60-second video titled “Mistakes” on television. The video explores a new angle about road safety, how it’s not about your speed but the speed of other drivers that you should be wary of. Because it reads like a powerful short film, it is the most viewed video in New Zealand ever, and many countries not only translated it but created their own versions to show to their populations.
Advertising that can cross the boundary to entertainment is a sure way to leave an impression and generate discussion on what’s been seen and the various interpretations of it. Interactive advertising may evolve into content that is indistinguishable from regular entertainment but just as effective in leaving a lasting impression on consumers.
Digital takes the streets
Incorporating digital elements to street campaigns has proved effective in several advertising campaigns throughout the world. For example, to promote the SingStar Playstation 4 game in Belgium, a supersized limousine drove around one of its biggest cities. The limousine ride was free so long as the passengers sang a song. Their voices were broadcasted onto the streets and performances were shared on Facebook. The best performances were edited and posted on YouTube. The campaign generated awareness for the game from 7% to 82%, which lead to an increase in sales.
In China, a campaign for sports energy drink Mulene involved giving young consumers T-shirts with LED graphics that were activated from body heat so they could wear them for organized night runs. Consumers received a shirt by downloading an app. They uploaded pictures of themselves on Weibo and the more pictures they shared, the more likely they were to receive a coupon for free Mulene products. Of course, the campaign resulted in more young consumers buying Mulene products.
By making full use of social media in conjunction with fun street campaigns, advertisers will be able to interact with the lost consumer base of young people who would otherwise have blocked an ad on the internet.
New technology and advertising
Using cutting edge technology to fuel an advertising campaign is also a key to the future of interactive advertising. To tap into the 18-35-year-old urban market in Romania, telecom Orange created an app that allowed Valentine’s Day couples to record and send the sound of their heartbeats to their lovers. For doing so, users gained free Mbs of data that was 10X their heartrate. To publicize the app, Orange also used a high-tech print ad where users could push two buttons to record their heart rate, interactive outdoor display banners, along with posters and social media marketing. The app was downloaded 583,000 times and 2.8 million GB of free data were earned by Orange customers.
This shows that technological novelty will be used by advertisers to gain the attention of their target audience. With technology developing as rapidly as it is, advertisers will take advantage of innovative technologies by linking them to their products.
Channel 4 will launch British TV’s first interactive ads. Released first on its TV streaming and media player Roku, these ads will allow viewers to select different ads, watch additional content and instantly purchase products being advertised via click-to-buy. This will take interactivity to the big screen and will generate more data on consumers who watch TV outside of their portable devices.
Advertisers are just starting to catch up with the growing range of digital media. By combining street campaigns with social media, innovative technology and powerful storytelling techniques in video and movies, advertisers are discovering which ads are creating lasting effects and how. These new forms of interactive advertising show the tip of the iceberg when it comes to integrating new technology, the internet and above all entertainment and good storytelling into advertising campaigns that consumers can engage with rather than block. As more content worth engaging with is created, the cost of buying ad space will increase and the quality of ads will increase in tandem. The future is fewer ads, those ads that guarantee attention. What’s more, it’s the ads that create a dialogue between advertiser and consumer. The lasting impact is a world where ads are fun and advertisers are being paid good money for good content.