A man. A woman. A glance. An impulsive decision to drive off together. A tag line that reads: "Croquez La Vie" (Taste Life).
On the surface, this recent French TV spot for Opel's Corsa seems similar to most other car ads images of beautiful women, breathtaking scenery and no information about the product. But this campaign, which ran late last year on French digital satellite pay-TV channel TPS, is a glimpse of the future. Interested viewers could use their remotes to click on an icon and find out what colors the car comes in, what the interior looks like, how much the car costs and where they could finance it. What's more, they could assemble a virtual version of their dream car with all the desired options and e-mail it to Opel via their TV. Wish list in hand, Opel then searched for the closest dealers with the cars that most nearly matched and then contacted viewers to find out if they would like to test drive real-life versions of their virtual fantasy autos.
Although the sample was small TPS has 1 million users and only a tiny fraction of viewers ended up taking a trial spin the campaign shows the promise of interactive advertising. Says Olivier Danan, Opel France's marketing director: "The potential is huge, once more people are connected and people are able to interact quickly with ads." The London office of tech consultancy Jupiter MMXI predicts that European remote-control purchases via interactive TV will jump from $639 million this year to $10 billion by 2005. Advertising is not only getting more interactive but moving from a scattershot approach to a more personalized focus, offering companies the opportunity to target customers and get unprecedented feedback.
For viewers interested in a product, the pluses are obvious: instant information without any in-your-face pushiness. Initially, interactive TV advertising will use icons in conventional ads and banner ads on electronic programming guides to link consumers to websites or microsites on an interactive channel. The viewer then voluntarily searches for more details about products or how to make a purchase. The information provided is a service rather than an irritant.
But the next step more finely targeted advertising starts sounding a little creepy, even for those not obsessed with Big Brother. Personalization software in the next generation of set-top boxes and personal video recorders (PVRs) will allow the development of ultra-detailed viewer profiles. The demographic profile stored in the set-top box will select commercials that will be specific not just to the household but to each room of the house: mom and dad will watch one set of ads in the living room, while little Timmy sees a whole different set on the playroom screen.
Moreover, because broadcasters and advertisers hate how PVRs can fast-forward and rewind programs still being broadcast (thereby letting viewers skip the ads), they are trying to rein us in. According to London tech consultancy Datamonitor, the next-generation boxes will permit viewing to be monitored and allow broadcasters to either prevent viewers from fast forwarding ads or offer us rewards for agreeing to watch them.
Commercials are sure to be more intricately entwined with programming. Viewers could, potentially, interactively access information on any product or service seen during a program a chair on the Big Brother set, a piece of art on Frasier's wall, Calista Flockhart's microskirt. Or, if you like the song on a chart show, you could purchase music immediately and directly. This would make, say, a pick-of-the-charts show, sponsored by a major music retailer, a commercially attractive proposition for the sponsor, the performers and the broadcaster all of whom would earn a share of associated revenue.
Before anyone panics, it's worth noting that visions of TV becoming a vast interactive sales catalog are still mainly in the minds of futurists. Big-name brand advertisers are only starting to test the waters, experimenting with interactive ads in France, Britain and the U.S. Still, France's TPS, one of the vanguard channels, has hosted more than 25 interactive ad campaigns in the past four years and claims that up to 50% of viewers use the click-through option. Opel, which now devotes about 5% of its advertising budget to interactive spots, considers its TPS campaign promising, and Danan is convinced interactive TV ads will be a major driver in the future. Now if they could just branch out beyond a man, a woman and a winding road.