Interactive advertising is not viral, digital, nor intrusive

The age of interactive advertising is upon us, brought about by technological advancements and progress in neuroscience that has led to the ability for brands to connect with consumers continuously and at relevant moments. However, along with the notable achievements in marketing come useless buzz words that produce misguided objectives and unrealistic ambitions that eventually taint the practice itself.

Last week we defined what interactive advertising is along with three important guiding principles that ensure its initiatives are user-first, connected and result-oriented. This week we look at what interactive advertising is not. The general aim of interactive advertising is to make our target audience think, feel and act in ways that support our brand, and outcomes  are measured against these elements. Focusing on reach alone creates imbalanced campaigns and therefore we can safely say that interactive advertising is not about going viral.

It’s not a surprise that out of the thirty top ranked videos on YouTube all but two of them are music videos. The highest ranked video is Gangnam Style by Psy with an impressive 2.6 billion views so far, and the video that has gotten to a billion views the fastest is Hello by Adele that did so in only 88 days. This indicates that entertainment content has the pull factor that brands wish to achieve and it works better than the others. I’ve seen many marketing plans that include a desire to make a video go viral even though the content proposed does not lend itself to gaining that type of momentum. Interactive advertising principles would dictate an approach that progressively builds up an audience using content that is both relevant to the brand and its consumers with each initiative leveraging on the previous one and building up from where it left off.

Interactive advertising is not digital, neither is it digital led. Some of the most effective interactive advertising experiences are worked on a multi-platform level, and that is why we prefer to use the term platform neutral. In his book Buyology, Martin Lindstrom gives the example of brand sponsorship within the popular American Idol show that illustrates effective content association led by the most successful TV show in US history. The audience interaction with the show is through TV, Internet and SMS and the brands that integrate into the show like Coca-Cola and Cingular Wireless get better return-on-investment than Ford which only runs ads during the commercial breaks.

Another example of a successful interactive advertising that used a combination of platforms is My Starbucks that incorporated their customers ideas into their operations through an interactive website and their physical locations. Through mystarbucks.com they gathered customer ideas for improvement and showed the progress from idea generation to approval and implementation, as well as allowing customers to interact and collaborate with one another to develop exciting ideas. In the end the best ideas were implemented across their stores and gave their customers an incredible sense of ownership.

This brings us to the third point, which is that interactive advertising is not intrusive but integrated. On American Idol, Coke and Cingular Wireless not only run thirty-second ads during commercial breaks, but they also featured their products prominently during the show itself. By having cups of Coke on the judges table, contestants sitting on furniture inspired by the shapely bottle, and rooms that are painted Coca-Cola red, the iconic soft drink is present approximately 60% of the time. Cingular also pops up repeatedly as the host reminds viewers to dial in or vote for their favourite contestant via SMS from a Cingular Wireless cell phone, the only carrier that permits Idol voting via text-messages.

A study about the brand promotion in American Idol shows that Coca-Cola was much more memorable than Cingular Wireless and even more so than Ford. This was because Coke was fully integrated into the narrative while Ford wasn’t at all. The results showed that brands that don’t integrate into the storyline of a programme become white noise and are easily forgotten.

Interactive advertising is relatively new and since it has popular technology in its roots, there is a great amount of inconsistent chatter about what it is and how it works. In our view it is about substance rather than passing fads and unrealistic ambitions which sound impressive but have little or no impact on long term brand building. Successful interactive advertising strategies should espouse the Kaizen principle of continuos improvement, combine new and traditional media tools, and align to the need states of the consumers at multiple touch points.

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