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Ads Mesmerize Mall Shoppers - And Me

Getting consumers to interact with your brand and knowing how long they do so is every marketer's dream. At my local mall, it's a dream come true for AT&T, Coca-Cola, eBay, Hilton, Mars, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Subway, Universal Studios, Visa, Wachovia, among others.

At the Westminster Mall in Orange County, California, I got a first-hand peek at STEPscape, an interactive advertising platform from Reactrix, which claims to now have a method to measure the time consumers spend interacting with its ads.

Sitting on a nearby bench, I watched as 18 ads looped the roll, from AT&T to Skittles to eBay to Microsoft Xbox 360. A projector mounted to the ceiling streamed colorful ads disguised as video games onto a plain concrete floor about 12 feet by 6 feet.

It was easy to see how the bursts of reds, blues, yellows and greens catch the attention of men, women and children strolling by. Most adults stopped to read the words projected on the floor. Kids dragged their parents by the hand to the colors, squealing in delight. Before the parent could let go, the kids began pouncing on clouds, footballs and cars that "exploded" on contact or moved around the visual as they reacted to human movement. By my calculation, adults interacted with the ads for about three minutes; children stayed around much longer.

Sitting next to me on the white wooden bench, Nicky Sida, a twenty-something mother from Anaheim, Calif., watched her young daughter from a few feet away. "I know they're advertisements, but she'll play on the videos for as long as I let her," she said, barely glancing at me to engage in conversation. "She just loves playing on that thing."

The ads prompting Sida's four-year-old daughter to run and jump on the images of candy clouds to make them burst also attracted nearly every passerby. I sat there on the bench surprised at the interaction between the ads and the consumers.

Reactrix commissioned Arbitron in October to observe consumers interacting with the STEPscape technology and conduct interviews. The survey that took place at 186 malls revealed that 92% of shoppers noticed the ad platform, 84% stopped to look at the ads, and 70% actually interacted with the ads on average for 10 minutes.

I'm not surprised. Even for me, the ads are engaging. They are entertaining, and it makes you happy to see the kids have fun. It's one thing for Reactrix President Sue Danaher to chat up the technology during a phone briefing last week, and quite another to observe how people actually interact with the ads.

Daryl Evans, AT&T Mobility's VP/advertising and communications, says the carrier's ads, which began running on the platform in the fall, target college teens and young adults. The ads not only aim to capture the attention of consumers, but drive them into retail locations within the mall.

I asked Evans if AT&T stores in malls with Reactrix's technology sell more merchandise, but he couldn't provide hard evidence because traffic counts aren't separated. AT&T can't tell what type of ads drove consumers into stores. "I know intuitively that store traffic is from Reactrix ads, but I can't answer that quantitatively," he said.

Through Reactrix's technology, AT&T could allow consumers to try out new phones and services, pushing buttons on devices to activate functions. They could even send a real text message to friends and family. The interactive ad would also let you explore features in hot devices and services, such as Web browsing.

The technology is truly amazing. I wanted to sneak a pounce or two on the little critters scurrying across the cement floor, but knowing that cameras are mounted on walls in the malls to monitor maintenance kept me from acting so ... childishly.

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