Commentary

Scientific Advertising And Free Samples

Interactive television commercials may have more in common with print advertising than today's mass media commercials. Now that cablers are rolling out interactive televisio,  we could experience, over the long term, a change in how commercials are made.

Up until this year '' which many consider to be the turning point for interactivity -- television advertising had always been driven by demographics and size of audience. But audience size does not have much to do with the actual product sales generated by each avail.  As we all know, advertising's goal is not to drive awareness of the product, but rather to drive sales.

Interactive television has a lot in common with the advertising industry from the early 1900s. As pointed out by Claude C. Hopkins in "Scientific Advertising" (published in 1923) "the cost of advertising largely depends on the percentage of waste circulation." Hopkins felt that each print placement should focus on increasing product sales while also eliminating waste in the advertiser's budget. 

Hopkins believed that through "keyed" advertising -- which means by tracing or "keying" results back to the exact advertisement by codes -- companies should be able to improve their ad copy after every placement.  Copy would then be tweaked till the sales from that advertisement were continually growing and exposure costs contained. Back in the early 1900s, coupons and free samples helped advertisers  track "keyed" advertising.  In many ways it is a bellwether that some of today's early interactive advertising campaigns have also involved sampling and coupons.

One of the skill sets required for interactive television will be in creating ad copy and graphics that gets viewers to pause programming and "click" their interest in that product. Today ad agencies, for the most part, rely on sheer tonnage in audience delivery and -- except for toll-free numbers and web sites tracked in a small portion of TV commercials --  don't correlate sales back to the exact copy and avail. In the interactive world every avail can be linked to "click" results and advertisers should be able to remove much of the guesswork out of their television budgets.

While the agency learns how to tweak each campaign's response rates, untested interactive copy should first run in front of tens of thousands of viewers, not millions.  I think within a few years a national interactive footprint will emerge and popular campaigns may capitalize on these first-generation technologies. However, even then the smart copywriter should still look to test interactive TV creatives in a low risk way, perhaps by DMA or local broadcast television.


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1 comment about "Scientific Advertising And Free Samples".
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  1. Michael Senno from New York University, November 5, 2009 at 10:25 p.m.

    Your last point is a great one, and it's interesting why more advertisers don't leverage it. Technology creates the flexibility to make changes quickly and efficiently during a campaign, which raises the question - why don't more agencies/brands roll out different versions of a campaign to test responsiveness, or do a minimal rollout to obtain metrics before proceeding.

    We have the tools to perform a relatively inexpensive iterative process. Further, with the low attention span, and fickleness of the audience, brands should be changing creative and presentation more frequently to grab attention.

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