Commentary

Watch Ad, Win Prize, Rinse and Repeat

I seem to have been writing this same story for the last decade. I wonder if it turns out differently this time.  

It always begins with advertisers hoping to trade ad views by consumers for fun, discounts or prizes. Whether it is the early Web scheme of crediting Web surfers with redeemable points for the ad banners they viewed or more recent attempts at offering rewards for viewing video spots at companies like beezag, the basic premise always seems appealing. Users are supposed to trade a small chunk of their attention and consciousness to a marketer in exchange for something of tangible value.  

This notion that our attention is a commodity that the consumer herself can barter for value is appealing on many levels. It is a more transparent way for the century-old ad-supported media ecosystem to work. These models just make more explicit a value exchange that has always been there in the triangle of media, marketer and consumer. And potentially by putting the consumer more in control and exercising greater choice, the model engages the user in the marketing process, makes them a player in the game and generally a more receptive and qualified target.  

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The problem with a lot of these systems, of course, is that they need to hook the user into an ongoing process of view, redeem, repeat that is itself tedious. Aside from the obsessive coupon-clipper and pro-am shopper, not many of us want to tend discount programs. The era of Green Stamp saving and redeeming is long over. Who wants to remember to go back to a Web site, manage their points, and for what? A paltry return?  

And so I bring us to Loffles at loffles.com on your mobile browser, a mix of  spiritual support and ongoing skepticism. This attempt at making the model more seamless, a bit more entertaining, and mobile is intriguing because it addresses at least some of the perennial weaknesses of attention-swap model. The mobile site lets you login via Facebook Connect or a unique ID. Once inside, the raffle begins. The system recommends a series of six product raffles for you to enter, from Kilpsch ear buds to a copy of "Call of Duty." Choose one and you get a brief plug for the product and are prompted to enter the raffle and watch the video for an advertiser. In the case of my Call of Duty choice I got a spot for American Red Cross. I will refrain from commenting on this odd juxtaposition of a product that simulates carnage and an advertiser grounded in compassion and relief.

Then comes the dumb quiz, and the questions generally reinforce the branding message and nominally guarantee you actually watched the video. One wrong answer and you are prompted to watch the video again. Beezag does something similar to this. Then you can allocate the 30 or so "loffles" points you earned to the raffle. This is not fully explained, but I gather you are increasing your chances of winning a given item by allocating more points. You can also bank points to use in the loffles store of real goods (t-shirts and coffee mugs) or to apply to a later raffle.  

Loffles says that they personalize the experience with recommended offers filtered according to your demographic profile, but I was never asked a profiling question. Still, the user can control the experience by filtering in different offer categories.

There are irritating aspects to the process. One wishes the entire experience were explained more fully at the front door. Some of the buttons in the post-ad quizzes are too small for accurate smartphone tapping. And generally there are a few too many taps to get into the video itself. This could be more streamlined. Also the raffle process is a bit obscure. I couldn't tell when they were being held.

Loffles is trying to turn the process of trading ad views for consumer value into play. The creators are expecting that the mobile user will drop into loffles in much the same way they drop into a mobile game during a few minutes of dead time. The idea is pretty solid. If the process of managing your raffle entries and gaining new points can be made engaging and seamless enough, then the line between game and marketing scheme blurs enough to be irrelevant to the consumer. But like the basic model of swapping our attention for tangible value, the concept here is still stronger than the execution. Ultimately, it just isn't entertaining enough. A raffle countdown might be a compelling addition to bring me back for more.  

Making the ad viewing experience more varied and entertaining I think is the best bet. Bonomo Turkish Taffy is an advertiser in the system, and they use an ancient ad from my childhood as their spot. This was the most interesting part of the loffles experience and made me wonder why the advertisers couldn't be more creative in the ad units they put into the system.  

Here's the real problem -- and why this old story still has the same ending it has had for the last decade. The basic attention swap model here and elsewhere sets up ad creative as a hurdle, a chore, an obligation between the user and the reward. It changes one aspect of the marketer/consumer relationship by putting the consumer a bit more in control. But it doesn't make the fundamental change we need most: to entertain, not just pitch the viewer. Giving users more control of the marketing experience, and offering them a fair exchange is only half the project. What you really have to do is make the ads a better experience that themselves reward the viewer for the time spent.

1 comment about "Watch Ad, Win Prize, Rinse and Repeat".
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  1. Carolyn Hansen from Hacker Group, August 1, 2011 at 3:48 p.m.

    It also seems like this concept in general is targeting the people you may be least interested in having as customers. Not you, of course! But it seems like it would be most appealing to kids who have more time than money. (Perhaps a really, really long-term approach.)

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