New Xbox Ads Functional And Fun

Quite simply, Microsoft is set to launch one of the greatest innovations in TV advertising since Texaco put its name on a variety show with Milton Berle in 1948. No exaggeration. The NUads are not just groundbreaking in what they offer marketers, but viewers are likely to find them – get this – plain fun.

There’s a saying that Brazil is the country of the future and always will be. Yes, there have been advances in interactive TV advertising in local markets and elsewhere. But there’s a feeling that the Brazil maxim still applies and the promise of interactive TV ads may continue to embody just that – promise.

Microsoft, which has announced charter advertisers for a fall launch of NUads (Natural User Interface Ads) and is pushing the system at the Cannes ad festival this week, seems to have a breakout solution. It's futuristic, operating by voice and gesture. Consumer issues a command and she shall have.

Whether it gains scale and moves to linear TV is another matter. So far, NUads are limited to the Xbox Live device. And, certain technology would need to be widely deployed in TV sets.



Microsoft, though, seems to have software that could do very well as a licensed product to cable and other operators. This is the TV technology business, though, so copycat versions are sure to sprout. 

“The creative possibilities are endless … It’s like having a conversation with the customer through the advertising,” said Saatchi & Saatchi’s John Lisko of NUads in a promotional video.

Also in a video brochure, Microsoft executive Enrique de la Garza touts five core opportunities NUads offer that bring instantaneous engagement with traditional spots. Without using another device, viewers can instantly tweet about an ad; enter a contest or get more information about a product via email; have a reminder sent to their phones about when a show will be on; get information on a merchant’s nearby locations; and participate in polling about what’s in a spot.

Running on the Kinect platform, all those are remarkable in their own way. Lisko’s statement about “endless” applications is indeed true. On a topline, NUads offer advertisers architecture for two heavily sought opportunities. Marketers can better synch 30-second spots with social media. And, the ads can make commerce more immediate either by driving viewers to retail locations or perhaps facilitating immediate purchases while watching.

Yet, the most transformative aspect of NUads is the interactivity isn’t conducted via the remote control, but by voice and gesture. The Xbox has offered those functions for a while with its growing content choices, which include Hulu, Netflix and ESPN. Microsoft has been looking to shift the Xbox from a video game device to an all-in-one entertainment hub in the home.

Exactly where a NUad can be inserted into content is unclear. The ads can be placed on the Xbox home screen, where a viewer can opt-in to watch. That might not generate so many views. But a post on a Mindshare blog said the ads could be inserted as pre-rolls in some video streams. Microsoft would benefit from demonstrating that advertisers will pay a premium for the NUads and then trying to arrange some sort of revenue sharing with a Hulu or ESPN, where the spots would be sprinkled in episodes of “Modern Family” or the NBA playoffs.  

A NUads triumph is if TV is a passive medium, there’s no need to even punch a button to interact with them. Take the tweeting. A person watches a spot, while “Say 'Xbox Tweet' ..." pops up on the bottom of the screen. Viewers would say it, then use a hand wave to instantly post a link on their Twitter feed.  

Take the retail-direct option. Car manufacturers covet a way to direct viewers to local dealers. As an ad runs, a “Say Xbox Near Me …” prompt appears. With voice command, a map pops up and a hand gesture allows viewers to select the nearest location. Another hand movement can have the address texted to their mobile devices.   

Toyota is one of the first NUads marketers, along with Unilever and Samsung Mobile. In a NUads promo, Toyota executive Dionne Colvin said nothing short of “we’ve reinvented the 30-second spot.”

What makes the potential of the ads so expansive is the interactivity is so tempting. With voice and hand commands, it’s inviting, it's fun. It’s like playing a video game on … an Xbox.  

Even the most passive viewers are likely to try it once if the creative is inviting enough. Microsoft offers a movie trailer example. So, a spot for a coming James Bond flick might ask who the greatest Bond actor of all time is. After vote-by-wave, the current poll results are displayed.

Over the next couple of months, network marketers might turn to NUads to promote their new fall series. In a video, Microsoft shows how during an on-air promo, NUads can prompt a viewer to say “Xbox Schedule.” That leads to a mobile device delivering a reminder before airtime.

Getting a sense of the NUads setup only generates more ideas about functionality and benefits. None are unique. It will be up to Madison Avenue maestros to discover them, but here’s fodder …

On the most basic level, response data offers valuable insight into creative effectiveness. Going further, a poll asking viewers what they like about a product can provide creative direction. The opportunity to collect email addresses and cell numbers for texting is hugely valuable. T-commerce, where voice and gesture could lead to an instant purchase opportunity, is advertising gold. TV marketers able to send a reminder 15 minutes before showtime is crackerjack -- as is the chance to set a DVR.

Never to be forgotten, though, when thinking about NUads is the fundamental enticement. Who doesn’t like to issue voice commands and wave a hand always to get a desired response?

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