SPOTLIGHT ON: VIRTUAL ADVERTISING: Virtual technology that takes ads further in sporting events - Alasdair Reid on realistic, computer-created ads that could alter televised sport

By ALASDAIR REID, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 25 July 1997 12:00AM

The big problem with televised sporting events is getting advertising visibility. It’s usually a game of two halves, after all. All that ad-free action, followed by a huge interval during which most of your audience is queuing for a pee because they’ve all been guzzling lager during the action.

The big problem with televised sporting events is getting

advertising visibility. It’s usually a game of two halves, after all.

All that ad-free action, followed by a huge interval during which most

of your audience is queuing for a pee because they’ve all been guzzling

lager during the action.



There are one or two ways around this - usually involving a pretty heavy

involvement in the sport itself. Sponsor the event, sponsor the

coverage, sponsor everything that moves and every stitch of clothing it

moves in.



And then there’s good old stadium perimeter advertising and its modern

cousin - painting your logo on the pitch itself. The main point is that

you get your message into the programming one way or another.



During the recent BSkyB coverage of the Australia versus England Rugby

Test, we saw the latest twist - virtual advertising. This uses digital

image manipulation to insert ads and logos into live sporting

broadcasts.



You can have virtual perimeter ads or virtual pitch logos: the

technology is so clever that players appear to move in front of these

ads. In theory, you shouldn’t notice the illusion.



Flexibility is, perhaps, the greatest attraction of the virtual

system.



Billboards can be made to appear in the middle of grandstands without

blocking the views of spectators. On-pitch logos can be ’turned down’

during play so they don’t distract television viewers. You can change

the message or run animated graphics - though the governing bodies of

most sports would probably not be too happy about that.



Patrick Burton, the group media manager of Allied Domecq, believes the

BSkyB exercise was a success: ’It was an experiment and the technology

is so complex that we were pleased it worked at all. But it has such

potential that we wanted to be in there at the very beginning. Our site

appeared to be a 20m by 8m board, high up in the stadium. On screen, it

looked real. We’ve seen what it can do, now we can take it forward.’



Allied Domecq rotated ads for a number of its brands, including

Laphroaig, Teacher’s, Harvey’s Bristol Cream and Cockburn’s port. The

messages on the virtual billboard can also be tailored for individual

territories - and that’s an aspect that excites agencies too.



Graham Bednash, a principal of Michaelides & Bednash, comments: ’You can

have different brands featured in the different territories the

transmission goes to. With digital TV there’s even the prospect not only

of tailoring your message by region, but almost by each individual TV

set.’



It also means broadcasters and sports bodies can sell perimeter

advertising more efficiently. The games of the Dutch football club,

Ajax, for instance, are shown around the world. Much of the perimeter

advertising is taken by a Dutch bank that only wants to target the Dutch

market. On the new system, those ads can be overlaid, as appropriate,

market by market.



But Jon Wilkins, creative communications director of New PHD, believes

there might be a downside: ’It’s bad for smaller advertisers who use

perimeter advertising but can’t afford big broadcast deals. Broadcasters

will tie up big deals and the big advertisers won’t want to let smaller

ones in on it. It could lead to a power struggle between broadcasters

and sporting governing bodies.’



But all of that is academic if the technique is obtrusive. It may help

combat the clutter in half-time ad breaks and the lack of attention of

viewers, but is it too distracting?



Burton doesn’t believe so: ’We intend to research viewers’ response to

the technique but it was certainly less obtrusive than the Schweppes

logo that was actually painted on to the pitch.’ We shall see. Now all

we need is the technology to make a virtual England team look as if it

can play cricket.



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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