OK, it’s the climax of the football season. The beers are in, the
women are out, and you and your mates are glued to the telly for the
match of the year. What kind of response rate would someone get if they
popped round and tried to sell you a computer? Or worse, parts for
The answer, derived from the world’s first interactive commercial, is a
staggering 2 per cent. Two per cent of viewers who had access to a
computer actually dragged themselves off the sofa, switched on their
machines and logged on to the Website of the computer chip company,
Intel. And all within two hours of the screening of a single television
commercial during this year’s SuperBowl game on television in the
So, maybe you think 390,000 replies from a total audience of 135 million
is a paltry response. And in many ways you would be right. But according
to Intel’s calculations, only 20 million SuperBowl viewers could have
responded at all (because they need a PC with a Net facility to do
Taking this into account - and the fact that the only chips footie fans
were likely to be thinking about were the edible kind - the figures
begin to look distinctly healthy.
The average response rate for direct mail about computers is 3 per cent,
according to recent research from Direct Mail Information Services. But
Intel’s initiative was for a computer component, not computers
themselves. Apart from that, competition on the Web was particularly
fierce that day anyway, because of the huge number of SuperBowl-inspired
sites set up for the game.
The commercial itself was a whodunnit starring Intel’s ’bunny people’ in
space suits, who were devastated by the theft of a valuable Pentium II
processor. Who committed this heinous crime? Two suspects were put
forward: Susie the Mouse, driven by her obsession with high-powered
Websites, and Jimmy the Liar, with his serious computer game habit.
Viewers were presented with the problem in an early commercial break in
the SuperBowl, and asked to vote by dialing up Intel’s Website.
Waiting at Intel headquarters in Santa Clara was a battery of computer
experts, standing by to deal with the voters - and the spoilers - after
the ad went out. This was the world’s first Internet-based interactive
commercial, and Intel expected sabotage from computer hackers. So
unusual voting patterns, such as multiple log-ons, were identified and
The votes piled up, viewers pointed the finger at Susie the Mouse, and
NBC rushed out a commercial announcing the result in the fourth quarter
of the game.
So, was the exercise worth all the effort? A resounding ’yes’, according
to Dennis Carter, director of marketing for Intel. The project proved
once and for all that people can be torn away from the TV in favour of
their computers. It proved short-term, high volume interactions are
technically feasible, despite the spoilers; and it has given the
corporation valuable insight into how customers will use the gradually
converging worlds of the Internet and television.
’It was a very useful experience,’ Carter confirms. ’We will definitely
bake it in with what we do in the future.’
And that future is not a long way off, either. Each of the heavyweight
consortia gearing up to launch digital TV in the UK, for example, have
either already made deals or are locked in 11th-hour talks with Internet
Even better, another move announced last month is likely to bring
interactive advertising even closer.
BT, the UK’s second-largest Internet service provider, has linked up
with Web TV, a Microsoft company, to launch a television service which
has direct links with the Internet. From this month, Web TV joins the
year-old NetChannel in the TV web-access market. Consumers with Web TV’s
set-top box will be able to dial up sites with shopping services,
advertising and extra information about a particular programme. And all
with traditional analogue televisions, rather than the new digital
At less than pounds 200 for the box, plus a monthly Internet
subscription, Web TV is pitching itself at households that do not have a
computer, but want to get online. Soap fans, for example, will be able
to call up biographies of characters, and foodies can check out the
recipes during cookery programmes.
Similarly, historical football data will be available during
Advertisers can use this type of system to provide more information
about products and services carried in a commercial, and can even attach
a link for viewers to connect to an electronic shop. Users can do all
this while watching the box because of Web TV’s picture-in-picture
This system is already available in the US and Japan, and in a different
form in Germany. A trial begins in the UK this month of a small sample
of households drawn from across the viewing spectrum. Its first phase
should be completed by the end of the year, and the service will be
available to the general public from the beginning of 1999.
So, the first tentative blows have been struck in the battle to get TV
viewers talking back to advertisers via the Net. No-one is pretending
there is full-blown dialogue between the two yet. But the door has been
pushed open and more developments are expected soon.
Intel, for one, promises the next stage in its love affair with the Net