CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/INTERACTIVE TV ADVERTISING - Creative agencies must face up to an interactive TV future Creative shops need to act fast to keep up in this field, Francesca Newland claims

When the world’s second-biggest advertiser, Unilever, begins to make its agency roster manufacture ads in a new medium, all agencies should pay attention. So the news that Van den Bergh Foods is launching the country’s first national interactive TV ad later this month has implications for the whole industry.

When the world’s second-biggest advertiser, Unilever, begins to

make its agency roster manufacture ads in a new medium, all agencies

should pay attention. So the news that Van den Bergh Foods is launching

the country’s first national interactive TV ad later this month has

implications for the whole industry.



Only a handful of interactive ads have run in the UK to date: two years

ago, J. Walter Thompson made one for Frosties; Grey Interactive has

created one for Pantene which is being tested in Manchester and now JWT

and its sister agency, Ogilvy & Mather, have teamed up to produce a

Chicken Tonight spot.



But that client list comprises some of the world’s biggest advertising

spenders, including Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Kellogg. Over the

past couple of years it has become more evident that these giants are

looking beyond traditional television advertising. This is partly

because they can see savings to be had from alternative media, but also

because marketing run-of-the-mill FMCG brands often lacks lustre and

pioneering a new medium can lend more of a ’wow’ factor.



Chris Harrison, the managing director of Grey Interactive, says: ’The

FMCG brands may have huge spends but they tend to be backing fairly

low-interest products.’ He says that an interactive commercial’s ability

to reward the consumer with a free sample and, in the case of Pantene, a

hair diagnosis that will make you feel better about yourself, makes the

brand more interesting to viewers.



Andy Crossley, the marketing and service development director of NTL

Interactive, adds: ’Companies like P&G and Unilever see an opportunity

to get ahead and have the money to expand into new areas. For FMCG

products it can be difficult so they are looking for any way to

differentiate.’



Charlie Ponsonby, the group strategy and marketing director at Open,

says: ’In years to come, if you can link a TV ad to a transaction

through a stimulating medium, why wouldn’t you?’



Interactive ads have another lure for advertisers: you can measure

consumer response. Harrison says: ’Advertisers are looking for ways to

make their spend more accountable and to make it work harder.’ So the

ability to measure the exact level of response to an interactive ad is

attractive.



Pressure to produce interactive ads will not only come from clients,

however. There is a lot of money to be made by the broadcasters and the

platform owners. Roger Randall, account manager of interactive TV at

Agency.com, says: ’It will be an important source of revenue for

broadcasters. They are likely to charge per ’click-through’.’



Crossley agrees: ’Interactive ads should be more valuable to

broadcasters and platform owners. By 2004 about half of the UK

population will be on a digital platform of some kind. So why not make

every ad interactive?



Broadcasters see there’s more money to be made from a premium product,

so why shouldn’t all ads be interactive?’



It’s not surprising, however, that so far only a handful of advertising

agencies have been staffing up to make the ads - after all, barely any

have been made. But all predictions indicate that the medium is set to

grow and, eventually, obliterate traditional ads when analogue

television is switched off (no date has been set but the Government will

make the move once digital penetration is sufficient).



Marcus Vinton, a creative director of O&M, says: ’Agencies need to arm

themselves with a digital offering. Tony Blair will switch off analogue

soon. Clients are driving the initiative, not agencies. Projects won’t

come agencies’ way because it isn’t an obvious offering.’



One such example is that the creative used to put Going Places on to

Open was developed by Grey Interactive, even though CDP holds the

above-the-line account.



Vinton cites such new-media agencies as Razorfish, Deepend and Organic

as the type of shops with the strategic and planning resource that will

enable them to steal the business out from under advertising

agencies.



Crossley says ad agencies’ interactive abilities are ’patchy’. He adds:

’It would be rich to say anyone is prepared because the market is only

just starting. Many different disciplines in an agency will have to work

together that haven’t so far. The offline guys are probably not used to

working with the online guys. They’re usually in a different

agency.’



In the short term, the likely solution is that ad agencies will work

with the more specialised agencies. Randall says: ’We see ourselves

working in conjunction with creative agencies. We would not put together

the 30-second spot ad, but that has to be ’repurposed’. You can’t just

put an interactive overlay on it. We would have to work with the

creative agency from the beginning.’



He adds: ’Some agencies are heading off in the right direction but it’s

still early days. They need to invest. It is still miles away from their

core business but it shouldn’t be if they want to keep up.’



But even working in partnership with a specialist will mean sacrificing

part of the income. If the predictions are correct and interactive will

saturate our TV screens, creative agencies must steal the initiative

away from new-media shops. Instead of waiting for clients to request an

interactive commercial, risking that client going to a specialist, the

creative agencies must act first.



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