Now that clients have recognised the huge potential of interactive
commercials, Mischa Alexander argues that phone numbers can have a
creative validity in spots
Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury consistently produces ads that encourage
viewers to engage in further dialogue. Now that I’ve repeated this
‘interactive’ gag, is it flogging a dead horse or does it signal a new
era of communication?
The agency has built a reputation for pioneering interactive
commercials. More than six years ago, First Direct was launched using
the interactive device of offering viewers the choice between two
commercials that ran simultaneously on ITV and Channel 4.
Since then, ads for Mazda, Mercury Communications, Tango, Martini and,
most recently, the HHCL Brasserie and McCain have all used phone numbers
to encourage people to become more involved. So is this consistent use
of interactivity passe? I think not.
The use of a phone number in a commercial that isn’t for a conventional
direct response TV advertiser isn’t a creative idea in its own right.
It’s just another structural part of the execution.
A phone number serves a practical purpose in exactly the same way that a
pack-shot does, and it exists to deliver a particular objective. This
shouldn’t be confused with the core creative idea.
What a phone number brings is the opportunity to become involved with a
piece of communication above and beyond its initial reception. It
provides another layer to the communication that, if pursued, should
prove rewarding in its own right.
But it’s not a prerequisite for appreciating core communication. A good
analogy is the multi-level video game. You can enjoy a game for what it
is intended to deliver at its most basic level, without needing to
progress to other levels. However, if you move on to higher levels you
become more involved with the game and, subsequently, you get more out
So, taking the recent McCain’s Pizza execution as an example, the core
idea is the fact that you get more topping - it’s not about getting
people to ring a number.
Unlike conventional direct response executions, the construction of the
ad centres on the communication of the core idea, and not on ramming
home the need to pick up the telephone. The phone number isn’t even
voiceovered, an omission that in encouraging a direct response would be
a cardinal sin. The phone response option is there as exactly that - an
However, this sort of option needs to be attractive. In the McCain ad it
exists as a piece of gratuitous fun. If you want to take part and vote,
great. If you don’t want to, that’s your freedom of choice.
Amazingly, this low-key option has generated more than 250,000 calls in
only four weeks. It’s a tremendous bonus for the McCain brand to have so
many consumers decide, of their own accord, to enter into a dialogue.
You don’t need to be Mystic Meg to foresee the impact on sales that this
sort of involvement will generate.
Suddenly, for this voting group, a passive piece of broadcasting has
been transformed into a new brand experience through a dynamic piece of
dialogue. And, of course, the opportunity for further direct dialogue
with this self-selected group now exists.
At Howell Henry, we believe that creating communication that provides an
opportunity for active brand experiences, rather than just passive
broadcast messages, is going to be a key issue for all future
But I know some will ask if this is just a fad. Well, even ignoring the
onslaught of digitised new/multimedia and its innumerable interactive
possibilities, consider these two facts: in the US, 83 per cent of all
branded goods carry a 1-800 number, and more than 80 per cent of evening
TV ads carry a phone number.
Mischa Alexander is managing partner of the HHCL Brasserie