CAMPAIGN INTERACTIVE: BEHIND THE HYPE/NET-BASED ADS - Intel’s SuperBowl test anticipates bright future for Net TV. Tentative blows have been struck to try to get viewers talking to advertisers via the Net, Karen Yates writes

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 one?

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

service providers.

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

this summer.

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