INTERACTIVE: CASE STUDY/THE OASIS; Oasis shows that interactive TV has golden promise with touch of soap

Interactive TV is currently neglected but trials show it could hold advertising’s future. John Owen reports

Interactive TV is currently neglected but trials show it could hold

advertising’s future. John Owen reports

Amid all the hype about the Internet these days, it’s easy to forget

other interactive media. Most notable for the lack of excitement

surrounding it this year, compared to last, is interactive TV.

Once you’ve worked out all the technical and financial pitfalls of

video-on-demand, you’ve exhausted its potential, says the prevailing


Not so. But companies exploring new ways to use the medium do so behind

a cloak of secrecy. No-one wants to talk about their efforts - which, in

a cynical world, suggests that interactive TV is a still-born load of


But when you’ve created the most successful interactive advertising

project in the world’s largest interactive TV test, you’d be silly not

to talk about it.

Step forward Alun Howell and Marcus Vinton, a creative team at Ogilvy

and Mather. Together they came up with the concept of the Oasis, a

‘women’s leisure club’ in adland, the discreet advertisers’ space in the

2,500-home BT interactive TV trial in Ipswich this year. The Oasis, they

believe, is a blueprint for the way advertisers will own programming -

and ultimately, whole channels - in the future.

Which is the advertiser in question? Well, you wouldn’t know from the

name, but that is half the point. It’s Dove, Unilever’s soap product.

But, explains Howell: ‘It’s not the Dove Oasis because we didn’t want

people to be confronted straightaway with a brand name. This way, we

hoped more people would go in.’

Once inside, viewers were offered seven options, including Take Two, a

documentary series about women’s achievements, Face Tone, a dose of

facial aerobics, and Skin Deep, a health series. Different episodes, to

which viewers could return at any time, were screened each week.

There was more obvious content - TV ads, competitions and a programme on

Dove - but it was the original programming that proved to be the biggest


Take Two was one of the more popular offerings. Shot by the independent

TV production company, Kudos, it focused on female rally drivers, boxers

and pilots.

The favourite option was Face Tone, which took viewers through a facial

exercise regime. Viewers returned to this most because it was least like

a traditional linear TV programme - the exercises could be followed

again and again.

Skin Deep was more upfront as a branding vehicle. Also shot by Kudos, it

featured ten episodes explaining how exercise, food and other factors

affect your skin. At the end was a branded ‘Dove tip’.

How does this constitute advertising? It doesn’t, but in the multi-

channel interactive future, it may be the closest thing. As Rindy

Bradshaw, the Dove account director at O&M, comments: ‘It isn’t a soft

sell. It isn’t a sell at all. It’s brand building by association.’

Vinton says: ‘It’s all about creating a feel-good factor so people are

more likely to respond to a new product sanctioned by Dove.’

But achieving such warmth towards the brand is tricky. Too much branding

in the programming may have the opposite effect.

The next experiment will be more sophisticated. In the Video Net trial

in Hull, the Oasis will be located in a 3D street and will include

different rooms for various activities and levels of expertise.

Trust a soap giant to lead the way in content creation. Unilever and

Procter and Gamble first invented the term soap opera by funding radio

shows in the US in the 1930s. Now, Howell and Vinton believe, things

will come full circle and people like them, in ad agencies, will be

creating long-form content as well as traditional ads.

‘You could end up with TV channels wholly owned by companies or

products,’ says Howell. If it does happen, companies such as Unilever,

who got ahead of the game early, will be wearing very broad smiles



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