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
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