OPINION: ’Virtual’ Halloween can aid advertisers in digital TV age - Paul Longhurst believes we have much to learn from the way kids interact with and influence the uptake of new electronic ’screen media’, such as topical W

This Friday evening my kids plan to scare the hell out of the neighbours.

This Friday evening my kids plan to scare the hell out of the

neighbours.



Equipped with spooky, life-like rubber masks - guaranteed to frighten

and successfully tested on their mother - they will perform ghostly

doorstep manoeuvres in an attempt to persuade the occupants to hand over

cakes and sweets.



This ritual is based on a traditional US adaptation of a pagan custom

that involved inviting the dead to celebrate the first full moon after

the autumn equinox.



A little less traditional is a visit to the Harris mountaintop Halloween

Web-site (http://www.mtp.semi.harris.com/halloween).



It’s scary to find that, in the virtual Halloween world, you can enter

Halloween competitions sponsored by advertisers, buy related products,

order appropriate music (such as the Monster Mash), click on banners and

play games online.



With recent data informing us that 960,000 families in this country use

the Internet, the real nightmare is that children are using it because

of the increasing desirability of interactive electronic game-playing,

which is replacing more traditional forms of entertainment including TV.

In turn, this is causing advertisers and their agencies to splatter

disparate and diverse forms of communication all over the Web.



At the moment, this is all peripheral stuff. Perhaps it doesn’t matter

that little thought seems to be given to the role of advertising on this

medium, and that creative standards fail to match up to the efforts made

in mainstream media.



After all, a penetration level of only 4 per cent hardly warrants much

attention, especially when practically every kid has access to

commercial TV.



Perhaps we should examine the issue from a different angle. If we

consider that more than 10 per cent of the average seven- to 12-year-old

child’s day is spent playing computer or video games (equating to more

than 30 per cent of the total time spent with the TV or computer), then

we have a different picture.



Add to this the vision of Entertainment Online (E-On, a Web-based online

games service), which is close to completing the acquisition of the Sega

Channel, and we should rethink.



E-On is quite clear. The Sega deal is evidence of the vision. The

majority of homes do not have computers and the bandwidth limitations of

conventional Internet modem links restrict the type of games that can be

played online. Therefore, driving penetration via broadband cable TV is

a wholly logical and effective route to accelerate growth.



It’s worth adding that next year digital TV will offer 200 channels.



But it is unlikely there is enough content to fill 100 of them.

Entertainment of this nature should be one of the key drivers for

interactive services in the home.



We should be developing a better understanding of the emerging

relationships between the users and new electronic ’screen media’ now,

particularly in the light of the arrival of digital TV and the growth of

cable.



Despite low penetration figures for digital in the early years, we

should not underestimate the ’kids factor’. We can learn much from their

current use of interactive media - the way they relate to electronic

games and the way they influence take-up of services.



We need to understand more than just numbers of viewers. The existing

audience measurement systems are woefully inadequate. If we want to

advertise brands successfully in the digital TV age, we must build a new

knowledge base.



And from this knowledge will come strategies that are focused on

involvement, leading to creative excellence, new brand-building

techniques and better product communication.



Paul Longhurst is the executive media director of Ammirati Puris Lintas.



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