Interactive TV Ads

John Phillips, March 16, 2018

Like more and more people, we cut the cord and stopped paying for cable TV sometime last year. Most of the shows we watch are ad free, but some still have ads. Nearly all of these are just standard television ads. The same kind that have existed my whole life. Some of them are very short, like less than 15 seconds, but this is the only obvious change.

It seems odd to me that television ads are stuck in stasis. Everybody who has dropped cable uses some kind computer to watch shows and movies, even if it’s a tiny computer near the TV or some kind of HDMI stick. This seems like a missed opportunity.

Why haven’t television ads evolved?

Some ads have an interactive element, but it’s never very well designed. There are two main types of ‘interactive’ ads.

Sometimes when you start a show, before it plays, you have to “pick your ad experience.” You are offered a choice between two different ads from the same company and you have to choose one. So much wishful thinking. Has anyone ever seriously evaluated this choice? I just click OK on the first one that highlights. I’m not sure I even follow the rationale. Does the company actually think I prefer one ad over the other? Or do they think that just having to make a choice helps me remember the ad? I could almost understand this type of ad, if the choice was between two different products from two different companies. At least the advertiser would learn that I prefer their product or ad relative to another. But it’s just a bad experience. Don’t force me to make a choice I don’t care about.

The other kind of interactive ad has a “learn more” button that is sort of passively present during the ad. If you click the button, you get taken away to visit a landing page immediately. Which seems insane. I am enjoying a show, but your ad is so on point I want to stop watching and learn more, right now.

This type of ad could work, if ‘learn more’ was asynchronous, if it didn’t interrupt watching the show.

How this could work on a device like a Roku

The ad runs with a ‘learn more’ or ‘send me additional info’ button on screen. If you click the button, you’ll get an email. Whatever service you are using, they have your email address. The company can send you an email with a link to a landing page. That you can look at later, probably on a different device. At minimum, they get two impressions. The ad they showed and the ad they emailed. Three if you actually visit the landing page.

If it’s the type of product where a longer video explainer would be useful, then download it in the background and offer to show it later. On the Roku, there’s a big space on the home screen dedicated to advertising shows and channels. This would be a natural space to promote this product that you expressed interest in. Probably the company would send an email too.

The key would be to educate people about what happens when they click ‘learn more’ or whatever the button is labeled. Otherwise, people will assume it’s an interruption. The best way to teach people about these new ads? Run a short ad explaining the concept.

The explainer ad would look something like this: First you see a ‘learn more’ button on screen in a sample ad. Cut to a close-up of the remote, showing you which button to press. Then an email arriving, and a person looking at it on a computer or a phone. All with a voiceover explaining the concept. The service could make sure one of these ads runs before any ad with a ‘learn more’ button. At least until you have clicked ‘learn more’ couple of times.

This would also advertise the concept to advertisers.

Why isn’t Hulu or Roku doing this? They have a fair amount of demographic data about their users. Seems like linking this to email would be valuable and something that TV advertisers would be interested in. If it’s an ad for a product, put a coupon in the email. Tell me in the ad that I can click for a coupon.