Cablevision to launch interactive commercials for couch potatoes

It's a time-honored television tradition: the direct-response ad, urging viewers to act now to order some gadget over the phone or online. Now, Cablevision (CVC) is aiming to make things even easier for couch potatoes with the introduction of interactive ads. Using pop-up or banner displays, the spots will prompt viewers to click on their remotes during commercials, with the promised reward of a coupon or product sample.

The service will be introduced to Cablevision's 3 million iO TV digital cable subscribers in October, and the cable giant has signed up paint company Benjamin Moore as one of its first customers, according to Cablevision spokeswoman Charlstie Laytin. People who click on the Benjamin Moore ad will be sent a coupon for a free two-ounce color sample.
And who can resist the lure of free stuff? Connecting television ads with interactivity has long been the holy grail of marketers, but getting consumers to click on the ads have proved tough. With this hook, perhaps Cablevision will actually motivate viewers to click on interactive ads. DailyFinance parent AOL was one of the early entrants into interactive advertising field, as was Microsoft with WebTV. And in June, Canoe Ventures said it was halting plans for its Community Addressable Messaging product, a service which would have allowed cable operators to simultaneously air one ad for most subscribers but a different ad in high-income cable service areas. At the time, Canoe also said it would shift its focus to interactive television.

Consumers may now be ready for interactive ads because they've become more used to clicking on their remotes to navigate digital video recorders or DVDs, said Colin Dixon, a senior partner at research firm The Diffusion Group who focuses on digital media and broadband media.

The U.S. consumer "had been a very passive, sit-back-and-watch" type of TV viewer, which hurt interactive television's chances of success in the past, Dixon noted. But because the way consumers interact with their TVs has changed during the last few years, Dixon said Cablevision has picked a good time to start an interactive-ad service. "They'll probably get a good response rate," he predicted.

Interactive TV ads tend to have higher click rates of 2 to 3 percent, higher than the 0.27 percent click rate of traditional internet ads, said Rob Aksman, head of experience design at the interactive advertising firm BrightLine iTV. "There is less clutter in the TV space," Aksman said. And, he added, web surfers are more likely to be searching for specific information and aren't as easily distracted by ad messages.

To get viewers interested in its new interactive ads, Cablevision is airing a television spot to introduce consumers to the concept of the service, called Optimum Select. It's probably no accident that the spot shows a woman navigating what many might consider extremely annoying marketing experiences: getting bombarded by a car salesman and a perfume spritzer in a department store. The spot suggests Optimum Select will allow you to order a perfume sample rather than getting drenched with eau de toilette, or get information about a new sedan without sucked into a car salesman's spiel.

And that might be worth clicking on.

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