Embedded Ads, or, P&G vs. TiVo
For at least about a generation now — roughly since the advent of the remote control — there has been an increasingly high-stakes “arms race” being waged between mass market advertisers on one side, and consumers seeking to avoid those ads on the other.
In fact, the conflict predates the Internet, going all the way back to the remote control.
Back in the TV dark ages — like 1978 — the first thing TV watchers learned to use the remote control to do was “zap” commercials, by switching channels.
With the advent of TiVo and recorded TV came another term: “zipping,” or consumers fast-forwarding through commercials.
Filtering vs. Embedding
So how have the Procter & Gamble’s of the advertising world responded?
A number of ways.
Advertisers’ first attempt to capture online eyeballs was via “banner ads.” Exactly what they sound like, banner ads are plastered at the top — and now sides and bottom — of the Web page you’re looking at.
It turns out that consumers learned to ignore those ads like so much wallpaper, as evidenced by anemic “click-through” rates.
So, online advertisers have become more aggressive.
You likely have already encountered the successor to banner ads, called “interstitial” ads. That is, before your browser “serves” the Web page you just clicked on, it slips in — for one to three seconds — an advertising-sponsored page.
Sometimes you can cancel interstitial ads, sometimes you’re stuck and have to wait until they disappear.
The Front Lines: TV
It’s on TV, though, where the most sophisticated responses to zipping, zapping, etc. are on display (likely because TV advertisers have had the most time to respond to the threat).
It turns out that the best way to negate the effects of all that zipping and zapping is to actually embed products in the TV program itself.
So, on shows like “Two and a Half Men,” Charlie Harper doesn’t just have a carton of orange juice on his kitchen table, he has a carton of Minute Maid orange juice on his table — and the label is clearly visible.
Sports programming — especially baseball — contains another kind of embedded ad: the “virtual billboard” superimposed on the baseball backstop, outfield wall, or other prominent location.
Embedded ads are now a feature at the movies, too.
Supposedly, the James Bond sequels now contain so much embedded, product placement that advertising is starting to supplement ticket sales as a source of revenue.
The trend has gotten so advanced that it has become ripe for satire on sitcoms like 30 Rock, which show the performers not only using and consuming various advertised products . . . but talking about how much they love them!
Interstitial Ads — the TV version
What caught my eye watching last night’s Yankees – Phillies World Series game wasn’t CC Sabathia’s pitching, or A-Rod’s hitting, but the latest incarnation of interstitial ads — especially adapted to TV, and specifically, sports.
Maybe it was just my imagination, but after the first out in the top of the first inning, I swear the announcers cut away for a 5 second car (?) commercial, with the voice over announcing that “the first out had been sponsored by” whoever the advertiser was.
Obviously, this is a trend with legs: it’s not hard to imagine commercial interruptions accelerating to the point where they occur in between every pitch, foul ball, and even waved-off catcher’s sign to the pitcher.
Worse, that trend is likely to pop up first precisely where it’s most annoying: a close, high stakes contest with lots of national interest.
Like the fourth game of the 2009 World Series . . . .