TWC ‘Enhanced’ Interactive Ads Emphasizes ‘Story’ Over Engineering

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March 13, 2012 – 7:30 pm

Time Warner Cable Media, the advertising sales division of the MSO, has introduced "Enhanced iTV," with the promise of making its existing ads more interactive and targeted. The new ads have already started rolling out across the company's  current iTV markets, which include New York City, Charlotte and Cincinnati.

TWCM's news comes amid a flurry of activity on the MSO ad front. Two weeks ago, Canoe Ventures, the major MSO-backed company that was charged with creating a nationwide platform for addressable ads, abandoned that effort to concentrate on VOD ad insertion.

While viewed as a potential setback for the pursuit of targeted advertising, Canoe's decision was followed by more positive industry steps. For example, Satellite TV provider DirecTV expanded its linear ad management deal with INVISION in preparation for a national addressable ad rollout, while Cablevision put out the word that it completed over 900 advanced advertising campaigns for more than 600 advertisers in 2011.

TWCM's "enhanced iTV" is one of several steps on the ad front planned for over the next year, said Joan Hogan Gillman, EVP at TWC and president of TWCM, in an interview with TVExchanger. And it's not a coincidence that it comes as agencies and marketers finalize their plans on how to use the flood of TV dollars that will be brought to bear on the national political campaigns, the resurgent automotive companies and advertising related to the London Summer Olympics.

In describing what's so “enhanced” about TWCM's new feature, Gillman began by noting that advertisers in the company's iTV footprint already have ways of tapping consumer engagement with things like overlay messages that ask viewers to respond via the remote control. The enhanced version rolled out last week offers the added ability to deliver a targeted message based upon the time of day. Demographics in a given market can also be sliced more selectively now as well. Lastly, TWCM's iTV analytics are also more detailed and reporting can be based on each advertiser’s media schedule.

Sales Hub: But more than the technical improvements, perhaps the most consequential action TWCM has taken is the creation of a hub allows its 600 ad sales executives to share insights about interactive campaigns.

“Our markets all have their own particular identities, but in a broad sense, a dentist or a car dealership trying to drive business in one may learn something from an iTV campaign that can be applied to another market,” Gillman said. “Everything we do allows us to continually learn. We have 1,600 sales people spread across the country. But with this hub, we can bring the expansive knowledge from different locations into one place.”

From 'negative' to 'positive': One area where that shared knowledge could be put to good use is in the political ad realm, which is only going to get hotter. For example, there are always complaints about potential backlash to candidates who use negative advertising in a less than effective way. Better targeting could diminish campaign's concerns in that area.

“A political candidate's goal is to set themselves apart,” said Gillman, who worked as a U.S. Senate aide for a decade starting in 1985. “They use various types of ads to accomplish this.  Working with us as their partner, we leverage our platform to help them select which geographic areas as well as the appropriate show  to communicate the message they are looking to deliver to their key audiences.  The beauty of cable is that it’s targeted. A campaign can target geographically, behaviorally, and demographically. A client can accomplish their goals by showing the ad to the audience they are looking to reach.  This will help them be more effective in delivering a candidate’s key messages to the select group of people you want to reach.”

Auto landscape improves: Gillman also expects that a resurgent auto industry will also propel interactive cable advertising this year. “We have hundreds of clients that were hit hard by the recession three years ago and by the effects of the Japanese tsunami last year.,” she said. “It's great to see our clients recover and see the path to record-breaking sales this year.”

While the recovery should mean more advertising nationally and locally, the competition among carmakers is expected to be almost as intense as the political races.

"Clients are coming to us and asking for every tool we have in our kit to help set them apart," Gillman said. "That is a wonderful conversation to have. They want to know how they can reach different parts of the population more effectively, use interactive TV to figure out which models play best to certain segments. We partner with our clients to help guide them on when to use a brand awareness campaign, a direct call to action or some combination.

“The most successful clients are thinking about brand awareness just as much as they are thinking of the Saturday sale. Again, that's how they set themselves apart.”

Data isn't everything: For the most part, the advances in interactivity is seen as a triumph of technical and engineering expertise. But Gillman sought to emphasize that advertising is ultimately about the “story” marketers and sales people can tell that makes the difference. For interactive advertising to work, the side that crafts the narratives will have to take the lead.

“I'm a big believer in the power of the data,” Gillman said. “But these are early days in terms of being able to track patterns and interpret those patterns on behalf of a client. It's not like the early days in using the technology; I want to be clear about that. But it is early in terms of figuring out how to best optimize a campaign to accomplish their marketing goals.”

So the technological know-how is there and ad sales teams in general are more comfortable with digital. So what is holding back advertisers from doing more interactive advertising?

“I think there are two structural challenges that advertisers face,” Gillman responded. “One is that they have fragmented their teams to a point where the person who buys the media is far removed from the person who's actually measuring the sales in the marketplace. The second is that the creative teams and the planning teams don't talk often and early enough. Integrating teams will help clients better navigate the media landscape.

“Our commitment to the client is to help coordinate and integrate campaigns.  Our teams are also working with clients using iTV weekly.  The clients gaining the most are those working with us to optimize campaigns in flight.  They are acting on our insights.” she continued. "They have the expertise to act on the information during the campaign flight, rather than after the campaign is complete. This is what moves the needle in terms of market share."

From cable ads to flash mobs: Over the past few years, the lines between buy side and the sell side have blurred, as agencies and marketers have delved more deeply into content creation, while publishers and TV networks have been presenting themselves as marketing services providers that go beyond selling ads for their core media products.

TWCM is no different, and Gillman said that the iTV process involves more than just running spots on its cable systems. “When you're working with a direct client in the marketplace, we can act like a full-service agency: we are producing the 30-second spot, we are producing the ITV, we are providing them with insights if they want to buy other media in the marketplace, if they want a mobile app – we actually got a mobile app built for one client,” she said. “We've orchestrated flash mobs and thrown red carpet events for clients. We integrate TV and social media. We have production teams and in-market promotions team. If a client has a problem, we partner to solve it.”

Still, she was quick to suggest that TWCM was trying to position itself on turf that traditionally belongs to ad agencies. “I would never call us an ad agency,” Gillman said. “Let me explain why. I think the entire industry is changing. Companies are all looking to be strategic partners. Being a strategic partner, you have a set of solutions, you are going to want to go to your partners and provide them with all the insights you have. That kind of collaboration and shared insight makes everyone smarter about their business and more successful.”

The cable ad lexicon: With talk of “interactivity,” “addressability,” and “targeting,” the offerings and functions that cable advertising offers can get a little bogged down in definitions. But the distinctions are important, Gillman noted, saying she does try to show how all those terms are linked, yet still mean specific activities in the marketplace.

“When TWC did the full service network trials in Orlando in 1995, 'interactive' meant user-interface, video-on-demand and ordering a pizza on the TV,” she said. “Interactive meant you weren't just watching a broadcast of a show. VOD, a unicast experience and the guide represents a form of interacting by using your remote control. Separately, it also meant some form of targeted advertising. Cable has led the industry in targeting.“The term addressable is confusing.” she continued. “To some, it means being able to send a different ad to you personally as opposed to someone else who doesn't match your precise profile.

“So people use addressable to mean that they're targeting more narrowly than broadcast,” Gillman said. “They don't mean that there are 300 million different ads for each person in the U.S. There are many forms of targeted advertising that improve the relevance of advertising.  You can target geographically and demographically to target a very niche audience.  What you'll see is that we will start to figure out sharper profiles and the targeting will get more sophisticated. I believe the way you get to addressability is that you learn with ITV – how consumers are responding  – then you build out unicast ad insertion, which is represented by VOD. Then you start to add interactive messaging to VOD ads as you figure out what resonates with consumers. After that you invest in better technology to better target the ads. VOD will allow us to group households differently. iTV and VOD will be the first place we start to develop new profiles."

By David Kaplan

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March 13, 2012 – 7:30 pm

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