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Tempting The Click

By Jack Powers

Published: June 15, 1996

As we move beyond ink and paper toward new interactive publishing forms, we should carve out some time to think about the future of advertising in an interactive age. Most of what we know about creating ads for print or commercials for TV doesn’t really apply to advertising on CD-ROMs, interactive TV and the Internet, and most of the early advertising in interactive media fails because it applies the 1960s adman principles of Bewitched’s Darrin Stevens to the 1990s Wired world of cyberspace, multimedia and the World Wide Web.

Traditional advertising depends on the intrusive image. A pretty space ad on page 53 of Newsweek or a clever 15 second spot on the Letterman show pushes it’s way into our consciousness, building brand recognition, market positioning and product awareness. Ads and commercials are unavoidable, the price we pay to read the news or watch the show, and for all the market research and Nielsen calculations, the actual number of people who see a particular ad is unknown and unknowable.


By contrast, interactive advertising is perfectly zappable and perfectly measurable. The interactive TV viewer doesn’t get a commercial unless he asks for it; a CD-ROM magazine reader can’t get to the advertising without pulling down the right menu; an Internet surfer actually has to ask for an ad and wait for images to download to his Mosaic screen. And every time somebody views an ad, the computer knows.

Creating a successful interactive ad is a lot harder than pasting a catchy slogan on top of a compelling graphic. The interactive art director has to "tempt the click," to tease viewers into requesting an ad screen even though they know it’s a sales pitch.

In cyberspace, an ad also has to be compelling enough to draw the audience back time and again. Once you’ve viewed the Merrill Lynch ad in the TIME magazine section of America On-Line, why would you look at it a second time? Once you’ve browsed the Miller Genuine Draft taproom on the Internet (, what will make you ever go back? The opposite of an intrusive image ad, successful interactive advertising has to incent the prospects into the pitch, to pay them off with an interesting story, some compelling interactivity or even an out and out bribe.

MCI’s "Gramercy Press" television ad campaign tells a story. In 15 second commercials the ads present slice of life vignettes at a fictional Manhattan publishing house that is just entering the Information Age. The companion pages on the World Wide Web ( continue the plot, giving readers the back stories to the main characters and offering a point-and-click soap opera that eventually leads to an on-line demo of MCI’s business software. The on-line ad is a pleasant place to go populated with attractive people doing interesting things, updated often enough to keep us coming back.

The late 90s quarterly CD-ROM magalog  Club Kidsoft, on the other hand, gave kids exciting games to play and demo versions of dozens of Mac and PC programs. In software, the best advertising is a demo, and the Kidsoft CD even closed the sale by unlocking the full version of the program for downloading once a parent has authorized a credit card payment.

Interactive TV tests like the Time-Warner Orlando trial foresee bribing the prospects to view commercials. A car advertiser, for example, might pay a customer to sit through a 10 minute informercial by downloading a coupon for a free pizza to the viewer’s set-top color printer. (Q: What’s for dinner tonight, Ma? A: I think Lee Iacocca is offering free tacos to watch the minivan spots.)

Tempting the click means replacing the "one-to- many" flow of conventional advertising communications with a "one-to-one" relationship that tunes the message to each prospect.

Happily, we have people in the business who know how to tempt the click--although on paper, not on screen. Those marvelously talented direct mail designers who know how to get us to open the envelope even though we know it’s a sales pitch have the kind of customer orientation we’ll need to make successful interactive ads. What they know about target marketing, catalog selling, testing and research can be directly applied to disk- and telecom-delivered messages, which are really direct response vehicles, not image ad media.

Keeping the prospects coming back for more requires some special talents, as well. The best interactive art director might be working today as a video game designer, someone who knows how to keep a viewer nailed to his computer for hours, doling out just enough pleasure and just enough pain and turning a few seconds of attention into a on-line commitment.

The measurability of new media helps fine tune the interactive ad, and the transaction component lets us go beyond "awareness and positioning" to actually booking the sale. Browse a CD-ROM catalog and you can zap out an order on-line or by fax modem. Visit an Internet mall and you can buy just about any product on-line for next day delivery. And because the computer knows who views which ad, the advertiser only pays when the message gets delivered. There’s no "pass along," no "implied readership," no waste.

In any new technology, the first generation copies the assumptions, inclinations and biases of the pre-technological world. Today’s on-line and on disk advertising reflects the world view of the printing press and broadcast TV network. In time, smart interactive advertisers will shake off the dead hand of the past and start crafting new communications vehicles that tune themselves uniquely to each prospect, that tempt the click and book the sale. \\



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