Editorial: Interactivity Requires Participation

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When the always-on generation finally gets here, many marketers are going to find out just how off their messages can be.

The reason: When interactivity is involved, advertising at people doesn't work. Just check those sub-0.5 percent banner click rates, and that's with an audience that's sitting up and active.

As a result, e-marketers are going to have to work harder to involve people with their pitches. And the common vision of convergence where commerce is simply embedded into an existing television show - as in "click here to buy Ally McBeal's shoes" - is probably not the way. It requires too quick a shift from passive viewer to active participant from the audience.

Sure, there's television shopping, but viewers' frame of mind matters-not to mention the difference between the cost of QVC's on - air talent and the number of shoes a merchant would have to sell to keep Calista Flockhart's paychecks from bouncing.

Meanwhile, MTV appears to be on the right track by letting teens submit programming online. The response - 2 million submissions in a week - speaks for itself. Ford also seems to have the right idea with its Ford Focus ads inviting prime time television viewers to go to Focus247.com to vote on ad content. One of the side benefits of Ford's campaign is that ABC gets continuity from its audience on Wednesday nights that it otherwise wouldn't have.

The problem for the majority of marketers with both of these efforts, though, is that the campaigns are aimed at easy Internet targets: 18- to 25-year-olds. Great for Ford Focus and MTV. What do the rest of us do?

Picking subject matter that people are relatively passionate about is probably a good start. For example, Monday Night Football's attempt at interactivity - guess the next play, or whatever that was - last season was pathetic. How about reintroducing "You Make the Call," except for real this time?

Want interactivity? Ask a bunch of fans to go online and vote on whether that last potential touchdown catch was in or out of bounds. Imagine the fan who once went to the refrigerator during a commercial timeout only to come back and find a crucial call went the other team's way: "The garbage is going to have to wait, honey. My team needs me!"

OK, probably not realistic.

And it would indeed be a scary world in which the so-called "America's Team" Dallas Cowboys benefit from even more misguided public opinion than they already do. (Full disclosure: long-suffering Buffalo Bills fan here.)

The point is, interactive marketers need to reward people for participation. And not just with good programming - that's assumed - or with cheap shoes.

As a result, more viewer-driven content seems a certainty.

Think about the soap opera possibilities: "Should Lance come out of his coma and confess he's really the father of Grace's baby?"

Or how about on the Fox Network: "These women all want to marry a millionaire. But he can't decide! Cast your vote at VapidCulture.com."

God help us.

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