Have you seen the new "Buffalo Snacker" spot from KFC yet? Two guys in a firehouse are ribbing a third who's choking down a "bucket of noodles" he got for a buck. If you didn't see it, you didn't miss much; the spot itself is passable but hardly groundbreaking TV. If you have seen it, chances are you missed the most important part of the spot. And what you missed says a lot about the future of television, Internet marketing, and the changing media consumption habits of American TV viewers.
Watch the commercial frame by frame using your PVR (define) and you'll find a secret code embedded in the spot. It's there for such a short time you'd miss it unless you were looking frame by frame. Go to the KFC site, enter the code correctly, and you can print a coupon for a free sandwich. Miss it and it's just another commercial.
This is probably the first time any of the big players have stepped up and embraced the growing PVR trend. Though most studies don't predict more than 20-30 percent of viewers will use PVRs by 2010, the trend of consumers wanting to take control of their TV viewing doesn't seem to be abating. Worldwide PVR shipments more than doubled in 2004 and have continued to grow through 2005 and into this year. And whether penetration will be 20 percent or 50 in four years, it's inevitable that, given the choice, people will choose to watch what they want, when they want.
That's really the big story here, not the fact KFC used a cute gimmick to drive traffic to its site and promote a new sandwich, but that overall consumers are taking more control of their media. It's not necessarily the specific technology it's using to do so, but the fact it's doing it at all. Given the choice, people want control.
According to a Q1 2005 study by Arbitron and Edison Media Research, 27 million Americans own one or more on-demand media devices. From iPods and PlayStation Portables (PSPs) to personal video players and TiVos, a growing percentage of people say they want to watch and listen to what they want, when they want. Statistics like this make Apple's success at selling 1 million videos in 20 days seem totally logical. It makes the rapid online video growth understandable. It explains a heck of a lot of what consumers are doing and why they're doing it.
Though most people still receive their media in a stream they can't control, that population is shrinking and will continue to abate as time goes by. Once people can get what they want, when they want, reaching them will become more difficult and will require more clever techniques.
That's where the Web comes in.
The Web is the ultimate on-demand media device. From its inception, it's been a place where people go to actively get media rather than passively receive it as it's delivered. This behavior initially stymied a lot of advertisers who couldn't understand the active model over the passive one, until we all began to understand embracing the active model (rather than forcing a passive one) works. Search marketing taps directly into this kind of behavior and makes total sense when you're dealing with an on-demand population of media consumers.
Right now, the KFC campaign may be notable primarily for its novelty and cleverness, but to think its importance stops there misses the point. The real point is the campaign embraces a behavior many have resisted and uses a smart cross-media method to reach consumers KFC may have otherwise missed. As the Web continually teaches us, embracing, rather than resisting, trends in consumer media consumption is what ultimately works.
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Sean Carton has recently been appointed to develop the Center for Digital Communication, Commerce, and Culture at the University of Baltimore and is chief creative officer at idfive in Baltimore. He was formerly the dean of Philadelphia University's School of Design + Media and chief experience officer at Carton Donofrio Partners, Inc.