An Interactivity Call to Arms

applebees-tabletLast month, a restaurant chain did something that qualifies as out of the box. In early December, Applebee’s announced its intent to install tablets at the tables in more than 1,800 restaurants. As reported by ClickZ, the goal is to enable payment while creating a more entertaining, interactive dining experience. Over time the tablets are expected to incorporate social media, streaming video, and even music.

It’s an exciting time for interactive media. Applebee’s aside, we’re seeing businesses of all kinds push the boundaries of consumer engagement. In the fall, E!’s “Hello Ross” invited viewers to collaborate on content, gathering their opinions and feedback from Twitter and Facebook feeds. OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) launched a social media-compatible eCourse, and its Oprah Lifeclass series was awarded a Primetime Creative Arts Emmy for Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media.

Interactivity is front and center online as well. Within the past twelve months we watched ESPN create a dynamic unit that ran on site visitor participation; users voted for their pick in a game between Alabama and Notre Dame, and as the votes came in, the ad changed color to reflect the team they put in the lead. Elsewhere on the Web, videos are being made shoppable to boost interest and capitalize on purchase intent. Even native ads are evolving, leaving static sponsorships behind in lieu of interactive features customized for each consumer’s needs.

Why the uptick in interactivity? The more communicative the ad, the more desirable the outcome – or so it’s believed. Video ad platform TubeMogul and video ad serving technology company Innovid released the results of a joint study on interactive video that seem to support this theory. It found that interactive pre-roll units outperform standard pre-roll video ads in boosting brand awareness, message association, and purchase intent. According to eMarketer, only about 10 to 20 percent of digital video ads currently contain some form of interactivity. But video ad management company Vindico says this number is snowballing, doubling year over year.

We use the term “interactive” rather freely. Technically speaking, a clickable 468×60 banner is interactive. So is Yahoo’s floating Cube, an ad that materializes from a banner, expands when clicked, and can feature everything from video to a dynamic content feed.


Both are forms of interactive advertising, and although they appear vastly different, they do have something in common. They ask something of the consumer, and deliver something – information, entertainment – in return. Through this relatively simple value-based exchange the consumer can connect with the brand in what everyone hopes is a meaningful, memorable way.

Interactivity as it relates to digital media, however, is changing. It’s clear by looking at what’s happening offline that consumers are being conditioned to anticipate a deeper level of engagement with brands. Traditional banners may qualify on paper, but they no longer provide enough of a user experience for savvy users of digital devices.

If consumers expect cursor hovers and rollovers that expand and transform ads, we must give them clickable overlays. Let’s replace those static images with in-ad image galleries and user-initiated video. It’s time now to pull out the ad selector functionality, in-ad games, and configurator tools, and transform display ads into destinations with an immense capacity to inform and amuse. Because the more accustomed consumers become to encountering thoughtful interactivity elsewhere in the world, the more willing they’ll be to embrace it online.

Expect this to be a big year for interactivity, not just where digital media’s concerned. The moment is right for brands to seek active participation in their campaigns…and for Internet audiences to give it.

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Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.