The Dot-Spot: TV Weds the Web

Recently, I wrote about cross-media advertising and a trend toward using the Internet to expose consumers to an advertiser’s offline creative (for instance, Coca-Cola driving users to view its TV commercial online). There’s another trend emerging that has advertisers doing just the opposite. It just might throw a wrench into the online media buying equation.

In the process of researching a new campaign, I found myself chatting with an account executive at Alliance Atlantis Communications, the Canadian entertainment production, distribution, and broadcast company responsible for (among others) HGTV Canada and its associated Web site. I contacted the company to discuss advertising my client on, having had considerable success with it in the past. Working for an online agency, I only had Internet placements in mind — that is, until my sales rep began talking about a new form of TV advertising that made my ears prick up.

Since we last spoke, my contact’s mandate had shifted. He’d previously sold online media exclusively but now works with the integrated marketing sales department. His new role is to promote the value of cross-media campaigns involving the company’s many TV programs and corresponding Web sites.

That integrated marketing is now significant enough to warrant a corporate division is interesting in itself. When I was told about the new placement opportunity, I realized cross-media advertising is here to stay. His term is “dot-spots,” a fitting name for ads of this design. Instead of investing in standard 30-second TV spots (a costly pursuit) these relatively inexpensive mini-commercials air just five seconds at a time. Some feature a few notes of music and stylized graphics, others look like condensed versions of standard commercials. All include the advertiser’s URL. These ads are intended to drive traffic online. They provide yet another example of how the Internet and TV are merging in reaction to consumer behavioral patterns.

As we’ve seen in recent months, consumers don’t only spend more time online, they expand their exposure to multiple media by simultaneously surfing the Net and watching TV. Advertisers are responding by incorporating URLs into as many offline placements as possible. Dot-spots capitalize on all these trends by bridging the gap between on- and offline for consumers. They make it easier for advertisers to get prominent airtime for their domain names without the distractions of conjoined ad messages.

According to Alliance Atlantis, dot-spots have achieved notable results for some of the company’s most prominent advertisers. Ads are frequently used to promote online contests. They’re successful in generating online consumer sign-ups and registrations. That these spots demonstrate effectiveness producing conversions in addition to simply driving traffic is a positive sign. Part of the credit goes to targeting. Alliance Atlantis works closely with clients to choose appropriate TV programs for dot-spot airtime.

Spots are currently sold in 15-, 30-, or 60-second packages (e.g., a 15-second package affords the advertiser three five-second spots interspersed throughout one half-hour program). The format is also available on a handful of U.S. networks, though its North American presence is still limited. It’s speculated the majority of networks aren’t ready for the potential hassles of tracking traffic for scores of five-second mini-commercials.

Although these placements seem to have mass potential, their existence raises a troubling question: How can online media buyers work dot-spots into interactive campaigns? Dot-spots may technically fall into the TV advertising category, but their sole purpose is to benefit the advertiser online. As such, it appears they should be part of a client’s online campaign. From which media pool is the budget drawn? From which agency department should the media buy be made?

For buyers who work exclusively in online media, these placements present another dilemma. Should we bend the rules and branch out to embrace this form of quasi-TV advertising? Or should we release our grip on our online territory a bit and allow TV buyers into the equation? With such a promising placement, a solution needs to be found. Any suggestions?

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