The Interactivity of AdSpace

Interactive advertising has become associated with Internet advertising over the years. It’s interactive, after all, even if that interaction isn’t always as extensive as it could be.

Aligning interactive with online media alone is a pretty narrow definition of the term. How, exactly, is interaction with an ad defined? Online, it’s usually viewed as a click, but that ideal leaves some ad vendors out in the cold. That includes AdSpace Networks, which is breaking all the rules with its digital, and perhaps even interactive, ad placements.

AdSpace’s SVP of marketing, Bill Ketchum, describes the company best. “It’s a hybrid between interactive and more traditional mediums. Some people call it place-based media, which is really what interactive media on the Web is, too. People are just in a place where they tend to be more reachable and definable.”

More specifically, that place is your local shopping mall, that is if you live in one of the country’s 12 primary metro areas, including New York; Los Angeles; Chicago; Seattle; Atlanta; and Tampa, FL. And the hybrid medium Ketchum describes is a cross between outdoor advertising, TV, and digital display.

Instead of a computer monitor or Web-enabled PDA, envision huge plasma screens at eye level in the common areas of 41 U.S. malls. The screens display information relating to consumers’ shopping experience, including events being hosted at the mall and retailers in the vicinity. Each week, those retailers supply AdSpace with their best specials, which are compiled into Today’s Top 10 list, complete with pictures of the items, logos, and pricing details. The deals are promoted continuously throughout the day to inform and entice consumers as they pass by.

Those ads become the content on which AdSpace’s business model is built. Though they’re provided to stores free of charge, additional spots, usually :11 to :15 in length, are sold externally on a CPM (define) basis (the average mall visitor, an Arbitron media study found, sees an AdSpace screen three times per mall visit). National advertisers, such as movie studios (Fox and Disney among them) and TV networks (like the Cartoon Network and NBC), along with local advertisers, like car dealerships, all purchase ads on AdSpace to promote their own specials or, better still, products that can be purchased in the mall. Information about new DVD releases, for example, seem the ideal offering to consumers eager for instant gratification at the multimedia store down the hall.

Where does interactivity fit into this medium? AdSpace maintains it’s marked by the action consumers take after viewing an ad. If they see an ad and purchase as a result, Ketchum argues, they’ve interacted with the AdSpace screen. The response may not be as immediate as a click to a banner or subsequent online conversion, but it’s a marketing-driven response nonetheless.

Interesting theory. If widely accepted, it would mean many other forms of traditional advertising could be considered interactive, too. Where does one draw the line?

I believe TiVo’s Showcases are a form of interactive TV advertising. They require the user to complete an action. Use your remote to select the “Go behind the scenes” option to learn more about M. Night Shyamalan’s new film “Lady in the Water,” for instance. By the new definition of interactive, would cable TV be considered interactive if a consumer watched a “Lady in the Water” commercial and purchased tickets to the film the next day?

Perhaps the difference lies in whether the consumer action is contained within the medium, as it is with Web advertising. If so, could one still argue AdSpace is a form of interactive advertising? Making a purchase as a result of seeing an AdSpace ad may not be contained within the plasma screen itself, but it is contained within the mall, where the medium lives. Is that so different?

Attempting to redefine interactive media may be like trying to reinvent the wheel, but one thing’s certain: it behooves interactive media buyers and planners to consider all forms of digital media, even those that fall outside conventional parameters. If they can offer further access to consumers in a shopping mindset, they’re worth interacting with.

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