Today at the Cannes International Advertising Festival, I will be lucky to take part in a seminal moment in the advertising and television industry: the introduction of NUads, which transforms traditional, linear TV advertising into an interactive experience by using the voice-and gesture-control of Kinect for Xbox 360.
Typically when I talk about new technologies, I try to avoid hyperbole. But in this case of NUads and Kinect, I’m here to say that it will change television as we know it—forever. I say this because NUads--specifically the Kinect voice and gesture technology that enables them--finally unties the Gordian knot of interactive television, and by extension, interactive advertising. I’ll dive into the specifics of how NUads does this a bit later. But first, to grasp how far this platform advances interactive TV , I’ll reference three key milestones in the evolution of screen interactivity.
The first key milestone in my career was the advent of the Graphical User Interface—better known as the May 22, 1990 launch of Windows 3.0. The market’s enthusiasm was unprecedented. For those of you too young to remember, Windows 3.0 offered a fantastically easier, more natural and inviting way to use the personal computer. Suddenly the computer was more popular, and for one simple reason: people could understand it. In a single breakthrough, the PC screen became fundamentally more useful, and PC sales exploded. Importantly, Windows 3.0 created a new generation of consumers who have come to expect on-screen content to be interactive.
The second big milestone was in 2006, when the touch screen came to the mobile phone. Almost overnight, the smallest and most portable screen became arguably the most powerful. Consumers quickly learned that with a small number of very natural gestures, they could do just about anything. Thanks to the natural user interface (NUI), the touch screen “phone” evolved to become the most personal of personal computers.
The third big NUI milestone came in late 2010, when Microsoft delivered Kinect. For the first time, audiences could interact with the largest screen in the home, from ten feet away, through natural voice and gesture. Audiences began to engage in an active, two-way, dialogue with the content on their TV, sans remote.
The Kinect sensor brought NUI to the TV, and built the foundation for another much-anticipated leap forward: interactive television. Advertisers and audiences have been ready for some time, but the underlying platform has not existed. Until now.
From third rail to Holy Grail
For digital, interactive advertisers, the third screen—the TV screen—has been the step child of the multi-screen world. And for good reason. Buying traditional TV time (mostly the 30 second spot) has been the only guaranteed way to reach a broad audience. As a result, advertisers continue to buy TV, even though its effectiveness has been diminishing for years. Today, a full two decades after the launch of Windows 3.0, the TV viewing experience remains stubbornly passive and one-way, while the PC and mobile screens have become awesomely interactive. For decades, technologists, marketers and yes, even consumers, have longed for a simple, natural way to interact with content on their TV screen.
Some long-suffering advertisers, who innately understood they needed a better way to engage TV audiences, have bravely experimented—at significant cost--with various interactive TV platforms. In doing so, they have been searching for the holy grail of marketing: a simple, interactive conversation with consumers on the TV. In return, they’ve been confronted with an amalgam of devices, clunky interfaces, closed platforms, conflicting development tools, confusing controllers and a whole lot of frustration. Many brands have avoiding touching this third rail of advertising altogether, opting to wait until a solid solution arrived. Today, many of those same marketers were in the room when we unveiled the solution to this problem: NUads.
Less is more—for Audiences and Advertisers
Simply put, NUads break down the barriers between consumers and content on the TV screen. NUads make traditional linear content—like a 30 second TV spot—irresistibly interactive. For years, the industry as gone to great lengths trying to figure out how to deliver interactive TV. Until the advent of Kinect, no one really understood that the key to making TV interactive was right in front of us all along: the audience. People are inherently interactive all on their own. We just needed the technology to get out of their way.
In addition, NUads solve a significant and costly problem that had long plagued TV advertisers: lack of engagement. Studies clearly show that audiences are multi-tasking on other screens (mobile phones, tablets, laptops) while the TV is on. Who is watching that expensive 30 second spot? NUads deliver what is most scarce to TV advertisers today – audience engagement.
For all of its leading-edge innovation, NUads still focus on enabling proven and traditional marketing methods—tactics like trial, request for information, or location-based marketing. The difference is that the audience can take part in these offerings without having to do anything that isn’t inherently natural. A simple voice command or wave of the hand is all it takes. At the end of the day, people want to interact with content with a bowl of popcorn—not a clunky keyboard or remote—in their lap. With NuAds, they can.
This week in Cannes, I demonstrated five NUads formats, but the possibilities for advertisers are almost endless. Today’s demo included the following scenarios of ads that could be placed across the Xbox LIVE experience:
Social advocacy. A simple voice command such as "Xbox Tweet" gives the consumer the ability to share something about a brand with their friends.
Request for information (RFI): Say "Xbox More," and you can request additional information and/or a discount coupon to be sent directly to your email inbox.
Near me: Say "Xbox Near Me" to locate a retailer near you, and receive a text message with the location.
Schedule an event: "Xbox Schedule" sends you a calendar reminder about an upcoming show.
Vote for your favorite: With just a wave of a hand, audiences can easily convey their preferences. For example, while watching a trailer for the Green Lantern movie, there would be a prompt asking: “which is your favorite villain?” or “Do you have plans to go see this movie?” Read time voting and audience feedback has finally come to the TV!
Those of you who follow my blog know that I often focus on the future of television, and the possibilities that future holds for advertising. Today is a big day. I believe that the Kinect platform, and NUads, will unlock the incredible potential of interactive TV, and interactive TV advertising. You can read more about the news, first officially reported by Tanzina Vega of the The New York Times.
In the spirit of audience engagement, I’d love to know what you think.
Mark Kroese - General Manager, Advertising Business Group, IEB
Stay tuned for more great coverage from Cannes Lions 2011!