Stay Tuned for Interactive Commercials

Recently, the local Time-Warner Cable affiliate, Oceanic, debuted interactive TV ads on digital cable service. The first client, First Hawaiian Bank, is using the technology as an easy way of opt-in marketing. During specially-encoded commercials, the cable box pops up a screen which offers to have the bank mail you a pamphlet or call you back. All it takes is to push A or B on the remote (PDF).

I’m really not a fan of these popups. For starters, they’re not particularly pleasing to look at. I don’t mind commercials; I know they pay the bills for the shows I watch. But when you have these pop-up graphics rendered by the set-top box, they’re really hard to read. Plus, they cut off the pictures that a team of creative professionals spent a lot of time designing.

Secondly, I don’t like the fact that the commercial options are available to whoever happens to be watching at the time. At the moment, it’s only a minor nuisance if somebody pushes the button and inadvertently invites a business into their home. What will happen when a pizza delivery chain starts adding a simple one-touch way to purchase today’s special?

If interactive commercials are going to become commonplace, the least they could do is try to make them look like a single product. The Weather Channel does a good job of this – certain commercials for national chains include a computer-inserted list of local stores at the end of the spot, keyed over a nice, blank area of the screen. This is what needs to happen to the FHB commercials. (I don’t expect it to anytime soon, however, because the same commercials are aired both on analog and digital TV.)