Even the most popular TV ad flickers on screen for just half a minute before fading away. American Express is trying to shake up that formula by devising a TV commercial that is always on -- you just have to decide to find it.
The financial-services company is attempting to add new ballast to an emerging advertising technology by making an interactive digital cable channel for customers available across multiple video distributors. The channel has been live since September on DirecTV, Dish Network, Cablevision, AT&T's U-verse, Verizon's Fios and via app on LG Electronics interactive TV sets, with Samsung TVs to follow at a later date. It allows current and prospective customers of American Express to explore member benefits, learn about various American Express cards, play games, get updates and watch original content.
The effort should be available to about 55 million U.S. households, according to Lou Pasakis, VP-global media content development and mobile marketing at American Express. And it represents a twist on the emerging ad format of dedicated brand channels by going up on so many TV systems and staying up longer -- about a year, in this case.
"There is a lot in the works," said Rob Aksman, chief experience officer of Brightline, an agency that specializes in interactive TV advertising that is working with American Express. He envisions American Express updating the channel as the marketer moves through various promotional activities such as its sponsorships of the U.S. Open and Tribeca Film Festival as well as its "Unstaged" concert series, which is distributed though social media and streaming web video.
That will be key to getting TV viewers to seek out the American Express channel. "We have to take an editorial disposition and earn our keep every day," Mr. Pasakis said.
Many advertisers have tested the interactive-TV waters, which allows them to take advantage of set-top boxes letting viewers respond with their remote controls. Consumers can get questions answered, order product samples or, in the case of a notable effort from the past involving Cablevision and Walt Disney, ask to be contacted by a representative of the advertiser. The challenge with the technology has long been that marketers must cobble together national reach by placing the promotion with the multiple video distributors.
Mr. Aksman suggested some advertisers are moving past that hurdle, either by relying on their agencies to devise a system that uses multiple vendors or by simply acknowledging that fragmentation of media choices is a fact of life in these days of delayed viewing and digital streaming. "The web taught us when something becomes digital, it comes with fragmentation, but it also comes with opportunity," he said. He suggested the American Express channel could appear in the future on the system of larger cable players, a la Comcast's Xfinity service.
Mr. Pasakis said he is less interested in achieving national scale at this point than learning more about consumer reactions and habits. "I'm going to have to think episodically in my messaging," he said. "I'm going to have to create more evergreen content."
Having an "always on" channel also gives American Express the chance to advertise some initiatives -- such as early ticket sales for American Express card members or the company's travel services -- that don't always get heavy TV promotion in the normal course of business, Mr. Pasakis added.
American Express isn't counting on couch potatoes to stumble across the channel. Instead, some TV ads will have an interactive component that directs viewers to the outlet. In some cases, said Mr. Aksman, viewers who use their interactive program guide will see ads that direct them to the channel.
The American Express promotion is just one of several the company has introduced that use the widening array of options for watching TV. The company also entered into a partnership with NBC Universal that will let consumers use mobile devices to buy products "inspired by" NBC Universal shows as they watch. It's also working with the Fox broadcast network to promote shopping with Fox's new Fox Now app while watching "New Girl." Each week, "New Girl" will feature at least one item -- which could be a piece of jewelry or a household item like salt-and-pepper shakers -- that's available for purchase.
That's not to say every experimental approach will pay off. New TV technology offers advertisers "the world's biggest roulette table," said Mr. Pasakis. Interactive channels, he suggested, are another place American Express considers a bet worthwhile.