Interactive-TV advertising has long been a dream deferred, but Microsoft hopes it's figured out how to help make ads more engaging to consumers.
In a demo at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, Microsoft offered a look at five TV spots with which viewers can interact using its popular Xbox Kinect technology. Like the Nintendo Wii, Kinect allows users to control the video-game console through voice and gestures rather than a controller. It was rolled out late last year in a bid to soften the Xbox image as a haven for hardcore gamers and bring in more fare that's suitable for families.
Now it appears the technology may also be a boost to Microsoft's ad-sales efforts when the ads, dubbed NuAds (for "natural user"), are available in spring 2012. In Microsoft's view, interactive-TV ads have failed to take off because they put a big burden on marketers, forcing them to create unique spots that typically aren't reusable.
The idea, said General Manager Mark Kroese, is to take that burden and "make it part of the platform."
So basically all an advertiser will have to do is add a URL and a call to action to its existing spots that can then be embedded in game or video content. In the demo, Microsoft showcased a spot by Adidas that asked viewers to say "Xbox more" to receive more information about the brand in the form of a rich-text email that automatically goes to the email account associated with the Xbox Live login.
Another ad, a tune-in spot for NBC's "The Voice," told viewers it could say "Xbox scheduler" in order to get the show placed on the user's mobile-phone calendar. A spot for the Toyota Prius designed to spark trial of the hybrid was integrated with Bing maps. Saying "Xbox near me" showed a map with the locations of local dealers.
In a spot for Coca-Cola that could be activated with a swipe of the hand, viewers were urged to say "Xbox tweet" to promote the ad on Twitter.
The NuAds demo was a quick glimpse of the platform folded into a longer and broader Microsoft pitch for its ad products, but it generally impressed as a simple, elegant and flexible platform that should get advertisers' attention.
It'll help that the Kinect system has been very hot with consumers. Sales during the first 60 days of availability broke the Guinness world record for a consumer-electronics product and it only took about three months to sell 10 million units. By contrast the more expensive Wii took about two years to hit that number.
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