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An Hour of Paradise by the Dashboard Light

Playing Master of the Marketing Universe at Visible World

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Visible world's little gray conference room in an anonymous building on a semi-industrial Manhattan side street is no palace, yet here I am master of the marketing universe.
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The dashboards of Visible World's system enable marketers to change the message and targeting of their video ads in real time. | ALSO: Comment on this column in the 'Your Opinion' box below.

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Modifying TV spots
In an hour of omnipotence I've rebuilt and redistributed ads for some of the biggest companies in the country. Borrowing their existing creative I've modified a dozen commercials, turning each execution into hundreds of 30-second spots, each more targeted and relevant than the original. I'm confident that my work -- if it were affecting the real world and not just Visible World's demo system -- would've multiplied the ROI on these ads by a geometric factor that would establish me as a genius within my organization, or at least ward off shareholder griping for another quarter.

Why am I messing around with this thing when I should be editing something over on the other side of town? Partly because it's fun, but mainly because at least half a dozen of the smartest people in the marketing world have told me that Visible World will do more to change the face of advertising in the next few years than any other company. Group M's Irwin Gottlieb, whose parent company WPP is an investor in the business, is a self-confessed technology geek, so he'll just say it's an enabler of video addressability. Others gush that it has the potential to be "the savior of TV advertising."

Practical implications
Still, it's essentially just a dashboard that enables the user to manipulate digital-video files, so it's hard to get that excited about it. Hard, that is, until you start playing with it and imagining how different marketers might employ it.

Take, hypothetically, the marketing manager for the Argentinean Tourism Board. She can only afford a single ad shoot to show all the country's attractions. But with Visible World's technology -- which, incidentally, works with every single broadcast or cable network and any broadband internet destination you choose -- she could reformat the ad so that when it runs on the Food Network the establishing shot is a sizzling beef steak, as opposed to the baroque San Ignacio Church sunset scene she'd open with on the History Channel.

Or imagine what might happen at Ford, where the marketing chief's ad file contains footage of lots of different vehicles. He has a big sales weekend coming up, so he's turned the dashboard over to his regional marketing managers. During the weekend, depending on the sales data, they can change the creative running in their areas. If those dealers out in Ohio have met their Explorer quotas, they go to the dashboard and switch the creative to focus on the Escape. No more waiting for the agency or production house to rework the ad.

Ad changes linked to weather
At my hypothetical Home Depot HQ, the Visible World dashboard is hooked up to Accuweather and makes changes to its video file automatically based on weather in each local area. If there's a snowstorm in Minnesota, the local ads will feature snow blowers; as the leaves change color in Vermont, rakes get pride of place.

And on and on. These are fairly obvious ways of using the technology, but as smart creatives start to get comfortable with this tool, we're going to see way-more-ingenious applications. The ads could even become responsive to the programming. Think the Geico gecko opening his sales patter by commenting on the score in the game, perhaps -- sort of entertainment being integrated into the ads, rather than the other way 'round.

Oh, and if you think creatives won't care, you're wrong. They'll have to. Already six major marketers are using Visible World to manage and modify their ads in real-time. Another 12 are having dashboards built for them right now. This is a technology at a tipping point, and if you're not prepared to take my word for it, maybe you can persuade the folks at Visible World to give you a turn as ruler of the ad world. It's pretty heady stuff.
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