Since Aug. 22, subscribers to EchoStar Communications' Dish satellite-TV network have been able to vote for Pepsi's Best New Artist award at the VMAs by using their remote control, not to mention using it to watch ads that Pepsi is running in advance of the event. On Sept. 7, those same subscribers will be able to answer questions from a Best New Artist Pop Quiz that will be presented by Pepsi throughout the ceremonies, which commence at 9 that night.
Increasing engagement each year
"It's somewhat of a no-brainer. To me, it's a live test, and brings internet-like functionality to the TV," said John Vail, director-interactive marketing group, Pepsi-Cola North America. "For our audience, the ability to interact with the show is something that we try to give them more and more of each year," said Tim Rosta, exec VP-integrated marketing, MTV.
While interactive ads have been used before -- Reebok and interactive-TV agency BrightLine iTV collaborated on one for Dish in 2006 for ESPN's "Monday Night Football" -- their use in the MTV Video Music Awards suggests the technique is gaining traction among a greater number of younger viewers. The VMAs routinely attract the coveted 18-to-34 demographic and have in the past been recognized as a sort of "Super Bowl" for reaching teens and other tastemakers at a time before they are besieged by new fall TV programs and going back to school. Other sponsors this year include General Motors, Procter & Gamble's TAG Body Spray, Yum Brands' Taco Bell, Rhapsody, Verizon Wireless and Nikon.
During the course of the two-hour program, Dish Network viewers will be shown eight questions on the bottom third of their screens during commercial breaks and during Pepsi's moments in the show itself. Viewers who opt to participate will receive entries into a contest for Pepsi Stuff codes. EchoStar reaches approximately 14 million households.
TV converges with internet
Interactive TV ads have gained more notice in recent years as advertisers seek to bring the click-and-response that is so much a part of the internet over to the passive couch potato. NBC Universal's Bravo has experimented with an "L bar" that runs information and prompts viewers to text-message responses, all while a program runs. Time Warner Cable and Cablevision run ads that require viewers to press a button to gain more information. "iTV on its own presents a quantifiable way for advertisers to measure engagement with their brands," said Sean Moran, executive VP-ad sales at MTV, in a statement. At present, however, such executions can only be put into place in limited fashion.
After reaching a high of approximately 11.95 million viewers in 2002, the VMAs' audience has diminished, according to Nielsen Media Research. In 2007, the event reached approximately 7.1 million viewers, up from the previous year's total of about 5.8 million.
Ad buys during the VMAs have typically consisted of broader packages. Pepsi has been a sponsor of the event since 1984, Mr. Vail said.