When Hal Riney & Partners started its Media Futures Group in 1989, the agency spent time looking into things like inserting client logos into Lotus software programs.
In fact, Riney's first move a year later was more ambitious. To help launch General Motors Corp.'s Saturn, it created a folksy 30-minute infomercial that aired on national cable stations.
"We decided that long-format advertising could do more than sell Ginsu knives and cellulite removers," says David Verklin, managing director and exec VP-corporate media director.
Since then, Mr. Verklin, who heads up Riney's Media Futures Group with associate media director Rick Boyce, has used Saturn as a stepping stone into true interactive ventures. The car marketer has installed interactive kiosks in dealer showrooms and is active on Prodigy, where it recently created a bulletin board that was even tied in to Saturn's homecoming event.
Messrs. Verklin and Boyce plan to get Saturn involved in Time Warner's Full Service Network trial in Orlando. Other clients, like Alamo Rent-a-Car and John Deere Ltd. lawn products, have gone online with Prodigy.
Equally important is the agency's effort to spread its interactive philosophy. The core of Riney's task force, described by Mr. Verklin as a "loosely organized think tank," is made up of five media people, including Alan Ching, director of media planning and research, as well as John Yost, Riney's head of corporate development.
The agency's executives have coined the term "teleactive" to describe Riney's interactive future. Mr. Verklin says it "means we've moved from the passive era of television to a more participatory medium. It's a reminder that unless commercials are likable, entertaining and informative, they're going to be increasingly easier to ignore. In the future, we'll have to be invited into people's living rooms."
The agency also recently completed a study, "Exploring the Future of Advertising: Preparing for the Teleactive Age," that was presented to staffers and clients in Riney's San Francisco and Chicago offices. In the study, also published by the Stanford Research Institute, the agency outlines 12 tips, such as reserving 5% of 1995 media budgets for experimentation, designating an internal interactive expert and experimenting with longer-form commercials, even if it means a small leap from a 30-second to a 60-second format.
Meanwhile, Riney has looked into everything from creating commercials for home videos to working with George Lucas' special effects company, Industrial Light & Magic, to create a videogame with Saturn.
"Interactive isn't a license to be boring," Mr. Verklin said. "And that's where agencies have survived so far."