When in doubt, use some bribery

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After trying just about everything else to get people to watch their ads, marketers in Omaha are testing bribery. Early indications are that it works.

The test-named Project Wanamaker after department-store magnate John Wanamaker, who famously observed that he knew half his ad spending was wasted but not which half-has attracted 30 advertisers including Johnson & Johnson, Colgate-Palmolive Co., Subway and Burger King Corp. They're testing whether giving Nebraskans special offers online can get them to watch, or at least keep their TVs tuned to, commercials rather than clicking past them.

Launched in May, the project is the latest of several new efforts by marketers and research vendors to track and improve their return on investment. But while there's plenty of interest, there's also plenty of concern about the cost of rooting out waste.

Arbitron and VNU joined with Procter & Gamble Co. last year to launch Project Apollo, planning to give 20,000 consumers two handheld devices, a Portable People Meter to track advertising and a scanner to record purchases as part of ACNielsen's Homescan consumer panel. The idea was to see how exposure to TV, radio, cinema, in-store, outdoor and eventually even magazine ads affected what people buy.


Marketers loved the idea but balked at the cost-an assessment of 0.5% of marketing spending, or more than $1 million for a major marketer-at least until they could see examples of the data Apollo could deliver. Not even P&G has signed up yet. So Arbitron and VNU are instead rolling out a smaller 6,000-member panel late this year to deliver results that the companies hope can get marketers to sign on.

At a less ambitious cost, Information Resources Inc. has gotten about 25 consumer package-goods marketers and at least one outside the CPG industry, a pharmaceutical company, to pay for its venture, in partnership with TiVo, to see how people given digital video recorders use them to skip ads and what the impact is on their sales.

Early results from Project Wanamaker, a product of PreTesting Co., indicate people will stay tuned to ads for a price. Participants get decoder boxes that record a code on a removable memory chip when a commercial plays on their TVs, but not when they skip over ads. Consumers can plug the memory chip into their computers to bring up a "Giftz Club" Web site with rewards, coupons and other free offers based on the commercials they've watched.


Rewards have included everything from free samples from Colgate to beauty tips from J&J's Neutrogena, or a free DVD player or digital camera from local Chevrolet dealers.

In May, 89% of the targeted commercials were watched by test participants, 68% of whom visited the Giftz Club site. PreTesting Co. was waiting until June to compare those results to a control group that isn't getting the special offers. That will give a better read of how the incentives work after the novelty wears off and during rerun season vs. the sweeps month, says PreTesting CEO Lee Weinblatt.

Besides seeing how incentives affect commercial viewing, such marketers as Subway and PepsiCo are testing which coupons or special offers generate the most redemptions. Others are using the system to see which dayparts and commercial lengths work best.

The project is a response to what Mr. Weinblatt's company, which specializes in ad testing, sees as disenchantment with TV. "In 32 years at PreTesting, we have never seen so many of our clients abandoning TV or planning to do so," he says. "While everyone keeps clamoring for a better way of measuring the hole in the boat, we're the first ones to come up and say we may have a plan for plugging it."