The cable giant Viacom and the social-TV company Zeebox have teamed up to help advertisers show viewers coordinated TV commercials and digital ads at the same time.
Zeebox positions itself as an interactive "sidekick" to TV, something to use on a computer or mobile device while watching shows in the traditional manner. Taco Bell, AT&T and Kraft are the first brands to buy the new capability, called SpotSynch, and will run simultaneous TV commercials and Zeebox ads during MTV's "Ridiculousness" and Comedy Central's "Colbert Report" and "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" starting this week.
The goal of SpotSynch is to create an immediate path to engagement, said Jason Forbes, exec VP-managing director of Zeebox USA. While a traditional TV ad creates demand and is a call to action, ads on Zeebox let viewers go to brands' websites, get more information, enter a sweepstakes or take a poll or quiz. The hope is that playing Zeebox ads off commercials will increase the impact on viewers.
"When our spots are running live on Zeebox we have an opportunity to engage more fully," said Juliet Corsinita, senior director-media and brand partnerships for Taco Bell. The restaurant chain will use SpotSynch to serve videos featuring celebrity chef Lorena Garcia as part of its effort to promote the Cantina Steak Burrito.
Zeebox has been downloaded about 1.2 million times since it arrived in the U.S. last September, according to the company.
Taco Bell considered partnering with one of the "check-in apps," which let consumers share their viewing choices, but this approach let the marketer offer a deeper experience, according to Ms. Corsinita.
Viacom, which along with Comcast/NBCUniversal has made strategic investments in Zeebox, views the app as a way to touch viewers who may not be engaging with its own individual network or show apps. "With Zeebox you get scalability," said Jeff Lucas, head of sales for music and entertainment at Viacom Media Networks.
"Our branded apps have a hyper-engaged audience," said Deborah Brett, VP of mobile ad sales for Viacom. "Zeebox fills the horizontal -- those who are looking around and seeing what they want to watch."
SpotSynch ads appear for the same duration as the corresponding TV ads and then retract to a clickable tag that users can revisit even after the TV ad has ended. The technology does not require broadcasters or agencies to change the way they manage their TV advertising.
Later this year Zeebox will also be able to serve different creative to different users, Mr. Forbes said. Zeebox will be able to target users based on both their geography and demography if they opt to sign into the app using Facebook or Twitter.
"This will allow advertisers to serve the right creative to each viewer," Mr. Forbes said. "It will allow them to figure out which types of messaging has highest click through rates, allowing advertisers to become smarter."
The nirvana, as Mr. Forbes puts it, would be the existence of a universal 30-second spot on linear TV and then complimentary messaging for different types of people, which would allow advertisers to be both broad and targeted at the same time.
Second-screen apps have been trying to figure out how to turn a profit from the growing chatter around TV.
Marketers are still in the testing phase with second-screen apps. "Success right now is all about learning. We want to learn from this partnership and use it to leverage future social media campaigns," Ms. Corsinita said.
"With social, it's hard to quantify the total value," Mr. Lucas said. "There's no common currency across the board. Right now we are trying to figure out together how to tap into it and understand what consumers want out of the second screen."
While second-screen is still in its early stages, Mr. Lucas says the money being spent by advertisers is new money and these deals aren't being given away as part of larger media buys.