Slow-'Em-Down Spots Get Zapped by Ad Execs

'DVR Busters' Generate Buzz -- but Consumers Continue to Fast-Forward

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Tom Trenta sat on his couch in fall 2004 watching a recorded Bears football game with his son, using his TiVo to scan a touchdown play one moment at a time. That's when he was seized by an intriguing notion: Couldn't someone create an ad that could be spotted as a viewer moved from frame to frame?
Audi ad
Audi ad
Audi ad

DVR-busting spots, like this one from Audi, have become less distinctive.

One year later, his idea hit pay dirt. Mr. Trenta, at the time an account planner at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Foote, Cone & Belding, pitched the concept to his client, Yum Brands' KFC, asking executives there to embed a coupon code for a new buffalo-chicken sandwich within a commercial. Viewers with digital video recorders would be enticed to use the devices to rewind the ad in search of a potential prize rather than zap through the spot. KFC said more than 100,000 people entered the code at its website; the fried-chicken chain had planned to e-mail only 75,000 coupons.

Just a dog and pony?
Since that time, a host of marketers -- Coca-Cola Co., General Electric Co., Audi of America, even the TrimSpa diet aid -- have launched ads that require viewers to use a DVR to slow things down to see images and information they might miss at normal or high speeds. But the ad concepts are more gimmicks than game changers, marketing executives believe. Rather than foiling the behavior of ad-avoiding consumers armed with TiVos and similar devices, the commercials tend simply to generate buzz and may direct TV viewers to visit an accompanying website -- just like any other TV ad seeks to do in these days of diminishing consumer attention.

"Nobody has made anything revolutionary yet," said Mr. Trenta, who now works for EggStrategy, a marketing strategist.

As more marketers launch these ads, known in some circles as "DVR busters," they've become less surprising and distinctive. While they entice gawkers to rewind and pause, they have done little to stop the consumer behavior they were created to obliterate. When it comes to consumers with DVRs at the ready, "I don't think you can get them to not fast-forward," said Sandy Eubank, U.S. director-research, analytics and insights at Omnicom Group's OMD. In fact, Interpublic Group's Magna Global has found that homes with TiVo fast-forwarded through about 70% of ads that were played back later.

Audi of America ran a 15-second ad for a week in early May that flashed brief shots of the car and then asked viewers to rewind. The ad also displayed a web address, and Audi said traffic to that microsite quadrupled after the ad ran. "We didn't expect huge behavioral changes," said Scott Keogh, Audi of America's chief marketing officer. To bolster the effort, the automaker's ad agency, Venables Bell & Partners, also placed the ad on YouTube and other online venues, said Paul Venables, the firm's founder and co-creative director.

Coca-Cola drew attention in June 2006 when it ran colorful ads for Sprite featuring odd visions of yellow and green sumo wrestlers and other wacky scenes that could be viewed more fully when a DVR was used to rewind and pause. The soda giant even tucked codes into the frames of the ads that could be used to go online and find additional content. Viewers were told at the start that the commercial was "DVR-ready." The beverage maker "saw more online activity related to the codes than directly from people rewinding their DVRs," said Susan Stribling, a Coca-Cola spokeswoman. These days, the ads, crafted by Crispin Porter & Bogusky, no longer carry the "DVR-ready" label. But Coke remains interested in finding ways to attract DVR users, Ms. Stribling said.

Marketers have good reason to foil the fast-forward habit. Although Magna Global estimates DVRs will be in only about 22% of U.S. TV households by the end of the year, the consumers who have them are typically upscale first adopters of new technology -- just the kind of customers advertisers like. As the devices penetrate further, getting people to watch plain old ads will become an even trickier task.

DVR-busting lessons

Rewards drive behavior
Why would anyone want to watch more commercials when they can simply fast-forward to a favorite show? Marketing strategist Tom Trenta, who had a hand in one of the first DVR ads, believes advertisers will have to offer more tangible rewards -- the opportunity to get a product sample, for instance. Both KFC and Coke's Sprite used this technique. Without a reward, there's little incentive for viewers to slow things down.

Seek better measurement
Many marketers can turn to TiVo for stats on whether viewers decided to stop and play with their ads, but the company's sample is made up only of people who own its devices. Media buyers suggest measurement companies need to cast a wider net to see how the general populace reacts to this category of advertising.

Ads won't work alone
Surround your DVR-busting ad with web extensions. Post the TV ad on YouTube and alert bloggers to its unique nature and presence online. Make sure the TV ad gives viewers a web address to drive consumers to your site, which needs to somehow entice users to learn more about your product.
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