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[london] Cereal giant Kellogg Co. has just launched what's termed the world's largest test of interactive TV advertising here. In an eight-week trial that premiered May 6 on U.K. cable company Videotron's Interactive TV Channel, Kellogg began airing commercials for its Frosties cereal that allow fans to electronically learn to surf along with Tony the Tiger.

Kellogg and its agency, J. Walter Thompson Co., chose this site because of the market's size. Videotron Interactive has more than 100,000 subscribers in the London area.


"We're a significant advertiser around the world, particularly in the U.K.," said Mark Sims, U.K. marketing director for Kellogg. "Cable is increasing its penetration in the U.K. We have an intense desire to be on the leading edge of what's happening, and we have a brand like Frosties that delivers in spades."

For the test, Videotron is converting family shows commissioned from the BBC, U.S. children's cable channel Nickelodeon and other sources into interactive programming. The interactive programs will be aired from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends, and from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. weekdays during the try-out. The interactive commercials will be interspersed among conventional spots from other JWT clients.

"It's the biggest interactive TV trial worldwide," said Nigel Sheldon, head of Interactive Media at JWT. "What appeals to us about this test is the size of it. Also, this is an existing interactive channel, so all Videotron subscribers are familiar with the set-top box... And ... most importantly, the learning-ranging from click-stream data to diaries-is portable to the [digital TV] future."


Created by JWT using 18-month-old Frosties footage, the fast-paced :90 spot is based on a surfing lesson for Tony. A viewer is frequently asked to touch one of four color-coded buttons on his remote control to influence the next sequence of events-which type of wave to surf, which way to turn the board, etc. There are 846 sequence combinations.

For example, if you play your clicker correctly, you can watch Tony surf a gigantic wave. If you make a mistake and the surfer falls off the board, Tony yells: "Eat sand." If you're really pathetic with the clicker (you get four seconds to press a button), then the interactive spot moves to a dull shot of a fish tank, with Tony berating the viewer with comments like, "This is boring." Fortunately, the tiger asks viewers if they'd like to get out of the fish-tank mode and return to the waves. The film ends with Tony eating a bowl of Frosties.

Before airing the spots, JWT invited 22 children age 4-13 to a Videotron studio to play with the commercial. Andrew Curry, interactive TV head, witnessed the event: "Instead of saying, `OK, I've done that,' the kids were saying, `Could I have another go, please?'*" Taped footage of the day shows youngsters talking back to the commercial, urging other children to hit certain buttons and laughing loudly at funny sequences.

JWT executives are hoping that the spot's interactivity will reduce channel shifting.

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