Unilever ad pioneers interactive TV in U.K.

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LONDON--Unilever will launch the U.K.'s first national interactive ad at the end of March to promote its Chicken Tonight's Stir It Up sauce. The ads will be aired to pay-TV operator British Sky Broadcasting Digital's 2.6 million homes.

Agencies involved in the promotion include Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, J. Walter Thompson Co. and Initiative Media.

The pilot interactive advertisement will enable viewers to view a blue-and- red icon, inviting them to press the red button on their remote control to access a "pop up" text menu. Viewers are then asked to look at a "dedicated advertiser location" in Open, the free interactive digital TV service created by British Interactive Broadcasting and backed by BSkyB, BT, HSBC and Matsushita.

Open takes viewers to Unilever's service called Creative Kitchen, which uses full-motion video and audio to find recipes using its products. By pressing the blue button on the remote control, viewers can then go online and apply for a voucher for Chicken Tonight's Stir it Up to be redeemed in stores.

After Unilever, other advertisers will be debuting their own interactive ads.

Since its launch in October 1999, almost half Sky Digital's customers have accessed Open at least once a week. At least 8 million visits weremade between its launch and Christmas, with peak sales exceeding $1.6 million a week. More than 450,000 have registered at Open's e-mail service (www.open-here.co.uk).

Copyright February 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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