Cox Moves to Expand Interactive Advertising

Apr 11, 2005  •  Post A Comment

In a nod to an advertising future that is becoming more personalized, Cox plans to expand its interactive advertising from its Phoenix market to at least five additional systems starting this year.

The operator has sold its Cox Interactive capability in Phoenix for more than a year to 25 to 30 local and national advertisers. The technology allows viewers to interact with an ad and request more information.

As the operator rolls out a series of separate ITV applications such as local weather forecasts and movie listings to additional markets this year, the underlying technology will serve as the foundation for the operator to then layer on interactive advertising. In a related initiative, Cox has recently begun sharing more data on VOD usage with advertisers in its nine FreeZone markets.

The efforts are noteworthy because in a fragmented, ad-skipping world, advertisers are looking for ways to make their messages more effective. Interactivity can turn a TV ad into a direct response mechanism. On the VOD side, advertisers want more data on VOD viewing as they continue to test the medium.

For the interactive ads, Cox has relied on Navic Network’s so-called addressable tools. Viewers can click on interactive overlays on certain commercials to request information or even a coupon. Cox will use Navic or another addressable technology in the new markets, said David Porter, director of new media for Cox Media. The addressable technology rides on top of the middleware that powers the interactive TV applications, such as local weather forecasts. Cox said the five markets include its Gulf Coast system in Florida, but the company has not yet named the other systems.

The interactive ad tools will be available in at least two of those markets this year, with the rest to follow next year. The long-term goal is eventually to offer interactive ads in all 26 Cox markets. “It’s extending what TV could do in the past,” Mr. Porter said. “Now we can do direct response, polling, telescoping.” He did not reveal how much Cox charges for the ads, but said, “We want to attract new and more advertisers, and the place to steal them from is direct response mail.”

Hyundai Campaign

Cox also continues to line up advertisers for its Phoenix market and is set to start an interactive campaign there next month with Hyundai, a Carat client. Hyundai is working on developing the offer to be placed in the request for information overlay, said Mitch Oscar, executive VP of Carat.

Options under consideration include letting the viewer click on “I’m coming in for a car,” “Bring a car to me” and “Give me a loaner,” said Terry Ferrante, general sales manager at Larry Miller Hyundai in Phoenix. Mr. Ferrante said the idea is to avoid the standard “Send me a brochure” option. “We don’t want to take a new medium and do the same thing,” he said.

The Hyundai campaign will run in four installments through the end of the year. After each of the four tests, Hyundai will tweak the creative, the offer or the overlay for the next round, Mr. Oscar said.

At the end of the year, Hyundai will want to know whether viewers clicked through on the message, on which networks the ads worked best, which times of day generated the most response and which types of messages worked best.

“The endgame is to sell cars,” Mr. Oscar said. “It combines the method of direct response with interaction and database marketing. Those components, I think, will get more people our client’s cars.” If the interactivity works in Phoenix, he expects to line up additional markets.

While interactive advertising is still embryonic, pockets of interactivity are cropping up with more frequency. Time Warner, for instance, has also deployed Navic’s addressable ad tools in Hawaii, Albany, N.Y., and several northeast markets.

Last year in Phoenix, the Cox system ran an overlay on ads for furniture store Robb & Stucky, linking viewers to a long-form ad. The store drew a 20 percent increase in traffic in 2004 compared with 2003 due in large part to the ads, said Julie Nelson, Cox Media interactive sales manager for Phoenix.

Other interactive advertisers in Phoenix were Gateway Community College, which asked viewers whether they wanted more information on Gateway’s courses; Kool Radio, which tied in to an on-air sweepstakes; and the Food Network, which enabled voting for “Iron Chef America.”

Ideally, Cox would link its interactive advertising with VOD so it could drive viewers from a 30-second spot with an overlay to a long-form ad on the VOD platform, Mr. Porter said. As VOD and interactive ad markets overlap, Cox will offer such capability.

In addition to expanding its interactive ad presence, Mr. Porter said, Cox recently began offering additional VOD data for its FreeZone advertisers in its nine FreeZone markets. To supplement the basic metrics, such as total views, unique set-top boxes, average duration and share of the set-top box universe, Cox now also includes more detailed data under the total views category, including views per daypart, ZIP code and demographic profile. Mr. Porter said Cox can provide that information to advertisers within 48 hours after the content runs, compared with at least a month for most other operators.

“No other cable operator has promised us data on a weekly basis, which is important because it allows us to start thinking about optimizing VOD campaign in real time,” said Michael Bologna, director of emerging media communications at Mediaedge:cia. With more timely data, he said, an agency could know that certain ads weren’t working and swap them out sooner.