To Make Them Watch, Offer Some Incentives

Jun 27, 2005  •  Post A Comment

By Jack Neff

Advertising Age

After trying just about everything else to get people to watch their ads, marketers in Omaha, Neb., are testing bribery.

Early indications are that it works.

The test-named Project Wanamaker after department-store magnate John Wanamaker, who famously observed that he knew half his ad spending was wasted but not which half-has attracted 30 advertisers, including Johnson & Johnson, Colgate-Palmolive Co., Subway and Burger King Corp. Marketers are testing whether giving Nebraskans special offers online can get them to watch, or at least keep their TVs tuned to, commercials rather than clicking past them.

Early results from Project Wanamaker, launched in May by PreTesting Co., indicate people will stay tuned to ads for a price. Participants get decoder boxes that record a code on a removable memory chip when a commercial plays on their TVs, but not when they skip over ads. Consumers can plug the memory chip into their computers to bring up a Giftz Club Web site with rewards, coupons and other free offers based on the commercials they’ve watched.

Rewards have included free samples from Colgate, beauty tips from Neutrogena and a free DVD player or digital camera from local Chevrolet dealers.

In May, 89 percent of the targeted commercials were watched by test participants, 68 percent of whom visited the Giftz Club site. PreTesting Co. was waiting until June to compare those results with a control group that isn’t getting the special offers. That will give a better read of how the incentives work after the novelty wears off and during rerun season versus the sweeps month, said PreTesting CEO Lee Weinblatt.

Besides seeing how incentives affect commercial viewing, marketers are testing which special offers generate the most redemptions. Others are using the system to see which dayparts and commercial lengths work best.

The project is a response to what Mr. Weinblatt’s company, which specializes in ad testing, sees as disenchantment with TV. “In 32 years at PreTesting, we have never seen so many of our clients abandoning TV or planning to do so,” he said. “While everyone keeps clamoring for a better way of measuring the hole in the boat, we’re the first ones to come up and say we may have a plan for plugging it.”

Project Wanamaker is the latest effort by marketers and research vendors to track and improve their return on investment.