Future Commercials: More Entertaining or More Annoying?

In Arthur C. Clarke's novel "2001: A Space Odyssey," by 2001 interplanetary space travel is possible and there are cities on the moon. Science fiction writers predicted that by now we would have flying cars and household robots.

Predicting the future has never been an exact science. Probably because we start with the bias that things will get a lot better or a lot worse when generally what happens is incremental growth on the path we are already traveling. So it is with advertising.

Looking into the near future we see emerging technology being focused on capturing consumer attention and attempts to increase our consumption by adding interactivity and more opportunity for consumers to customize.

Finding ways to keep people engaged in advertising can't come too soon for advertisers. Almost one-third of Americans have a DVR and using a DVR or computer to time-shift (use the technology to watch at a time other than the originally scheduled broadcast time) and skip the advertisements has become prevalent.

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Generally speaking, consumers don't seek out advertising -- rather, advertisers look for ways to reach consumers and hold them captive while they relay their messages. So what are advertisers and media companies doing to continue to capture consumer eyeballs?

Chances are if you are a cable TV subscriber, you already have interactive TV options, many of which you are probably unaware of. The most common is the ability to watch a long-form commercial (Video-on-demand or VOD) about a product on a dedicated channel.

Many advertisers make these longer commercials when they are shooting the 30- or 60-second ones and you can access by going to the channel listed on the bottom of the screen during the commercial.

But there are many other technologies in use today that add increased functionality to the remote control and allow the viewer to click on a hot spot, rollover or trigger on the screen to get additional information about a product or service, or even to shop or purchase on-screen. The less intrusive these services are, they fewer people use them, but outside of the small screen, there are many new tactics being explored.

Quividi is a company that boasts automated audience measurement. Its technology has been placed inside billboards to determine, with surprising accuracy, who is watching the billboard. This allows for specific ads to be served to men or women as well as the duration of the message to be controlled based on how long the person pays attention.

A company called Holosonics takes it a step further and adds a technology called Audio Spotlight to the mix. It can beam sound to a specific area so people within the area hear the message but those right outside of it can't.

Another company, Virtual Marketing Inc, creates 3-D images to deliver marketing messages that are eerily life-like when placed in store windows and truly futuristic when projected as floating heads.

All of these advertising vehicles are more intrusive variations on an existing theme.

In many futuristic science fiction films, the idea that in the future we'll have more choices at our fingertips is a recurring theme. Coke is experimenting with a new futuristic machine that does just that. The machine, being test marketed in a few places across the country allows the user to get their favorite Coke products in a wide-variety of flavors and to mix and match at the touch of a button. Can you say peach Sprite?

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