Ad Execs Say Early RFI Results Promising

A panel of interactive advertising execs agreed that "Request For Information" advertising looks like it has upside, though acknowledged that the data to justify their beliefs is still in its infancy.

Speaking on a webinar Monday moderated by B&C Business Editor Jon Lafayette, much of the discussion from the four panelists focused on RFI or "request for information" ads, in which banners are displayed over spot ads for viewers to interact with using their remotes. Comcast Spotlight has aired more than 350 such campaigns, such as a recent one for California political candidate Meg Whitman, who received 2,000 requests for bumper stickers and 8,000 volunteer leads through RFI ads.

Interactive ads work by placing an overlay on top of a traditional ad for the first eight seconds, or so, of a 30-second spot, which viewers can click on, close, or ignore. The featured sponsor offer, whether for a coupon or free item, requires a single or double opt-in by the viewer, and requests are then fulfilled via U.S. Mail using the address your cable operator has on file.

AMC began discussing interactive with its advertisers at their upfront last spring, but only recently launched the technology. According to Bill Rosolie, EVP of national ad sales for AMC, the response from advertisers has so far been mixed, as it is with any new technology. "It's not unexpected, there are some advertisers that want to be on the forefront of this and there are some that would just rather hang back and see what develops," he said.

"The overlay itself is purposefully quite simple. It's intended to have a consistency," said Jim Turner, SVP of products for Canoe Ventures. "It's intended so that when the user sees them on a regular basis, they're very familiar with them."

Canoe, which is a joint venture from the six largest MSOs, launched RFI ads in June on Style Network, E! and AMC, and will add two NBCU nets by end of 2010 and Discovery in early 2011. Overall, Canoe has seen a "yes" click rate in RFI ads of 0.86%, which they are very happy with. But much of the data regarding what works and what doesn't for interactive advertising remains in its infancy.

"We still don't know what the motivation is for people to click on," said Mitch Oscar, EVP of Televisual Applications at MPG.

But Turner added that viewers don't necessarily have to interact with the RFI ad to make it effective, pointing to a recent study they commissioned where 52% of respondents said the presence of the interactive element made the ad more memorable. "We're finding that interactivity is powerful not only in the actual fulfillment rates, but just in the way that it enhances engagement and awareness through the ads themselves," he said. "So we're pretty excited about that."

As for the pricing structure of this new technology, "I think we would all agree that this is a trial period right now," Rosalie said, adding that in his opinion this is not a CPM model.

Comcast Spotlight charges the same for a cable spot ad with or without overlays, adding a flat incremental fee for interactive elements. "We don't see it as a pure-play DR [direct response] product at this point, we're really positioning it as enhancement to spot and pricing it accordingly," said Mike Miller, VP of advanced media, NorthCentral Division, at Comcast Spotlight. Miller estimates their interactive fee at about 15-20% of spot rate.

And RFI ads are only the beginning; Canoe has plans to introduce in-program interactive content next year, including polling and trivia applications. But they recognize that while such a tactic might fit well with a reality show like American Idol, it would likely turn off viewers of a serious drama like Mad Men. "There is an appropriate use of interactivity," Turner said. "Interactivity never made a bad program good, but it can make a good program bad if you use it wrong. So I think applying it in the right place makes a lot of sense."