Dish Does the Math

Here's a number: 30,000. That's about how many Dish Network viewers pushed a button on their remotes to learn more about the car featured in a recent interactive ad campaign. Here's another: $500,000. That's about how much the car maker paid for the first number.

The Dish campaign represents the first publicly available numbers on viewer engagement with interactive advertising on TV. At a time when advertisers are threatening to divert business to the Internet, the results show that interactive TV ads can match, if not exceed, the engagement and return on investment offered by the Web.

The campaign, which was developed for Dish by Turner Media Group, ran some 800 interactive spots on more than 20 cable channels, reaching 11 million set-top boxes on the EchoStar-owned satellite system. (Dish has done interactive campaigns with Mercedes, Ford, Land Rover, Lexus, Jeep and Dodge but declines to name which participated in this campaign.)

The key, says Jodie McAfee, Turner's senior VP of corporate development and marketing, was “to simplify interaction” with the remote so as to deliver “a Web-like experience.”

“You're marrying the 'leanback' of the television platform to the 'lean-in' of the Internet platform,” McAfee says.

To achieve that, a pop-up window appeared during the advertiser's 30-second spots, inviting viewers to click their way to a Web-page–style screen called an iAd. There, viewers could click on menu choices to order a brochure, locate a dealer or queue up a two-minute featurette on the car. (The iAd could also be accessed through banners on Dish's “Home” channel.)

The 30,000 number is a measure of RFIs (requests for information), in which viewers either asked for a brochure or entered a contest. The advertiser reported that the number was more than 30 times the total on a similar ad campaign it ran on the Web. If fewer than 50 of those RFIs led to purchases, the unnamed auto company would easily recoup its $500,000 outlay.

The Dish campaign also shows that satellite operators are leading their cable counterparts in fielding interactive ads. DirecTV launched a Jeep campaign last fall. Among cable companies making strides, Cox offers interactive advertising in San Diego and Phoenix, while Time Warner is experimenting with “telescoping” into ads the way Dish allows viewers to do.

The Chrysler Group, which currently has a campaign for Dodge and will add another for Chrysler later this year on Dish and DirecTV, is cautiously encouraged by the results.

“We've been hearing about interactive TV for 20 years now. [Until now], it's been more talk than reality,” says Mark Spencer, senior manager, Dodge Communications. “It has marvelous inherent appeal, but what it's actually doing just yet is inconclusive for us.”

Mitch Oscar, executive VP of media- buying firm Carat Digital, is less qualified in his optimism. Since first buying interactive ads on Dish in March, the company has begun lining up deals with auto, pharmaceutical and financial companies.

“We're all betting our future on [interactive ads],” says Oscar, noting that the response from advertisers has been positive, “not 'Mitch, you're crazy.'

“At some point,” he adds, “the Web-like activities are going to converge on television. If you can get people to a Web site on TV, God bless you.”