Last month, The New York Times ran a list of 2006′s top ideas, one of which had interesting direct marketing ramifications: television commercials that hide special offers by making them viewable only through freeze-frame technology. The “top idea” here was marketers’ attempts to dissuade consumers from using digital video recorders, such as TiVo, to fast-forward through commercials.
The Times mentioned a Kentucky Fried Chicken spot, which hid a promotion code in a one-frame image. Consumers earned a coupon, such as a discount on, say, barbecue chicken wings, by viewing the commercial frame by frame until they found the promotion code, logging on to a Web site and entering the code.
KFC used a viral marketing campaign to leak word of the code. As the Times noted, the gimmick appealed to just the audience it was trying to reach — 18- to 34-year-old technology-obsessed males with tight budgets.
This marriage of television and response-generation marketing is the second gift TiVo has given to the DM industry. The first gift was the shock TiVo gave traditional television-centric advertisers when they saw how the technology allowed consumers to fast-forward through commercials. Direct response started looking awfully attractive to them right about then.
If advertisers really want to get cute, they can release several versions of that freeze-frame offer: One might have a code offering a relatively small discount, and another less-frequently seen version might offer a significant discount. This would give consumers an incentive to hunt for the commercial and view it repeatedly.
There are problems with promotional code campaigns, of course: Once discovered, the codes will quickly be posted all over the Internet. But is this really a bad thing? Consumers who search out a site bearing promotion codes get the heady rush of thinking they’ve gamed the system.
Searching for the code, even through this method, would help lift the advertiser’s brand to the top of a consumer’s mind. And while it would be nice if the consumer saw the original commercial, an incremental sale is an incremental sale. (And a name captured online is a name captured online.)
Smart marketers could even stay ahead of the game by changing the codes every week, thereby ensuring that dedicated coupon-earners would TiVo and view the commercials (or track down the promotion codes online) once every seven days.
Naysayers might point to the FCC’s 1974 opposition to subliminal messages on broadcast television. Direct marketers wishing to steer clear of such headaches can simply place their hidden-message spots on various cable networks. And why not? Most cable networks, by nature of their programming, offer access to pre-segmented groups of consumers DMers want to reach.