Changing the Channel on Advertising

Jan 20, 2009

The rise of TiVo and DVR has permanently changed the way many of us watch television. Now, audiences can speed through five minutes of commercials, skipping those carefully placed product advertisements, all with the touch of a remote. While that may be great for viewers, it poses a dilemma for advertisers as more viewers are skipping their commercials, and maybe even passing up tuning in to their favorite show on TV for logging on to their favorite site. Even as advertisers turn to the internet to reach customers, they wonder what the best way to reach those people is. Some say widgets and social networking are the wave of the future when it comes to getting your message across, but others say there’s just no way to know which avenues will turn out to be the best paths to reach audiences.

One company pushing new venues for online advertising is iWidgets, a company that helps advertisers create and publish widgets in their native formats. Started over a year ago, iWidgets promotes the idea of "social syndication" by providing the iWidgets Social Syndication Platform, which drives traffic for a brand’s website by syndicating content and user activity to social networks and portals. The most recent member of the iWidgets team is Geoff Katz, VP, business development and marketing for iWidgets, who was also recently elected to the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Board of Governors representing the Interactive Media Peer Group. Regarding the shift from TV to online advertising, Katz says, "I think the internet as a platform has superseded the idea of interactive TV. The world of the set-top box has faded into the background and interactive video has taken center stage."

As consumer behavior continues to evolve, the question of how and where to reach potential customers has plagued advertisers. According to Katz, the answer is through social networking sites. "People are spending their online time on social networking platforms. We’ve seen consumer trends toward destination websites kind of leveling off, whereas time spent online on Facebook and MySpace has continued to sky rocket." This is where iWidgets steps in. iWidgets totes the idea of syndicating content, such as television shows and music, to where users are already congregating online and then engaging the target audience with social features such as polls, quizzes, and games. With the amount of time users spend surfing through friends’ profiles and editing their own, the idea of infiltrating social networking with advertisements seems like a good bet.

Though the idea of social syndication holds potential, some question its ability to catch on. Steve Smith, a digital media consultant and conference programmer for MediPost and AccessIntelligence explains that social syndication is "something that is extremely appealing to brands, but the problem is that it is hard to distribute. It is hard to get people to fall in love with your widget. Making a brand your friend is a tough sell." How willing people will be to accept brands into their social network has yet to be determined. Smith continues, "Theoretically it has a lot of promise, but advertisers are very reticent to put their brand into places they can't control. There is a lot of discussion on how to leverage activity that is going on in a safe way."
Though the idea of advertising through widgets and online networking sites has everyone vying for the best method of delivery, Katz sees the potential clearly. He explains that one way to look at it is to consider sites like MySpace and Facebook and "stop thinking about them as destinations and start thinking of them as platforms that can be built on."

With the media landscape constantly shifting and a weakened economy at everyone’s doors, advertisers will have to be open to changing their marketing tactics, now more than ever, if they want to successfully reach their targeted audiences. According to Katz, television "is just not able to keep pace with what is happening on the open internet. That is where the action is." Advertisers know, to reach the masses you have to go where the people are, and right now, that is straight to their favorite website, and not their television set. Still, the debates about how to best reach those internet users rage on, and will probably continue to do so for quite some time.