Media Zone: Is Cable's Big Canoe Paddling Upstream?1 Jul, 2008 By: Response Contributor Response
May's National Cable Television Association (NCTA) convention stirred up renewed hype for Project Canoe, Big Cable's joint effort to leverage set-top box data and dynamically distribute addressable, interactive advertising nationwide. There have been more meetings than motion so far, but perhaps its impending rechristening will inspire project leaders to match its many promises with actionable achievements.
Timothy R. Hawthorne
To be fair, collaborations among competitors are often slow going. But developing operational protocols is doubly difficult when technology drives the process. That's why, for every big challenge that Canoe plans to tackle, machine-based solutions raise critical human questions.
THE PROMISE: Dynamically inserted creatives. Real-time creative deployment would allow advertisers to buy a single timeslot, but populate it with a host of custom creatives for different demographics — be they housewives, Northeasterners or horse racing fans. Commercials that appeal to known interests will boost viewer retention and won't waste precious ad spend on disinterested eyeballs.
THE QUESTION: Once technology enables flexible and simultaneous delivery to multiple narrowly defined targets, how many advertisers can afford to create the scores of specialized spots this micro-focus demands?
THE PROMISE: Advertising engagement through interactivity. Although generating sales seems a worthier goal, the current advertising grail is "engagement." Successful brand-building satellite and cable trials already have inspired viewers to click their remotes' "Select" buttons to telescope from short teaser clips to lengthy promotional videos. Generating leads by persuading viewers to click for coupons or product literature is an even more promising direct response tactic.
THE QUESTION: Will interactivity-enabled calls-to-action call for the best action? No one, obviously, will "click-to-buy" cars. But just as predictably as DRTV viewers phone in to order QVC specials and infomercial items, they'll certainly tap their remotes for single-click impulse buys.
THE PROMISE: Precise addressability. By merging subscriber information with set-top box behavioral data, the resulting cable consumer profile should be even more detailed than what the online sphere offers. Coupled with dynamic ad insertion, Big Cable will reliably get the right ads to the right homes.
THE QUESTION: Will viewers actually watch them? Customized addressable commercials are worthless if people use digital video recorders to skip them, or abandon their TV sets for snack breaks. Cable clearly will benefit from the technological advances that Canoe hopes to perfect, but imaginative humans must still construct informative and entertaining creatives that keep the viewers' eyes glued.
Dramatized, Project Canoe's saga would play well on SciFi as its story fits the formula nicely. Canoe's touted innovations are technologically viable, but when implemented, something will surely go haywire — something that a lone voice in the wilderness will have predicted early on, as planners and engineers pushed myopically onward, working hard to get the machinery working.
Equally certain, no SciFi leader would name such a project "Canoe." They'd pick something big and bold ... like "Titanic." Not that I'm predicting such a demise for Big Cable, for addressability and quick delivery will be a direct response boon — so long as we keep our eyes on those big looming icebergs.
Timothy R. Hawthorne is chairman and executive creative director of Hawthorne Direct, a full-service DRTV, print, mail and digital ad agency founded in 1986. A 34-year television producer/writer/director, Hawthorne is a cum laude Harvard graduate.