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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

What CTV marketers can learn from TV’s past mistakes

October 6, 2021 | By Caroline McCarthy, VP, Marketing – true[X] @caro

People working in CTV advertising often toss around phrases like “the living room of the future” and “the connected consumer.” TV technology today is pretty darn impressive and its easy to be optimistic. With content like choose-your-own adventure programming and sophisticated hardware, today’s TV tech puts the “home theaters” of even a decade ago to shame.

However, there’s also a central dilemma: The tension between wanting to innovate and wanting to play it safe in order to avoid annoying or alienating consumers. How high-tech is too high-tech for certain audiences? There are a number of emerging technologies designed to enhance the viewing experience that advertisers could leverage. However, just because they can doesn’t mean they should.

For brands, designing a campaign for unproven territory can mean designing a campaign that doesn’t work because it fails to resonate with consumers. On the other hand, if you pass up the chance to be first-to-market, someone else will get there instead. The trick is to find the just-right spot in between.

Luckily, there are some lessons to be found in some of the past few decades of innovation in the living room. As with ad overload, history can teach us a few things about marketing on CTV.

Watch for consumer adoption

First, track consumer adoption. Just because a technology exists doesn’t mean that consumers are using it. That might be because it’s too expensive, too difficult to use, or just not useful. Consumer uptake is what really matters, especially with an emerging medium. And the reality is that plenty of TV technologies promoted by mainstream consumer electronics retailers encounter lukewarm reception from buyers.

Remember curved TVs, which were hyped up back in 2013? It turns out that you can’t replicate an IMAX experience in your living room, no matter how high your ceilings are. Meanwhile, take a look at voice control, something that may have seemed like a science fiction technology not long ago. You can thank the marketing behind Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri for convincing consumers that voice control is both useful and user-friendly. As a result, we’ve found that voice-controlled ads really do engage users.

Consumers crave convenience

Second, never forget that consumers crave convenience. Integrating new tech into your advertising often isn’t worth it if it makes the brand experience more complicated for the consumer. This is particularly important when translating digital campaigns from desktop and mobile to the lean-back CTV environment.

There’s perhaps no better cautionary tale here than 3D TV. Watching some entertainment in 3D – sports, for example – seemed thrilling at first. But needing to wear specialized glasses for the experience, in addition to the added cost of 3D TVs, posed a barrier to entry that consumers weren’t willing to surmount. Then ESPN backtracked on a plan to put live sports into 3D, which eliminated the one incentive many consumers had to adopt the new tech – a more immersive sports experience.

There’s an exception to this, though. You can offset added complexity with a value exchange. If you’re going to make an ad experience more complicated, be upfront with what consumers will get in return. That might be fewer commercials for the rest of the episode they’re watching. It might be discount that they can capture with their mobile phones straight off their TV screen (or both).

Prepare to adapt to change

And finally, be ready to adapt to change. Things change fast – hardware, software and consumer habits. Five-year plans for a new medium may need to be altered in a matter of weeks.

In addition, keep an eye on market signals even if you consider them to be externalities. Some media executives and technologists were singularly focused in the mid-2000s on the HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray race to supplant the standard DVD. However, that might have distracted them from the fact that before either could “win,” streaming media became the choice of consumers worldwide. Millions of dollars were invested in technologies that were obsolete before they even hit the market.

“We’ve screwed up in the past but we won’t do it again” is a common mindset that’s been in the ad industry for decades. Typically – spoiler alert – we do screw up again. But even as we look to the future, having an eye on the past can never hurt to help avoid a few missteps.

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