Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ambient TV

Well, the wife left the TV in the living room on HGTV over the weekend, and since I find it easier to think about marketing than to fish the remote out of the couch cushions, I now have an idea to share.  Namely, what I’ll call Ambient TV offers marketers a great opportunity not on the small screen, but on the smaller ones--PC and mobile Internet.

Marketing pundits sometimes talk about “lean forward” and “lean back” media.  “Learn forward” consists of media that engage consumers heavily, such as web and mobile while “lean back” refers to more passive media such as TV and radio.  While this distinction serves as a good dividing line, it shades over another worthy distinction--the degrees of leaning back.

On the one hand, viewers engage very directly with certain kinds of programming--sports, awards shows, the news, popular dramas and so forth.  On the other hand, networks like HGTV, The Weather Channel and the Food Network seem to invite behavior more like grazing than active viewing.  

I can’t imagine that we’re the only family in America who tunes into Local on the 8s only to realize an hour later that we haven’t changed the channel.  I also can’t imagine that other car guys don’t find Mecum Auctions programming on Speed TV oddly soothing with their mixture of shiny cars, vintage auto specs and the droning of the auctioneer.

Since these programs often sit in the background, I think they serve as Ambient TV, much in the way that Brian Eno developed Ambient Music in the 1970s.  However, the real action doesn’t happen on TV, it happens online.

Since consumers leave these channels on as background noise, ads have a tough row to hoe in terms of getting attention.  However, many drops wear away the stone.  Chances are, sooner or later, consumers will pay attention to something on the channel--a recipe, a simple painting technique or a blip in the weather.  And, chances are, this item of interest will lead the consumers to one place--the networks’ websites.  All of these channels maintain robust websites with lots of video, images and copy.  

Marketers can exploit these channels’ usage patterns by mirroring them.  That is, they should use their airtime on the channels to drive consumers to content that lives on the channels’ sites.  Imagine, for instance, that Benjamin Moore ran ads with lots of pretty colors driving consumers to a branded utility on HGTV.com to help with color mixing and matching.  That utility could then drive consumers on to Benjamin Moore’s social presence or even to the store.  Similarly, ads for Whirlpool appliances could point consumers to a dishwasher dos-and-dont’s  mobile site.  It doesn’t take much to come up with some good ideas.

Naturally, Ambient TV works only as a channel strategy; it does not comprise an overall marketing communications strategy on its own.  However, I’d bet that many of the brands that advertise on these channels get their only broadcast TV on them.  They should consider how to take advantage of the amount of dwell time that its consumers spend on them.

Now, where’s that damn remote?  I wanna see how much the 1978 Z28 goes for.

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