A synchronised vision for TV advertising
Dominic Mills (chair), Stewart Easterbrook, Volker Ballueder, Danny Hopwood, Martin Greenbank and Samantha Merlivat
It is often unwise to announce that anything is The Next Big Thing in advertising, but ad syncing - the ability to simultaneously run digital ads on 'second screen' devices to correspond with what is playing on the TV - certainly offers brands something interesting to play with.
Although the ability to ad sync has actually been around for few years now, it hasn't quite hit the mainstream. Yet why would a brand not be interested? A TV ad could run from the mass-market big screen, to the personal screen-in-your-hand in a matter of seconds. This, surely, opens up new creative and strategic options for the canny advertiser.
For instance, a TV campaign's reach could be extended and personalised; or a competitor's TV campaign undermined by effective targeting from a challenger brand on the other screens in the living-room.
"You can sync against your own ad on TV; you can sync against a competitive ad, potentially with a different creative message," says Volker Ballueder, VP sales & activation, EMEA, 4C.
"But what we see more and more is linked to live TV events. Think football or the Olympics, where people are sitting in front of the TV and they're engaging with it live and they share their status on Facebook, on Twitter. They want to talk about it.
"That's when the advertiser can interfere or be more prominent on second screen devices - as engagement is happening."
Not everyone is convinced the ad sync format can offer all its supporters claim it can, however. Despite employing the format for clients, VivaKi's Danny Hopwood argues that ad syncing is only about "incremental" reach.
"I think ad syncing has to be thought of as an addition to a campaign," he says. "It isn't the be-all or end-all. It is not the thing that's going to change the industry. It's not the thing that's going to save an online campaign from a dire CPA [cost per action].
"It's just another incremental measure."
The counter to this argument, however, is that depending on the audience, an incremental increase of just 1 or 2%, for many brands, is actually highly sought after - particularly for hard to reach or highly affluent audiences.
For Hopwood, the real value is not necessarily in using data to sync an ad - but rather gaining wider insight about a campaign's effectiveness.
Video: Volker Ballueder explains what ad syncing is - and how it can be used effectively
Yet one thing is undisputed: commercial broadcasters are upping the ante and are forging partnerships and developing products that will give advertisers the option to experiment with ad syncing.
Late last year, Sky struck a deal with Videology to create a "programmatic, cross-screen video advertising solution" for Sky's advertising customers. This news was quickly followed by an announcement from ITV that it was to begin working with RadiumOne to launch Ad Sync+, which will link ITV's broadcast output to RadiumOne's sharing data capability.
The move will allow ITV's television advertisers to reach audiences simultaneously across other devices and online environments with targeted ads.
While companies such as 4C are more broadcast neutral, and can automatically deliver ads across social, display, search, video, and mobile in coordination with TV ads and content. It means any TV content, whether commercial or not, becomes a trigger for digital campaigns running across other screens.
With the tech now in place, and the debate about its use gaining momentum, the best guess is that the industry will now start to see it used more often and in more meaningful ways.
But before industry really gets going, there are a couple of caveats to be mindful of - the first linked to data.
Data-centric marketing might be a massive opportunity, says Media iQ's Stewart Easterbrook, "but we've a long way to go - and the main challenge is how data gets converted into an activation."
The second issue is the risk of ad syncing, like other formats, falling foul of "derivative" use.
Easterbrook, who spent five years at the helm of Starcom MediaVest Group, warns that synchronising ads requires a "certain level of intelligence".
"If it only amounts to running a video ad on a second-screen device after the main TV ad, then the second screen is being used in the wrong way," he said.
"Placing the same ad on a different platform, more often than not, is just irrelevant to that experience."