The opportunities surrounding second-screen advertising have emerged as a leading focus of the ad agencies and their advertisers as they explore new monetization opportunities with TV programmers. This is a long way from the discussion of just a couple years ago when the focus was on dynamic placements in VOD or finding a way through interactive TV platforms like EBIF to create first-screen ad enhancements.
One sign of the commitment to second screen among advertisers is the role a leading agency, Young & Rubicam, has assigned to Rick Liebling, who in the role of “creative culturalist” serves as a scout at the intersection of creativity and technology to help shape new advertising strategies. In this interview conducted during the Second Screen Summit at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Liebling shares with ScreenPlays editor Fred Dawson Madison Avenue’s view of the challenges and opportunities taking shape on the second-screen front.
ScreenPlays – You have what seems to be me to be a rather unique title with significant implications for how things are changing on Madison Avenue. In commentary about advanced advertising a lot of what gets talked about is the technology, the need for metrics, new valuation models and what the trend lines are in terms of usage. But not so much gets discussed about the actual creative challenges around all this.
Rick Liebling – My role at Y&R is to see what’s going on out in the culture, how people are creating and consuming content, and how we can take some of those learnings and incorporate them into what we do from a more traditional advertising standpoint. It’s certainly not a case where I’m saying forget the 30-second TV spot. It’s about what else can we do to enhance or augment a 30-second spot that we’re going to be creating for one of our clients.
So second screen is an area which I’m looking at very closely. In fact, I’m a content advisory board member to the Second Screen Society, and I’m also the chair of their advertising subcommittee. And in that role what I’m looking to do is bring the tech community that makes these great apps for second-screen engagement and the advertising community together so we can create some common language around it. We want the tech people to understand what the brands need and the advertising people who want to use these tools to understand how they really work so they can be used more effectively.
SP – There are several directions to go in with second screen. One of the tableaus involves interactivity with whatever the ad is that’s running on the TV show that you’re watching. Another one is some kind of direct targeting of advertising to that user who happens to be watching that channel, so that it’s not necessarily interactive, it’s just more specific to that user on their screen. Are these both equally important from your perspective or is one approach taking precedent over another?
Liebling – I don’t know that if we’re at a point where we can say definitively that it’s one over another. It really comes down to what is the brand, what are their goals, who is the consumer and what type of content are we talking about. If you’re watching a baseball game, the level of interactive activity you may be looking for or the level of brand engagement you may be willing to receive is far different than that which you would expect if you were, say, watching Mad Men or some other program that requires more rapt attention.
So it really comes down to understanding what the brand is trying to accomplish, but also thinking user first. What is the user experience? What are they willing to accept? What do they want to do when it comes to that second-screen activity?
SP – Of course, knowing what they want to do and how all that works out is where a lot of research comes in. As I understand what’s happening in the year ahead with second screen compared to where we’ve been, a large number of programmers, whether they’re in the cable space or broadcast, are looking at this very seriously now, because there’s a feeling the technology has matured enough to actually execute on this. So the next question becomes, what will the consumer respond to, what works, what doesn’t. Is that an accurate statement of where we’re at right now?
Liebling – Yeah. You’re definitely seeing that we’re getting close to hitting that critical mass. Over the last few weeks, Mashable, Advertising Week, Venture Beat all had second screen as one of the things to watch for in 2013. And you see the money people like Nintendo, Microsoft through Xbox and Google are putting into that second screen from a hardware standpoint. And obviously content providers. Jesse Redman from USA Networks is here, and we have folks from Bravo as well at the Second Screen Summit.
SP – And Turner is very active in this.
Liebling – And Turner as well. Everything is coming together where you’re going to see more and more examples. Last year I think at the Super Bowl you saw Shazam calls to action on maybe five or six ads. This year it’s upwards of 75 percent would be my guess. I really think you’re going to see that Shazam little bug in the bottom corner, maybe customized even. The Coca Cola ad might have a little bit different look than the Pepsi ad for the Shazam call to action, for example.
You’re going to start to see creative play a bigger role now that tech has really stepped it up, and you’ve got so many tablets in the market now the consumers are ready for this second-screen engagement. So now it’s time for the advertising agencies to really dive in and say let’s get creative, let’s get smart about this. Let’s create engagements; let’s develop new creative that people really want to participate in.
SP – What kind of receptivity do you see in an agency like yours among the creative people to taking on what is still kind of an unknown? Are they juiced about it – oh wow, this is a new thing for us to do – or are they like, oh my god, more stuff for us?
Liebling – To be perfectly candid I haven’t heard anyone at my agency say, “Rick, get out of here with that kind of stuff, I have enough on my plate.” There’s always an interest. Creators by nature are curious people and are looking for the new. That’s what stimulates them. So there’s certainly an openness and receptivity.
Now, as the advertising chair for the Second Screen Society, my role is to work with all agencies, whether it’s my agency or other traditional ad agencies, digital agencies, social agencies, whatever that agency world looks like, and the tech vendors to bring them together so that each side can understand the needs of the other. I think once those conversations start happening more frequently, the creatives at ad agencies or other agencies are going to say, “Oh, I get it. I need to incorporate this earlier.” Or, “I can see where I have to create hooks in my 30-second spots that will play really well in a second-screen environment.” I think you’ll start to see commercials evolve slightly so that they have that kind of platform where a second-screen creative can really work for you.
SP – From all those agencies’ perspective are you getting a vibe that this is a fairly significant investment they have to make on the creative side on an unknown return? Or do they feel they can play with this incrementally where it’s not breaking the backs of the creative people?
Liebling – My hunch is there’s still a bit of they don’t know what they don’t know. As they’re getting into it and starting to explore more, I think creatives will start to say, “Oh, I see, this isn’t just a quick little toss at the end. I’ve really got to plan for this. I’ve really got to be thinking about this from the very beginning of my creative process,” because, quite frankly, it will be better and easier to do something if you think about it from the very beginning, rather than trying to shoehorn a concept in at the last minute.
SP – How difficult is it in the context of different platforms being out there to facilitate second screen approaches requiring different ways of doing things? Is that another hassle where every programmer, depending on who their technology support system is for second screen, requires a different approach to the actual creative set up or is that starting to smooth out a bit?
Liebling – That’s a great issue as well. Is there one app to rule them all, or am I creating different engagements for different types of apps? Are we talking about discovery when we’re talking about second-screen apps? Are we talking about a social TV engagement when we’re talking about second screen?
There are different ways you can do second screen, and they would require different creative thinking. They would require different technological thinking as well. It’s really too soon to say, boom, that’s the one it’s going to be. You need to go back to what I said earlier. Who is our client? Who are they trying to reach?
And you need to do the research to understand if we’re trying to reach a certain type of demographic, whether it’s 18 year-old boys or 40-plus moms, what they want to do if they’re using their mobile device. Do they want to talk to friends? Do they want to be able to search images quickly? Those are the sorts of things you have to understand, and then from there you can say, okay, this is who we want to reach, this is what they like doing, these are the types of shows they watch. What is the type of engagement we’re going to create for them that really hits a sweet spot?
SP – I see demonstrations of great ideas all the time. But intrinsically they’re locked into that particular technology system and that approach to doing it, and I think well, gee, if this guy dominates with this technology, then everybody will flock to that, and that will be great. But that’s not the way it works.
So I guess what we’re talking about here is a year of a lot of experimentation ahead, but with, as you say, that critical mass to work with. There are people using second screens as they watch television. Judging by figures I saw from a research study Google did recently, 77 percent of the time that people in general are on TV they have some other device running, and 22 percent of that time is spent doing things related to what they’re watching on television. It’s becoming kind of commonplace knowing all that information is out there that you can research.
Libeling – And I think what you’re going to see, to your point, while everyone in my family may be watching that one screen, my youngest son has an iPod Touch, my older son has an iPad, I have an iPhone, my wife has her laptop open. We can all be doing a different type of second-screen engagement even though we’re all watching the same first screen.
One person can be checking out more information on the ad they just saw. Another is talking to their friends. A third person is doing research on an actor that’s in the show. There are so many different ways.
We have the technology, and it’s only going to get better. Tablets and smartphones are becoming ubiquitous. That’s why I think second screen is a huge opportunity for agencies. It’s a real money making opportunity to be frank about it. But it’s a real creative opportunity as well.
SP – The bottom-line challenge, just as you illustrated with your examples, is that as it becomes easier to do these different things, then the challenge becomes capturing enough of these viewers with any given ad to actually get a return on what you’ve invested to support a second-screen app on that particular ad.
Liebling – Right. Going from there, metrics is certainly going to be a big issue. Is it engagement? Is it clicking to a link for further information? Is it giving them your email address? There are a lot of different ways you can look to measure your second-screen engagement.
Again, it depends on what you want to do as a brand, what your goals are. But there are so many [goals] you just don’t get to from a plain 30-second ad by itself. With a 30-second ad it’s about how many people were watching it. And you really don’t even know if they were watching.
But with the second screen you know if they’re clicking on this. You know if they’re giving you an email address or if they’re going to your website and filling out a form. So I think we can get more interesting metrics with second screen.
SP – Has raw e-commerce started to enter into this discussion, because with the personal engagement advertisers can actually say, click here and buy what we’re selling?
Liebling – Yes, and I’m starting to read things about eBay and Amazon putting together some things that are maybe in test mode or beta right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point in 2013 you’ll start to see it. You’re going to be watching a show with you tablet open, and, boom, you can buy whatever item you see in that show right off eBay, right off Amazon or other retailers. That was always the dream scenario. You were going to buy that coffee cup or that sweater or whatever it was in the show, and it was kind of a dream that was out of reach. But I think we’re getting close to that.
SP – And that has some direct ROI implications that are very interesting.
Liebling – Yes.
SP – Rick, it’s been really informative talking with you. Thank you.
Liebling – My pleasure.