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Getting Consumers to Plug In

Advertisers are always seeking new and inventive ways to reach consumers. No longer is it enough to simply make a visual impression and hope that people will remember your product, movie or television show. Two years ago, Canadians encountered Pepsi ads on subway trains that allowed riders to plug their headphones into multimedia ports and listen to snippets of music. And now New York City subway riders will get to experience a similar interactive marketing campaign for HBO’s drama Big Love, which premieres next week on the premium cable network. Instead of music, though, passersby can plug into audio jacks to hear secrets about different characters on the show. Similar ads are also running in Los Angeles. Part of the reason behind the concept may be due in part to the fact that Big Love has been off the air for a year and a half. TV viewers can lose interest pretty fast and any reminder of a show’s characters, plot points or “secrets” could entince audiences to return for the new season. Interaction has always been key to mining a product’s target audience but in this fast-paced, gadget-driven new century, getting consumers to plug in is becoming more and more essential.

Thinking Outside the Train

If you’ve ever taken the shuttle train from Times Square to Grand Central Station in New York City, you’ve undoubtedly encountered one of those ads that cover every inch of the inside of the train, from the ceiling to the seats to the floor. It’s striking, effective and inescapable. Well, the MTA is going to new lengths to sell ad space and marketing execs are thinking outside the box (or train) in trying to find new ways to reach potential customers. The other night, while waiting for the subway, a train went whizzing by with banner advertisements plastered onto the exterior of each car.

In this economy, you’d think that there would be plenty of ad space on subway platform walls or inside the train, or that companies would cut their advertising budgets significantly. But maybe the MTA is on to something: By offering new and unique avenues to reach consumers, they’re making it more appealing for advertisers while increasing their own revenue (a good thing for New York subway riders who don’t want to see another obscene fare-hike). A recent Forbes piece is even urging companies not to give into the temptation to skimp on their ad budgets during these troubled economic times because that could allow for competitors to make inroads; instead, they say, that “the key is to craft messages that reflect the times and describe how their product or service benefits the consumer.”

The risk, of course, is that the kind of visual assault that the MTA is offering could backfire. Devising clever ways of reaching consumers is almost always a good thing, but people don’t like being force-fed. An article in Advertising Age last week pointed to consumers who are taking action against ubiquitous advertising, like Toyota’s “Saved by Zero” television commercial, which ran almost on a loop nationally and which inspired a Facebook group in an effort to stop it. In a troubled economy, and in branding in general, balance is key.