01 Dec 2013

Double Vision

How TV ads can get second-screen surfers to shop


The rise of the "second screen"—watching TV while also surfing on smartphones or tablets—would seem to be bad for advertisers, stealing precious eyeballs from their pitches. Not so, says Thales Teixeira, an assistant professor in the Marketing Unit. In a recent two-year study, he and two colleagues found that TV ads not only can spur web traffic—the browser is at the ready, after all—but can drive sales, too.

But which ads push the most? As part of the study, Teixeira and his colleagues collected thousands of ads hawking products frequently purchased online—including telecom services and web-only offerings like dating sites and streaming content—and divided them into four ad types. Then they matched the ads with the advertisers' web traffic and online purchases in the minutes and hours after they aired to measure their effects.

Teixeira walks us through the four categories using spots from last year's Super Bowl—where a reported 36 percent of viewers watched the big game on TV with a small screen in hand—and explains which approaches score big and which ones fumble.


GoDaddy: Husbands from around the world explain to their wives that they don't need to register their idea online yet because it is totally unique. Finale: A husband who has registered his idea as a ".co" domain celebrates with his wife on a private plane.

AD TYPE: Call-to-action. These attempt to spur viewers into action with what Teixeira describes as a "don't wait, act now" type of message.

RESULTS: These kinds of ads, Teixeira says, boosted web traffic but don't have much effect on the actual purchases. "The audience does what you are telling them to do—they go online. But it doesn't persuade them enough to buy more than the other types of ads would."


Best Buy: Actress Amy Poehler plays a digital novice, peppering a Best Buy sales associate with a series of rapid-fire product questions, including "What's LTE—is it contagious?"

AD TYPE: Product focus. This is also an attempt to move viewers to act, but sans the heavy sell. "Instead of telling viewers to 'buy, buy, buy,' this is more about showing the consumer the product and how it is used," says Teixeira.

RESULTS: This approach, the study found, had the opposite effect of the call-to-action ads, pushing less traffic to the websites but converting more of that traffic into sales. "You haven't given any reason for people to go online," he says, "but you've convinced them that the product is worth buying."


Budweiser: A Budweiser Clydesdale has a touching reunion with his trainer, soundtracked by Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide."

AD TYPE: Emotion focus. The goal here is to evoke a feeling, typically heartwarming or hilarious, in an effort to change your attitude about the brand.

RESULTS: Just like the product focus ads, these reap immediate online sales but drive fewer people to the websites in general. And while you can't buy beer online—even the Internet has its limits—the study found that dating sites like eHarmony and Match saw an uptick in sales using this approach.


Taco Bell: A group of seniors sneak out of their retirement home to party, finishing the night at Taco Bell.

AD TYPE: Imagery focus. Think of this as the Mountain Dew ad template. "They attack the senses—fast-paced, lots of action, and strong visuals," says Teixeira.

RESULTS: While the study found no perfect ads—none increased both web traffic and sales—these kinds of commercials were the only ones that did not increase either transactions or web traffic. But it's not that they are bad—they're just too good. "It captures your attention, but so much so that you don't go online," Teixeira says. "You keep watching the ad." The secret to reaching multitaskers, he notes, is an ad that is just good enough to get you to pick up the phone.


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