Unilever Plans to Run TV Spots Online

Anglo-Dutch consumer packaged goods giant Unilever PLC plans to show television spots online in conjunction with streaming video startup Amicada.

The Fort Lee, NJ-based company, which has technology that it says delivers full-motion video over narrowband connections, has agreed to run several thirty-second broadcast spots for Unilever’s Salon Selectives haircare products.

Despite questions about the value of Internet advertising, Unilever is playing it safely, relying both on opt-in and incentives to make sure their spots are at least watched — and hopefully, remembered.

Amicada users opt-in to receive advertisements through the service — which asks users about every 20 to 30 minutes whether they’d like to watch an ad in return for a reward. Amicada offers its service through Internet service providers, which can offer incentives that include airline miles or discounts off the user’s monthly Internet subscription, at the ISP’s discretion.

After watching the ad, users can click on a button to rate the ad, to see relevant product links, or to make a purchase. It also has a button that allows users to send the commercial to friends via e-mail. If a user doesn’t interact with a commercial within ten seconds, they aren’t rewarded.

The Amicada service isn’t active yet — a company spokesman said the firm is in “final negotiations” with a number of undisclosed ISPs to begin offering the service. But once it launches in the next few weeks, Unilever will be watching to see how users react.

“The genesis wasn’t ‘let’s see who watches our TV spots online,'” said Eric Siebert, who is interactive marketing director for Unilever’s North American Interactive Brand Center unit, which oversees the company’s Internet promotional work. “We’re looking at the permission-based model … to see whether it can engage with the power of television, but using the interactive environment. We are … looking at ways that interactivity can help us engage consumers.”

According to the terms of the arrangement with Amicada, Unilever will use consumer surveys to track the campaign’s branding results.

“When we show an ad on a computer … the ad is inches away from a user’s face, and they’re sitting there engaged, with their finger on their mouse, ready to collect points,” Siebert said. “We’ll be setting up surveys … to see if people actually watch if it’s incentivized.”

Siebert said the company would be gathering data from the test with an eye to future interactive branding work.

“Are they watching certain ads more than others? Is [the system] even more impactful [than TV]? Will it help deliver on brand attributes? Or, do we have to recraft them?” Siebert said. “We’re starting to learn those kind of things.”

The Amicada program isn’t the only ongoing experiment in Unilever’s efforts to leverage and study online advertising. The firm is also dabbling in wireless and interactive television programs, which could benefit from lessons learned during the Amicada experiment.

“It comes down to that we want to make sure we … understand all the [Internet’s] potential,” Siebert said. “We’re not putting all our eggs in one basket right now, in one model. It’s a moving target — consumer interactive touch-points keep evolving.”

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