Ad Scientists Stir Up Online Brew

Targeting cable TV ads to a particular neighborhood has always been tricky. In the past, if a local gas station wanted to advertise only to nearby households, the ad had to be cued up manually in the equipment shed where the area’s cable lines met. But Ted (a Visible World client) used a clever trick. The airline embedded every version of the ad into a single metacommercial and sent it out over Comcast lines like a “choose your own adventure” book. When the file hit special routers that Comcast installed at the edge of Schaumburg, for example, the commercial morphed into “Viva Las Schaumburg.” The ad also responded to commands from headquarters: When seats on the Vegas routes filled up, the destination was easily changed to Florida.

Seth Haberman of Visible World says his technology will redefine TV ads the way cheap laser printing revolutionized direct mail. But the underlying concept is even bigger than that. Advertisers won’t be limited to just toggling between offers – no money down versus two years of free parts and labor. Now they can dial in different themes. Volvo doesn’t have to bank an entire campaign on “safe and stodgy” or “fun and sporty.” It can deploy a dozen appeals and drop the ones that don’t work. Shooting a dozen spots may be expensive, but it’s cheaper – and certainly more effective – than blanketing the airwaves with a single ad that’s irrelevant to most of the audience.

By changing the creation equation, Visible World’s adaptive ads adopt the “permanent beta” ethic of online marketing – advertisers can continually refine their message, swapping out offers in response to what works. “On the Internet, marketers love their dashboards, their control panels, the ability to see results and to make changes based on those results,” Haberman says. “When you look at offline advertising research, it’s like going to the morgue. They cut the guy open and tell you why he died. But that’s worthless unless you can make a change. The real opportunity is in coordination and feedback.”

According to Wired: