Dear TV advertisers: We don't need NUads, we need better ads

Yesterday saw a lot of column inches devoted to NUads, a new advertising technology coming to us from Microsoft this spring. The basic gist of the system is that, by using Microsoft Kinect, advertisers can let viewers interact with TV ads.

Some examples: you could send an automated tweet about the subject of the ad to Twitter, or you could schedule a reminder for yourself to tune into a new TV show that you see being advertised.

VentureBeat's Tom Cheredar says Microsoft Kinect’s NUads is what the TV industry needs to survive the future, alluding to the fact that so many viewers are moving away from the traditional TV viewing, even if that move is as simple as a DVR with a 30-second skip functionality to help bypass ads.

It's understandable that the TV industry is uneasy, particularly when we see stories like the one at Engadget talking about Dish's "Hopper" DVR and its automatic commercial skipping feature. It wasn't so long ago that Tivo had to "hide" it's 30-second skip functionality via a (not so) secret code required to enable it.

So now we have NUads but I can't help but think the TV industry and Microsoft are over-engineering things here. First of all, obviously these ads need Kinect to function, which means you have to (for now) be watching live TV either on your Xbox 360 or on a PC with Kinect for Windows attached. That has to be a pretty small audience.

Second, already people are concerned about possible privacy ramifications since Kinect can 'see' you and tell how many people are watching TV and even, in theory, record what you're saying. Microsoft is already working to put people at ease on this count. Microsoft's Lyn Watts told Cnet:

Kinect developers need to pay attention to privacy from the beginning. "Make sure you do full disclosure," he suggested. "Make sure on the back end you know what you're going to do with your data."

But here's the thing. NUads might be great for advertisers in the future when everyone has Kinect-equipped TVs but it seems to me that the easier, better way to get people to stop skipping ads is to make better ads!

Now I don't have any scientific data to back this up, but I know in our house we reach for the remote to skips ads when the ads are annoying or boring. And as we skip through commercial breaks 30 seconds at a time it's not uncommon for something to catch our eye and cause us to back up and watch. I don't think my household is a complete anomaly because when I talk about an interesting or funny ad at the office, everyone tends to know what I'm talking about, so they must be watching these ads, too.

Just grabbing a random example out of my brain, I'll point at the new Nokia Lumia 900 ads that pretend that we've all been involved in a secret cell phone beta test for the past five years. I thought that one was a pretty clever concept. We sat and watched that one a time or two. In fact, I liked it so much I'm going to share it with you:

I also think advertisers need to be realistic in their expectations. Most viewers are going to be looking for ways to skip even the best ad after they've seen it a few times. That, to me, isn't a failure; it's just human nature. Since we can skip them, we don't get sick of seeing the same ad over and over, and avoid all the negative connotations that come with feeling like something is being shoved down our throats.

I'm sure NUads, or some other form of interactive ad, will become common in the future, but until then, on the behalf of TV viewers everywhere I'm going to ask advertisers to stop blaming ad-skipping technology for the loss of eyeballs. Instead, take a long hard look at your content; would you enjoy watching your latest ad? Make them interesting or funny and we'll sit through them, at least once or twice.

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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