A H&M TV ad starring a semi-naked David Beckham heralded the arrival of a new era of shoppable media – or did it? Alex Brownsell examines the opportunities for brands and media owners.
Whenever former England football star David Beckham publicly strips down to his underwear, it tends to make front page news. His scantily-clad appearance in fashion retailer H&M’s Super Bowl commercial earlier this year made the headlines for other reasons: the brand claimed that the 30-second spot marked the dawn of a new age of ‘shoppable media’.
For the first time, North American viewers in possession of an internet-connected Samsung smart TV were able to use their remote control to purchase Beckham’s latest designer smalls at the press of a button. H&M described the innovation as no less than a redefining of “the power and effectiveness of television advertising”.
Few doubt the growing significance of ecommerce – in 2014, the global ecommerce market is expected to be worth around a staggering $1.5tr. Consumers have become used to shopping with laptops, tablets and smartphones. Even social media is getting in on the act: Twitter recently joined Facebook in introducing a commerce functionality for tweets.
Traditional media has largely remained the preserve of classic advertising but the picture is slowly changing, from Becks’ briefs to UK supermarket Tesco’s exploration with out-of-home (OOH) sites.
The company behind H&M’s campaign, Delivery Agent, has been busy expanding its ShopTV “t-commerce” solution in anticipation of the predicted 202 million internet-capable TVs in US homes by the end of next year. It has signed an agreement with TV-maker Sony, and run t-commerce campaigns for homeware retailer Overstock and sports brand Reebok.
“Since the average consumer household spends over five hours a day watching television programming, there is an advantage to adding an engagement and transactional layer on top of an existing TV ad or programme,” says Delivery Agent CEO Mike Fitzsimmons.
“The TV no longer needs to be thought of as a branding channel. Now, marketers can leverage their TV advertising campaigns to drive engagement and transactions,” he says, adding that t-commerce campaigns can offer “valuable analytics” so far only available when using digital media.
The idea of shoppable content is not new – brands have been attempting to secure purchases through communications channels for some time. From Levi’s announcing its latest collection to ASOS’ ‘As Seen On Me’ campaign, allowing consumers to buy products being worn by other customers in online photos, hours of branded shoppable content is being loaded up to YouTube every day.
Plenty of room for growth remains, though. Noel Drew, creative technologist at UK-based content agency Adjust Your Set, which has created shoppable videos for retailers such as Marks & Spencer and Debenhams, thinks it is essential brands look into ways to monetise the rapidly-expanding mobile video space.
“There are numerous examples of brands creating clickable video experiences for the web, but for the most part they follow the same format,” says Drew. “A video plays while inviting the viewer to pause the film to see featured products, which they can then purchase.
“The problem is that these experiences often fall down when viewed on a mobile device due to platform restrictions surrounding video playback, such as when iPhones prevent video from being played in-line with other content. There is still huge scope for brands to innovate in the world of mobile web.”
A desire to improve user experience is at the heart of recent developments in shoppable media. TV shopping is nothing new – viewers in the US have been buying wares on display on QVC since the mid-1980s. But even rise of the second and third screens require consumers to manually seek out the products elsewhere, far from the seamless experience many retailers strive for.
Dublin-based software company Von Bismark is attempting to streamline the world of shoppable on TV, and has teamed up with Microsoft to create a family-orientated shopping experience using the company’s Xbox One video games console. A new “mall app” will roll out in the UK and US next year.
For Eoghan O’Sullivan, founder and CEO of Von Bismark, TV is the “next great untapped device” for ecommerce: “It has many natural advantages – you spend a large portion of your day sitting in front of the TV, it’s the place the family is most likely to congregate, and has the most screen real-estate.”
By using the “walled garden” of Xbox One, O’Sullivan hopes to allow consumers to either shop using Von Bismark’s mall app, or even allow Netflix viewers to pause a show and buy what a character is wearing on screen. The biggest challenge? Convincing brands that Xbox One has a wider audience than just “16 year old kids sitting in a dark room playing Call of Duty”.
“For us this is a $1bn business. If we can give users an experience that is superior to what they are used to, then we are half way to winning,” adds O’Sullivan.
Experts believe the driving force behind such changes is a phenomenon dubbed the “omnichannel-fication” of retail, with brands exploring every possible avenue to encourage consumers to make a purchase. With all devices being utilised for ecommerce, it seems a logical evolution for brands to ultimately view advertising as a potential commerce channel.
Simon Hathaway, global head of retail experience (RX) at Korean agency Cheil, agrees that “showcase shoppable moments” such as H&M’s Super Bowl ad signify “very clearly that retail is everywhere”.
Cheil was behind an experimental Tesco campaign in Seoul in 2011 which saw the brand cover the subway with posters depicting supermarket shelves, allowing commuters to use an app to order home delivery. The concept was awarded with the Media Grand Prix at Cannes and has since been copied by Tesco in its domestic market with a campaign using digital billboards at Gatwick Airport.
However, while Hathaway applauds the innovative thinking, he questions the business potential of such a format – and believes it would be wrong to compare shoppable media with actual stores: “While people have talked about these virtual stores, I don’t think many have turned them into being successful businesses. The point, though, is that if you view it as shoppable outdoor, it becomes a different question.”
Hathaway envisages a world where interactive OOH ads will use Beacon technology if they would like to add the item featured in the commercial to their shopping carts using an app. “All those things we do online could start to happen through media,” he adds.
Technology is opening a new opportunity for agencies and media owners to allow consumers to buy directly from advertisers using all forms media – from OOH, to mobile, to good old TV. It may not always be as newsworthy as Mr Beckham in his underwear, but the potential is significant. The industry would be wise to buy into it.