H&M is set to launch its entry into the nascent world of ‘television commerce’ during this Sunday’s Super Bowl.
The interactive, 30 second-long ad starring David Beckham will be screened during the second quarter of Super Bowl XLVIII and will allow viewers the chance to purchase the featured products via a Samsung Smart TV. It’s the first of its kind.
It’s an intriguing gambit and one that all marketers, advertisers and anyone with a keen interest in David Beckham running around in his underwear will be paying particular attention to.
If anything it’s certainly raising H&M’s profile ahead of the big game, where the biggest brands in the world fight for the attention of 108m viewers (2013 viewing figures) and can pay up to $4m for the privilege. In fact sneak previews of Super Bowl ads began to appear a couple weeks ago, such is the feverish building-up of anticipation.
H&M's experiment with t-commerce raises a few questions: Is H&M really the first to do this? What are the restrictions of t-commerce? Will t-commerce have a future?
Let's see if we can answer those questions here.
Drawbacks to the H&M campaign
As I’ve already established, t-commerce rather clumsily refers to adverts broadcast on an internet connected television that offers the viewer the chance to purchase the very products they’re being advertised.
Unfortunately, the partnership between H&M and Delivery Agent, an ad-tech agency financed by Samsung, means that the shopability of the advert will only be available to those viewers who specifically own a Samsung Smart TV.
How many American viewers actually own a smart TV let alone a Samsung one? How many of those Samsung manufactured smart TV owners will actually want to purchase a pair of premium underpants modelled by a UK footballer at that specific point during the Super Bowl?
It seems very far removed from the personalisation and relevance we've come to expect from digital advertising.
Forbes’ research states that 67m smart TVs were sold worldwide in 2012 and predict that 87m would be sold in 2013.
It’s a market seeing huge year-on-year growth and chances are if you bought a television in the last couple of years, it will have the ability connect to the internet. Samsung is the largest television manufacturer in the world, so it’s perhaps not that risky a prospect.
That being said, H&M is still narrowing its potential audience quite substantially, and perhaps the extra interest being generated by articles like this, will lead to wider areas of frustrated viewers who wanted to interact with the ad just for the novelty of it.
Other examples of t-commerce
Although H&M claim to be running the very first t-commerce enabled advert on television, there have been many precedents set prior to this.
Home Shopping Network
The first place you’d expect to find t-commerce at work. HSN was the first retailer to use QR codes on air, which could be scanned by the viewer and taken directly to a product page and checkout.
Because this needed a mobile device to activate it, this isn't strictly t-commerce.
Rovi added a contextual t-commerce service to its electronic programme guides in 2011
Although having Fox and NBC on board and a wealth of programmes to offer related products from, the restrictions of this service are obvious from the start. How much time does the average viewer spend dwelling in the EPG?
A joint venture between the History channel and Verizon FiOS allowed viewers to purchase products featured on its various reality based programmes ('Pawn Stars' for instance) directly from the smart TV.
A small icon in the upper right corner of the screen signals that an item is available to buy and when viewer the presses a button on the remote, the screens split in two to reveal product information.
To purchase using this app, viewers must first register their payment details with a service called TV Wallet. This service is owned by Delivery Agent, the agency behind H&M’s Super Bowl ad.
Will this PayPal style transaction service be power the payment method of H&M’s ad? The website itself hasn’t been updated since halfway through 2012, so perhaps not.
As you can see from a demo last year in which H&M trialled t-commerce functionality, it looks likely that PayPal will be offered as a method of payment during this Sunday's Super Bowl ad too.
In an effort to combat our wandering attentions and as our mobile devices quickly become the primary screen we are drawn to and demand interaction from, the efforts of television to present itself as an alternative to the second screen is a mind-boggling paradox that brings to mind a snake eating its own tail.
In the UK we have many companies trying to position themselves as the dominant power in second screen technology: Zeebox, the powerful advertising app with its eye towards sociability and partnerships with major broadcasters.
Shazam, the one-time gimmick that’s now a major player in digital music with its ad-tagging technology. None of these are actually television-centred in the way that true tcommerce demands though.
According to Forbes, the percentage of US households with a television set in 2011 fell to 97% from 99% the previous year. Obviously that’s still a huge amount of people, but that also means 1.2m fewer Americans own a television now.
Maybe we’re figuring out that we don’t really need a television anymore?
Or perhaps we now have to redefine what constitutes a television. There’s very little broadcast on television that can’t be watched on a legitimate streaming service on a desktop computer or mobile device, whenever the viewer demands it.
The future of television advertising
Online streaming is where we expect to be presented with interactive adverts in which purchases can be made immediately within the same browser window. Television is a passive entertainment system. We don’t expect to interact with it.
Perhaps this is what makes browsing the internet on a television such a weird and unnatural experience.
Then again, maybe that’s why we look to our smartphones and tablets while the television is on, maybe we crave the interaction that television isn’t giving us.
The question that needs to be answered is whether television needs to be brought into this fully engaged, highly interactive world, or whether it should be left alone as a relic of a bygone era with marketers instead concentrating on the mobile device sat ever present within arm's reach?
For Econsultancy's guide to connected TV for marketing, featuring market trends, key statistics and case studies, download the Connected TV Smart Pack.